Japanese samurai cinema (jidaigeki) seems to have followed a somewhat similar arc in popularity as Westerns did in the U.S. This is not too surprising since two genres tended to play off each other's themes and sometimes plots. Like Westerns, the output of the genre seemed to wane from the early eighties until the late 90's. But recently there's been a slew of new jidaigeki. Some of it is revisiting old stories while others are breaking new ground in the genre with plots and characters that better connect with modern sensibilities. "The Hidden Blade" falls in that latter category.
"The Hidden Blade", directed by Yoji Yamada and released in 2004, follows a very similar story architecture to Yamada's previous film, "The Twilight Samurai". In fact they're so similar fans of the film usually choose to champion one over the other. While "The Twilight Samurai" may capture a bit of the accurate period social mores, to me it seems like a trial run for making it's richer and more humane younger cinematic sibling. "The Hidden Blade's" plot is also more varied/textured.
If you like jidaigeki for the outrageous characters and wild swordplay, you want to give this one a miss. But if you're looking for a solid, engrossing period drama with characters who really draw you into their lives, this is one of the best. It follows the life of a low caste samurai, his struggle to figure out how make a love affair between castes work, and the challenge of having his clan call on him to kill his best friend, now a rogue criminal. It also has a few really great, memorable light moments.
Here's the link to the trailer for the film: [link]
I guess this entry in my "seven summaries" is the last of the rich, humanitarian films on my list. The next few fall into perhaps my favorite category: the period adventure comedy!