The Hidden Blade is a film about tradition and honor, in a time where these things were slowly beginning to fade. Samurai swords are being replaced by rifles and cannons to match the new Western way of fighting, and the samurai themselves are being taught how to become soldiers instead. All of this happens as one samurai is forced to pull his sword in battle for the first time and must choose between an old friend and the orders he is given by his samurai clan.
Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) grew to be a samurai during a time of tradition and respect, but he discovers that the honor he brings to his responsibilities are not the same as others in his clan. After hearing of his old friend’s imprisonment for being a traitor, Katagiri is chosen as the one who must face him in battle. Though he has no desire to fight his friend, Katagiri is forced to make an impossible decision brought on by his gluttonous and immoral leaders.
The Hidden Blade is not an action-packed film, but rather a movie about the characters and each individual decision they must make. The relationships remain far more important than any battle or fight scene, of which there are very few. The first portion of the film is much more concerned with the relationship Katagiri has with his long-time maid, Kie (Takako Matsu), who has served in his house since the passing of his father. Because they are of different castes, Katagiri and Kie are unable to wed, though he makes certain to protect her in any way he can.
Few films have the ability to approach their subject as slow and subtly as The Hidden Blade does, while still remaining interesting. This film is captivating from beginning to end, if only because of the characters and how they come alive through the storyline. Though there is one inevitable swordfight, even this does not serve as the climactic moment of the film.
The Blu-ray includes a number of special features, from a behind-the-scenes featurette to press conferences with the director and a feature from the Berlin Film Festival. The actual high definition is not altogether impressive. The film has a weathered period look to it, though it was only made in 2004. The image is not as sharp as you may have grown accustomed to with high definition, but the Blu-ray is worthwhile for the few moments which are apparently improved.