Over the course of his 40-year career, veteran Japanese filmmaker Yôji Yamada has become known for telling stories about the “little people” of feudal Japan. His most recent feature proves no different. A follow-up to Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai (2002) and part of a planned trilogy, The Hidden Blade (2004) centers on a low-ranking samurai, Munezo Katagiri (played by Masatoshi Nagase of Mystery Train fame), who shoulders the burden of a tainted family name by abdicating his personal and professional ambitions. While his boyhood friend, the fiery Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), throws himself into the political and cultural tumult of the times, opposing the Western ways of warfare, then seducing the shogunate, Munezo tries to settle into a dignified routine far from the fray with his devoted maid, Kie (Takako Matsu). Yamada sets all of these elements on low boil in a masterful, elegiac style that draws its considerable tension from the looming clash between tradition and change, duty and conscience, that will inevitably force Munezo to seize the reins of his own personal destiny. Mirroring his lead character, Yamada eschews flash and pyrotechnics along the way. There are no fast cuts nor any high-wire work here. There’s hardly even any swordplay. Instead, Yamada prefers pregnant compositions and graceful camera moves that reveal the fullness of their meaning slowly over time. His dazzlingly subtle touch challenges the contemporary stylistic directions of Asian action cinema even as it reveals the film’s deeper themes about the power and drama of small lives in big times. Released by Tartan Video, the DVD includes a behind-the-scenes short and footage from the film’s Berlin Film Festival premiere and press conference.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: Double Indemnity: Special Edition (DVD); Hunger (DVD); Kicking & Screaming: Criterion Collection (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: Angel of Vengeance; A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Season One; A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Season Two; Blue Thunder: The Complete Series; Cape of Good Hope; Disney’s Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration; Elizabeth I; House, M.D.: Season Two; Inside 9/11: Commemorative Edition; Invasion: The Complete Series; Just My Luck; Kisses and Caroms: Uncensored Director’s Cut; Love for Rent; Methadonia; A Model for Matisse; Poseidon: Two-Disc Special Edition; The Robinsons: Complete Series One; Satan’s Playground; Saving Shiloh; Scared Sacred; Sesame Street: Elmo’s Potty Time; Silent Hill; Sketches of Frank Gehry; State of the Union; Strawberry Shortcake: The Berry Fairytales; This Island Earth; Threshold: The Complete Series; Tom and Jerry: Shiver Me Whiskers; The Uninvited Guest; Veronica Mars: The Complete Second Season; The Wicker Man (1973); The Wizard; The Worst Week of My Life: The Complete First Series; The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss: The Cat’s Colorful World.

LA Weekly