Film buffs hoping to satiate their Bushido-blade bloodlust may lose patience with Shochiku Studios veteran Yji Yomada’s samurai drama, since nary a sword is drawn in the film’s first hour. It’s matters of the heart rather than gushing arteries that preoccupy the director; specifically, a warrior named Munezo (Nagase), who’s forbidden by society to marry the maid (Matsu) he loves. Curse you, caste system! When unrequited romance isn’t taking center stage, the focus shifts to the clan retainers being trained in Western artillery, in scenes that Yomada’s long shots depict as vignettes of comic ineptitude.
Then, just when you’re about to give up hope that any blades, hidden or otherwise, will be unsheathed, word comes that our hero’s fugitive friend (Ozawa) has escaped prison. The criminal vows to defend his freedom “until there is a mountain of corpses,” and Munezo, possessor of a supersecret sword stroke, is the one assigned to take him down. Oh, it’s on!
Yomada perpetually delays the hot metal-on-metal action. When the final showdown does occur, it’s curiously brief, and you can almost hear fanboys disappointingly shrug in unison. Still, The Hidden Blade has its share of quieter pleasures. You just have to look a little harder to find them. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—David Fear