Yoji Yamada

The Hidden Blade (2004, Yamada Yôji)

John Ford remade 3 Godfathers, William Wyler remade These Three. I’m sure there are other examples of filmmakers trying again (though I have no idea if those examples were artistic or commercial). The Hidden Blade is, at its core, the same film as The Twilight Samurai. The settings are similar, one of the servants is even the same character, and the core conflicts of the films are the same. At the beginning of the film, I was even thinking about it, before I had seen the similarities–what if someone just made the same thing again and again? Writers occasionally do major revisions to their existing work–I’ve read Flannery O’Connor last story is a rewrite of the first and Alice Munro has frequent recurring details–musicians do different versions of a song over time… so why not filmmakers? Maybe The Hidden Blade is a warning to anyone else who thinks my revision observation is a good idea….

The Hidden Blade is based on short stories by the same author of the short stories Yamada adapted for The Twilight Samurai. At first, I thought it was simply overlap–the films are based on multiple stories, so maybe elements from one ended up in both films. No, it’s a lot more than details, it’s set pieces. Yamada runs through The Hidden Blade, telling most of the story in summary, since he’s already told the story… or at least the most memorable parts of it. The story construction, the drama, of The Hidden Blade isn’t good. The main character is conveniently sympathetic–by virtue of being the protagonist–and the film manipulates the audience along… The actor who plays the lead is excellent, but there’s nothing he can do. Watching The Hidden Blade is watching people pretend to be sleepwalking a scene in a movie. There’s no emotional depth. The film is all surface.

I’m not sure The Twilight Samurai had much besides surface depth, but its surface depth but more at stake for the character. While watching The Hidden Blade, one can count all the actions the protagonist takes to cause trouble later on in the film. There’s a total absence of imagination. The Hidden Blade fails to tell the audience anything they couldn’t have read in a two sentence description. There are no judgments to be made, nothing to be pondered–at best, one could make a list of The Twilight Samurai similarities. At worst, one could let the film waste his or her time.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Yamada Yôji; screenplay by Yôji and Asama Yoshitaka, based on stories by Fujiwara Shuhei; director of photography, Naganuma Mutsuo; edited by Ishii Iwao; music by Tomita Isao; produced by Fukazawa Hiroshi; released by Shouchiku Company Limited.

Starring Nagase Masatoshi (Katagiri Munezo), Matsu Takako (Kie), Ozawa Yukiyoshi (Hazama Yaichiro), Yoshioka Hidetaka (Shimada Samon), Tanaka Min (Toda Kansai), Tabata Tomoko (Katagiri Shino), Ogata Ken (Chief Retainer Hori) and Kobayashi Nenji (Ogata).


The Twilight Samurai (2002, Yamada Yôji)

I always say the Western is a uniquely American film creation and I stand by that one, but it doesn’t mean other countries can’t do good Westerns. For quite a bit of The Twilight Samurai, it’s a fine haunted gunman Western, Unforgiven and Open Range being other examples of this form. It never quite makes it, however….

The biggest problem is pacing. Twilight is slow and there are narrative problems throughout. It’s got narration from one of the protagonist’s daughters, past tense, which isn’t bad… if the film were a father/daughter picture. But it’s not (apparently the Japanese, who’ve embraced the family drama as Hollywood has discarded it, aren’t touching that one either). The film closes with a Oscar-nomination ready scene with the daughter in her present day, probably the mid-1900s. Such a lovely end-piece invalidates everything the film fought for (just like Yoda says in Empire).

The film also fails on some basic technical levels of cheating the viewer out of necessary scenes. It’s not really shortcutting (my prime example of shortcutting is It Happened One Night, with neither of the leads appearing in the denouement), because these are peripheral characters. But they deserve closure. According to IMDb, the film is based on three novels, which explains… nothing, actually. Yes, Twilight feels like it was a novel, but it doesn’t feel like an amalgam. Wait, wait. I forgot. It does make some promises regarding the father/daughter relationship, then fails to deliver. Damn good scene too.

The acting is all good, the lead in particular. I love how Hollywood can no longer make period pieces but everyone else in the world can. It’s kind of depressing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamada Yôji; written by Asama Yoshitaka and Yamada, based on the novel by Fujiwara Shuhei; director of photography, Naganuma Mutsuo; edited by Ishii Iwao; music by Tomita Isao and Inoue Yousui; produced by Fukazawa Hiroshi, Nakagawa Shigehiro and Yamamoto Ichiro; released by Shochiku Company Limited.

Starring Sanada Hiroyuki (Iguchi Seibei), Miyazawa Rie (Tomoe), Tanaka Min (Zenemon Yoho), Tamba Tetsuro (Iguchi Tozaemon), Hashiguchi Erina (Iguchi Ito), Ito Miki (Iguchi Kayano) and Kusamura Reiko (Seibei’s mother).


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