A short while ago I reviewed 'The Twilight Samurai' by Yoji Yamada and really enjoyed it. I went to the video store to look for the two other films in his 'Samurai trilogy' and found 'The Hidden Blade' (隠し剣 鬼の爪/ kakushi ken oni no tume) but had no luck in finding the more recent 'Love and Honour'. I was surprised by how similar the plot was to 'The Twilight Samurai' and even more surprised that I enjoyed it just as much anyway.
In 'The Hidden Blade' the story revolves around a samurai, Munezo (played by Nagase Masatoshi/ 永瀬正敏) and Kie (played by the beautiful and talented Matsu Takao/松たか子), a farm girl who served in his family home before being married off. Once again, as in 'The Twilight Samurai', Japan is in a period of change which holds many consequences for the samurai. Munezo and the other samurai in the area are being trained to use western styles of warfare. As in 'The Twilight Samura', Munezo is a middle aged bachelor who resists pressure from around him to marry and similarily demands a divorce for the woman he cares for when he finds out that Kie is being abused in her husband's home. The climax of the story also follows a similar path with Munezo being ordered to kill his friend who is charged with treason. However the story progresses further from there than in 'The Twilight Samurai' with Munezo taking revenge for his friend's wife who is treated horrifically by the higher up who ordered he husbands death.
Once again Yamada seems to criticise the shallow honour of those higher up on the samurai chain by presenting us with a character who cares more about the 'lower' members of society (specifically the poor and female) than he does his own name. I would love to learn more about Yamada's life and his views as from watching his films it seems apparent that he was somewhat of a feminist and held interesting ideas about modernity. Although perhaps not in the same sense as Miyazaki Hayao of Ghibli fame who in the majority of his films depicts strong female protagonists- Yamada seems to show the unfairness of how women are treated but still from a male perspective.
After watching 'The Hidden Blade' and 'An Autumn Afternoon' in one week, I've realised that there are a lot more Japanese films which deal with the roles that women and men are given in society than I first thought. While it is similar to 'The Twilight Samurai' the characters define themselves and Kie in particular is irresistibly loveable.