The second movie in Yoji Yamada's "samurai trilogy" is set in 1860's. The Hidden Blade is the story of Hazama Yaichiro who leaves his town and his clan to take a position with the Shogun in Edo. The movie also looks at two of the friends he also left behind. Samon and Munezo are friends, and Samon is to marry Munezo's sister, Shino. Munezo and Shino's father had to commit hara-kiri and now the family is poor. Their maid Kie marries in to a family of merchants and soon leaves the house.
Munezo runs in to Kie and sees that she is unhappy. He is also having trouble understanding the new Western weaponry. His instructor says that wars are now won by money. The samurai feel dumb as they train with cannons. Some of the older samurai are mad to see samurais training with the modern weapons.
Shino finds out that Kie is being worked to death by her new family. She is ill in bed and they won't pay for a doctor. Shino didn't go to see her because she can't go to a merchant's house. Munezo then goes to see Kie. When he finds her sick and cold he tells her merchant husband to write a divorce letter for her, and then he takes her home. Kie gets better and her younger sister, Bun, comes to the house too. Kie tells Bun she could never marry the master because they are from different castes.
Then Samon comes with news that Hazamo is being sent down from Edo for plotting a reform rebellion against the Shogun. He is sent home in a prison basket : he wasn't allowed the privilege of hara-kiri. Munezo is questioned about his friend by the chief retainer. It seems that Munezo, was chosen over Samon, to learn the Hidden Blade technique from their sensei, and Hazamo was angry about it.
When they ask Munezo about who else was close to Hazamo, Munezo refuses to tell. He says a samurai does not inform on his fellows. The Chief Retainer then hits and kicks him for his insolence. He says he won't take that from a low-caste samurai.
We find out that Munezo's father killed himself, taking the blame for a funding of a bridge, even though he was not at fault. He lived to serve his master. Munezo's family was ostracized. Kie then came to the family and brightened their lives.
Then it is back to the parade ground as the samurai are taught to take orders and march and run.
Munezo's reputation continues to sink. His father had to commit hara-kiri and now the rumor is that he has taken a servant girl to live as his wife. Munezo tells Kie that she must go back to her parents, but Kie wants to stay. Munezo commands her to leave.
Meanwhile, Hazama, who is living in a cage, escapes. The elders sends for Munezo and tells him that he must Hazama is waiting for the clan to send men to him so he can cut them down. Hazama is the best swordsman in the clan, only Munezo will have any chance against him. Munezo goes back to his old sensei who shows him some moves for real sword fights.
Munezo tries to convince Hazama to commit hara-kiri but he won't. The fight begins in the hut. Finally using a technique his sensei taught him, Munezo cuts him good, and then the army riflemen shoot him down. Hazema would not have liked dying by the gun.
Munezo is disgusted with the whole corrupt samurai system. He really has no respect for the chief retainer, who saw hazama's wife the night before and promised her that her husband wouldn't be harmed, and then he took advantage of her. His sensei had quit being a samurai to be a farmer years ago. When he goes to give his report to the retainer, he has to question him about Hazama's wife. He then tells the retainer he has done a foul thing. When he gets to Hazama's wife's house, she has already killed herself.
Munezo goes to see the retainer and we then see the hidden blade move, where he kills the retainer with one quick jab. The doctor can't figure out what killed him.
Munezo abandons his samurai status and goes off after Kie, who he finds raking the fields. He asks her to come with him as his wife, to start a new life.
The movie looks at roles and at the class society. It also looks at the changing times, as Western technology is beginning to be introduced. Munezo and Kie were in love but the caste society they lived in wouldn't permit their love. The movie also shows the corruption and the inefficiency of the samurai system. The caste system was cruel and unfair. The movie is really about the ending of the time of the samurai. Munezo gives up his samurai status to become a merchant. Hazama, the clan's best swordsman, gets his hand blown off by a rifle shot.
A really good movie by the director of The Twilight Samurai and Love and Honor.