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Snow On The Blades – Review

Snow-On-The-Blades-Theatrical-Poster-01“It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.”, said Miyamoto Musashi in his novel “The Book Of Five Rings”. The legendary Samurai taught that a master of the sword shouldn’t only be a master of the sword. Instead he should strive to master the arts, poetry, philosophy, and anything else that can be used to advance him mentally as well as physically.

A Samurai aren’t quite the ruthless killers we’re made to believe they are and if there’s any film that puts that across perfectly it’s “Snow On The Blades”. Featured as a part of the 2014 Japanese Film Festival lineup, spearheaded by the lovely people at The Japan Foundation, us here at SnapThirty have been given to review this new film and we couldn’t be more appreciative. There are many Samurai movies that have been shown at this film but none I’m more thankful to be given the chance to watch than this one.

At Sakurada Gate in 1860, the shogun’s chief minister and his retinue of bodyguards are ambushed and annihilated. Bearing the responsibility and shame for this failure is Shimura Kingo, master swordsman and chief of the guard. Forbidden to take his own life in atonement, he is instead tasked with hunting down the remaining assassins; however, fate intervenes and now only one is left. Devoted to his late lord and his duty, he relentlessly pursues the sole remaining assassin for the next thirteen years. But times are changing in Japan and the way of the sword has become outlawed. What does this mean for Kingo? – The Japan Foundation

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Coming as a huge surprise to me, “Snow On The Blades” is the story of a Samurai out for revenge that only features two short fight scenes. Somehow the film kept me interested and had me liking it from the first minute to the last despite my constant thirst for Samurai action. At two hours long, the film does drag on a little and it also has quite a slow progression which can be detrimental for some watchers. Unlike some other longer movies I’ve seen, “Snow On The Blades” features an ending that makes watching the rest of the film all worth it. Instead of telling a tale of warring Samurai only out for blood vengeance, “Snow On The Blades” tells the story of a man who hits rock bottom and spends over a decade trying to make up for what he couldn’t do to save his Lord.

Throughout the movie you see the development and change that Japan went through during that time as well as the gradual disappearance of Samurai culture. “Snow On The Blades” is as intelligent a Samurai movie that you’re ever going to see. It’s both tragic and joyous, and plays host to a grand lesson every human being should try to understand: Forgiveness. It doesn’t feature that many characters which I believed worked in the favor of the movie seeing as each person you’re introduced to is, eventually, developed enough for you to fully understand just who they are. There are no protagonists, there are no antagonists, there are just people dealing with what life has dished out for them as well as a time that changed the country and made it what we know it as now.

Visually, “Snow On The Blades” is quite a beautiful movie. There are no flashy effects or film techniques that get in the way of what truly is one of the most picturesque times in the history of the world and the director, Setsuro Wakamatsu, has clearly mastered film making which is shown through simple but highly effective camera work and scene direction. It being called “Snow On The Blades”, you expect to see a great deal of it throughout and you do but not in a way that it becomes too overwhelming. Instead it is sprinkled here and there when and only when the symbolism of falling snow is called for. Everything “Snow On The Blades” does visually is done lightly and tastefully. The way it should be. The environments are wonderful, the costumes are historically accurate and the film features such a grand sense of “location”. It’s hard to look past as one of the great defining elements of this film.

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“Snow On The Blades”, being a period film set in Edo Japan, features a soundtrack entirely populated by traditional Japanese instruments all of which would have been quite predominant at the time. As many films, the placement of these tracks was right on point but what impressed me more than hearing the music during certain scenes was actually NOT hearing that music during certain scenes. Throughout the movie we’re subjected to what I’d call perfect scene setting but a great deal of the time the tone was set by a lack of sound rather than a booming score or pieces of long-winded dialogue. Most notably is a pivotal scene close to the end of the movie wherein which two men go head-to-head after a thirteen year chase. There was no music at all in this scene. Instead all the audience hears are the men grunting and the swords clashing. To say the least; it hit me like no other fight scene I’ve witnessed before and it set up perfectly for what was a beautiful end to a seemingly heartbreaking film.

There’s a reason “Snow On The Blades” is featured as one of the films at this years Japanese Film Festival and it isn’t just because it’s your average Samurai film. It tells a deep and interesting story that is actually quite relatable to those of us living in 2014 despite the fact that it is set in Edo Japan. We too, like any generation, are going through quite a massive cultural shift and some of us cannot handle it as well as others. As human beings there are things in our pasts that we force ourselves into reliving every single day and “Snow On The Blades” teaches us that, in the end, we’re all on different paths but we’re all heading towards the same place. The past is the past and sometimes that is where it should be left. “Snow On The Blades” is a beautiful film that left me with a smile on my face and an idea in my mind that I’ve pondered on for quite a while now. Hopefully it’s a film that will do the same for you.

Grade: A+

-30-

3 comments on “Snow On The Blades – Review

  1. Joyce Chan

    My husband was watching this movie. I was trying to sleep, but it had subtitles and the story pulled me in – so much so that when it was done, I got up (never mind that I hadn’t slept for the last 20 hrs!) and watched it from the beginning, myself (turns out that I had only missed 5-10 min, but I watched the entire movie again completely, w/great absorption). I agree with the review – this is a terrific, subtle, unexpected film. We, too, both expected a samurai action film but as the reviewer said, it was something different – “both tragic and joyous.”

  2. Ronald Raharjo

    I watched Snow on the Blades during my trip to Japan from NZ in the airplane, and my what a remarkable jidaigeki this was. It was totally a pleasant surprise and I was totally immersed from start to finish and the ending was tremendously satisfying. My sleeping wife woke up and saw the movie with just the subtitle without sound nor music, as I was using the headphone. And she couldn’t go back to sleep and continued watching the movie half way through, in what must have been like a silent movie to her. And she normally would decline watching chambara with me. That shows how well this movie was directed, shot and acted.

    A brilliant movie, up there with the Twilight Samurai trilogy by Yoji Yamada imo.

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