- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Veteran filmmaker Yoji Yomado follows his excellent “The Twilight Samurai” with The Hidden Blade, a 2004 gem out this week via Tartan Video ($22.95). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Set in the waning days of the samurai era, when the West began exerting a greater influence on Japan, reshaping everything from social systems to military weapons, “The Hidden Blade” focuses on Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase), a samurai who, like a sheriff in a sleepy frontier town, has never drawn his sword in anger.

Indeed, Katagiri is far more interested in caring for his displaced, class-forbidden love object Kie (Takako Matsu) than in participating in the ebb and flow of local politics.

Katagiri’s peaceful routine is radically disrupted, however, when he receives a summons from vengeful authority figures to find and fight his “traitorous” longtime friend Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), who’s determined to make a symbolic and literal last stand against the forces of corruption.

While that development supplies the film with its ultimate story arc, far more screen time is devoted to depicting daily life and changing times in Katagiri’s rural village, scenes that supply “The Hidden Blade,” nominated for 12 Japanese academy awards, with its considerable complexity, texture and charm.

DVD extras include an informative making-of featurette with director Yomado, Berlin Film Festival premiere footage, a press conference, trailers and more.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-on-DVD developments, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment debuts Beautiful People: The Complete Series (four-disc, $49.95), starring Daphne Zuniga; Warner Home Video revisits treacherous Ewing family doings in Dallas: The Complete Fifth Season (five-disc, $39.98); and Paramount Home Entertainment continues the youth-oriented adventures in Laguna Beach: The Complete Second Season (three-disc, $38.99), complemented by deleted scenes, interviews and more.

Warner Home Video emphasizes comedy with the early Will Smith showcase The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Fourth Season (four-disc, $29.98) and the animated Xiaolin Showdown: Season 1 (two-disc, $19.98), while Anchor Bay Entertainment proffers Grounded for Life: Season 3 (two-disc, $19.98).

Two very different crime series surface this week: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers the escapist Prison Break: Season One (six-disc, $59.98), with audio commentaries, featurettes and more, while HBO Video unveils a bonus-packed edition of the gritty The Wire: The Complete Third Season (five-disc, $99.98).

Acorn Media presents a pair of British imports, the fact-based “Masterpiece Theatre” miniseries Aristocrats (three-disc, $49.99), set in the 19th century; and Peter Bowles in The Irish R.M.: The Complete Series (six-disc, $79.95), both accompanied by behind-the-scenes featurettes. Koch Vision debuts the double-disc “Masterpiece Theatre” adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure ($29.98).

Two made-for-TV movies likewise arrive — Emma Bolger and Max von Sydow in the family tale Heidi (Warner Home Video, $19.98) and Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley in Mrs. Harris (HBO Video, $26.98), based on the “Scarsdale diet doctor” murder case.

The ‘A’ list

Universal tops the week’s list of recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts with a brace of crime titles. Denzel Washington attempts to solve an elaborate bank heist in The Inside Man, co-starring Jodie Foster and Clive Owen and armed with director Spike Lee’s audio commentary, deleted scenes and more, while writer-director Rian Johnson goes the teen noir route in the extras-enhanced mystery Brick ($29.98 each).

Magnolia Home Entertainment issues a bonus-packed edition of Andy Garcia’s 1958 epic “The Lost City,” set in Cuba and featuring Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman, and the Filipino thriller Cavite ($26.98), while Koch Lorber imports the critically acclaimed French drama Gilles’ Wife ($29.98).

Lions Gate Home Entertainment keeps busy on the horror beat, bowing a quartet of summer chillers — After Sundown, The Butcher, Komodo vs. Cobra and the killer-clown caper Mr. Jingles ($26.98 each).

Elsewhere, Paramount unleashes Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector ($29.99) and Universal introduces the dance sequel Bring It On — All or Nothing ($29.98).

Collectors’ corner

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment pays homage to a quintessential 1950s blonde bombshell in its Jayne Mansfield Collection (three-disc, $49.98), assembling the comedy classics The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), along with the lesser-known Western romp The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1959).

The same label celebrates collegiate culture via its Frat Boys Collection (three-disc, $26.98), yoking the ‘80s hits Porky’s and Bachelor Party (starring a young Tom Hanks) with 1994’s PCU.

HBO Video likewise locates vintage laughs with the brilliant 1979 film Richard Pryor Live in Concert ($19.97).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I’m trying to get a copy — DVD or VHS — of The Goddess, starring Kim Stanley, set in Ellicott City, Md.

Bill Biggs, via e-mail

Columbia Pictures released that 1958 drama on VHS in the 1980s; older video stores may still have a rare copy in stock.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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