This was a film that really performed cinema magic: how could a film so slow and measured also fill the viewer with so much tension as the plot worked its way toward an inevitable conclusion? Snow on the Blades is set at the beginning of the Meiji period when the Japanese feudal system was coming to an end and the samurais were being cast adrift without their old codes and allegiances to direct them. Newly married and promoted samurai Shimura Kingo is the chief bodyguard for the controversial chief minister of the Shogun. He fails in his duties to protect the minister, who is slain by a band of assassins as he’s being escorted to court one snowy winter day. Kingo is then given the penance of finding the five escaped assassins before he is allowed an honorable suicide. Over the course of 13 years, Kingo and his loyal and long-suffering wife Setsu, seek the fugitives until there is but one left, Jubei, who has also been living a half-life, hiding out as a rickshaw driver, since killing the minister. The clash between the old ways and the new, ancient feudal codes of honor and newer, more practical ways of living is beautifully realized in this plot. Shot in Kyoto, the movie is an austere visual delight. The performances are subtle but deep, particularly by the two leads and Ryoko Hirosue, who plays Setsu. Highly recommended.