(1966) dir. Kihachi Okamoto
Recommended to me by a friend, I decided to start the year out with a Samurai flick. And while I haven’t actually seen many Samurai flicks, from the opening shot of the ruthless Ryunosuke’s hat, dominating the foreground, I knew this was not just any Samurai movie. Again, I don’t have many points of comparison, but the visual style and the cinematography were striking and brilliant.
The Sword of Doom follows the aforementioned Ryunosuke, who imbues his sword with the doom. He is hellbent on killing, ruthlessly, remorselessly, endlessly. He kills almost everyone in the movie, it seems like. But what makes the film so strong is not just the cinematography, but the incredible performance by Tatsuya Nakadai as Ryunosuke is really interesting. He is ultimately heartless, but somehow, there is an empathy evoked for his state. He is a lost soul, masterless, unaffiliated with any school, he’s like a wandering ghost.
The film is set at the end of the era of the Samurai, around 1860 or so. There is probably a lot of history here that I don’t have, that I don’t know. But it seems that the Samurai’s are losing their place in Japanese culture of the time and his rootlessness plays into his turn toward an emotional and moral rootlessness as well. His near-permanent glare, dead-eyed, while he is drinking sake, is extremely frightening when he suddenly grins as he is about to attack a young geisha that he had left as an orphan from a killing in the first scene of the film.
I actually have Kihachi Okamoto’s Kill! up as the next film to watch, also recommended. I have to say, I am a fan.