The Sword of Doom

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #280: Kihachi Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom.


As I watched this, I kept think­ing that if Samuel Fuller had been Japan­ese, he would have made The Sword of Doom. This film has the curi­ous mix of shlock and art, bru­tal­i­ty and grace that Fuller was known for. Even the mechan­ics of the schlock and art are par­al­lel. The shlock cen­ters around the action and plot, while the art comes through in shot selec­tion and edit­ing. Even the con­clu­sion is Fulleresque, when the shlock gets lever­aged into an ambigu­ous ques­tion aimed at the audi­ence. I’m going to need to rewatch Shock Cor­ri­dor soon, so I can stitch it back to Okamoto’s film.

The Sword of Doom, once again like Shock Cor­ri­dor, is an exam­i­na­tion of the human psy­che. The main char­ac­ter, Ryono­suke, is a mas­ter swords­man, com­plete­ly unread­able in regard to fenc­ing style and emo­tion. He kills for plea­sure or pow­er, his exact rea­son­ing is unknown, but the ene­mies he cre­ates, both known and unknown, fol­low him seek­ing revenge. As do the dead. He ends up sup­port­ing the ex-wife of one of his vic­tims and sells him­self out to groups of ronin as back­up for assas­si­na­tion after assas­si­na­tion. If I was a bit more knowl­edge­able about Japan­ese his­to­ry as it con­cerns the fall of the Toku­gawa shogu­nate I’d prob­a­bly be able to place a bit more con­text to his actions. I might be miss­ing a whole lay­er of applic­a­bil­i­ty here.

Ryono­suke kills his way through a few more years, includ­ing killing the woman he sup­port­ed and her child. He is bent on killing the broth­er of the woman he killed’s hus­band whom he killed. Broth­er is just as intent on killing Ryono­suke, at the behest of Ryonosuke’s late father. At least there is some par­i­ty here. Every­one wants Ryono­suke dead, and Ryono­suke wants to kill every­one. Mean­while, the grand-daugh­ter of a man that Ryono­suke killed is stuck in geisha-train­ing and a thief that Ryono­suke almost killed who has sup­port­ed the grand-daugh­ter of the man that Ryono­suke killed is try­ing to free her. They end up com­ing into con­tact with the broth­er of the dead hus­band with the dead wife and dead child that Ryono­suke killed. Ryono­suke ends up with the grand-daugh­ter of the [oh, fuck it] in a room where he has just been asked to kill the right-hand man of the boss he serves.

The pos­si­bil­i­ty of more death final­ly catch­es up with him and Ryono­suke is dri­ven mad by the shades of those he has killed. He tries to kill them again, but the ronin with whom he is cur­rent­ly asso­ci­at­ed try to kill him in order to stop the mad­ness. Of course, he kills most of them. The film ends dur­ing this bat­tle, so like­ly, no one gets their vengeance.

The fenc­ing did not impress me. I could be a badass samu­rai judg­ing by the qual­i­ty of Ryonosuke’s oppo­nents. Most of them just run past him with their katana held high. They don’t even try to hit him. It is like chop­ping bam­boo. Yet the focus on Ryonosuke’s gen­er­al emo­tion­less aspect as it grows through­out the film and the bat­tle with the shades [pun oh so very intend­ed] are genius scenes. The shade fight is on par with the house of mir­rors from The Lady of Shang­hai in terms of cin­e­mat­ic artistry. There are a cou­ple hun­dred oth­er dead samu­rai in this film [some of which you can see below] but I doubt you want to hear about them. Samu­rai must have grown on trees dur­ing the shogu­nate. This is a samu­rai movie that def­i­nite­ly grows on you. Track it down if you like samu­rai flicks and haven’t seen this one.


Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Geof­frey O’Brien
• A teas­er for the film. I apol­o­gize for the clas­sic rock accom­pa­ni­ment to this, but at least there are a few clips of the cli­mac­tic wig out.
• Bad as the fight scenes were, they are Oscar-win­ning per­for­mances com­pared to this. [I have since learned that the bad guy in this film is Akron’s own Don Niam.]

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