The Sword of Doom (1966)

I thought Jef Costello of Le Samouraï was the most cold-blooded killer in film but that was till I saw The Sword of Doom. A Japanese film set in the days of samurai, The Sword of Doom introduces viewers to Ryunosuke, a lone samurai. The embodiment of evil, Ryunosuke kills and rapes for something to get an advantage. Despite the masterful, choreographed sword fighting It’s hard to watch. I hoped that Toranosuke, a master who led a school for samurai, would vanquish Ryunosuke and that hope carried me through this film.

It’s no exaggeration that Ryunosuke is pure evil with no redeeming quality. He killed dozens with no remorse. He shows no chivalry whatsoever. He breaks a promise to the wife of a samurai he fights, rapes her, and her husband then divorces her. She winds up stuck living with Ryunosuke, who treats her badly, but then again that’s how a sociopath treats everyone. 

The cinematography is striking as is the choreography of the sword fighting. Even though Ryunosuke is completely loathsome, actor Tatsuya Nakadai (of The Human Condition, Yojimbo,  Sanjuro and dozens of other classics) deserves praise. 

When I lived in China, someone told me that the Chinese like the beauty of violence a lot more than Westerners do. I wonder if this is the case with The Sword of Doom. As repugnant as the hero was, I must say the film was beautiful. 

Below’s the beginning of the essay The Sword of Doom: Calligraphy in Blood by Geoffrey O’Brien. To read the whole essay, click here

Kihachi Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom is likely to strike the unalerted viewer as an exercise in absurdist violence, tracking the career of a nihilistic swordsman from his gratuitous murder of a defenseless old man to his final descent into what looks like a rehearsal for global annihilation, as, in a kind of ecstasy, he slaughters a seemingly endless army of attackers both real and phantasmal. 

Geoffrey O’Brien, criterion.com

While it’s beautiful, I don’t think it’s essential to watch The Sword of Doom. I don’t recommend it for people sensitive to violence.

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