The Sword of Doom
The Sword of Doom Directed by Kihachi Okamoto Produced by Sanezumi Fujimoto
Written by Shinobu Hashimoto,
from a novel by Kaizan Nakazato
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai,
Music by Masaru Satô Release date(s) January 25, 1966 Running time 119 min Country Japan Language Japanese
The story follows the life of Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), an amoral samurai and a master swordsman with an unorthodox style. Ryunosuke is first seen when he kills an elderly Buddhist pilgrim who he finds praying for death. He appears to have no feeling. Later, he kills an opponent in self defence in a fencing competition that was intended to be non-lethal, but became a duel after he coerced his opponent's wife to have sex with him in exchange for throwing the match and allowing her husband to win. His opponent finds out about the affair prior to the match, and is shown giving his wife a notice of divorce. His rage at Ryunosuke during the match causes him to take an illegal lunging attack after the judge proclaims a draw, and Ryunosuke, the better swordsman, parries and kills him with one stroke of his bokken. Ryunosuke flees town after killing the man, and cuts down many of the dead opponent's clansmen who attack him as he is leaving. His opponent's ex-wife asks to go along with him. To make a living, Ryunosuke joins the Shinsengumi, a sort of semi-official police force made up of ronin that supports the Tokugawa shogunate through murder and assassinations.
Through all his interactions, whether killing a man or at home with his mistress and their baby son, Ryunosuke rarely shows any emotion. His expression is fixed in a glassy stare that suggests a quiet insanity.
Eventually Ryunosuke learns that the younger brother of the man he killed in the fencing match is looking for him, intent on revenge. He plans to meet this young man and kill him, but before the duel can take place, two events occur that shake his confidence. In a botched assassination attempt, he sees another master swordsman, Shimada Toranosuke (Toshirō Mifune), in action, and for the first time he doubts that his own skill is truly unbeatable. That same night, Ryunosuke's mistress, horrified by his unremitting evil, tries to kill him in his sleep. He kills her in the gardens, to the ominous cries of their sleeping child inside the house, and flees without keeping his appointment to duel with his pursuer. Later he rejoins the gang of assassins at an oiran house in the Shimabara district of Kyoto. There, in a quiet (and he is told, haunted) room, he starts seeing the ghosts of all the people he has killed. Further, he is haunted by the words of Shimada: "The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. An evil soul is an evil sword." The final blow comes when he realizes that the apprentice oiran sent to entertain him is the granddaughter of the pilgrim he murdered at the film's beginning.
With this realization, Ryunosuke appears to descend into complete insanity. He starts slashing at the shadows of the ghosts that surround him, and then begins attacking his fellow assassins, who seem to number in the hundreds. In one of the longest (seven minutes) and most famous sword fight scenes on film, Ryunosuke kills dozens of gang members in the burning geisha house as they gradually wear him down with what few wounds they can inflict. Finally it appears that Ryunosuke will surely be killed; bleeding and staggering, his face contorted in rage, he lurches forward, raises his sword once more, and the film ends; a freeze-frame catching Ryunosuke in mid sword-slash.
The film's abrupt ending leaves many plot elements unresolved. The film originally intended to begin a trilogy of films, based on the historical novel of the same name by Kaizan Nakazato. That 41-volume novel encompassed 1,533 chapters and over 5.7 million Japanese characters—considered the largest novel in Japan until the publication of Sohachi Yamaoka's 40-volume serialized novel Tokugawa Ieyasu. The filmmakers wanted to complete the story in later sequels, but these were never made.
- There have been three other adaptations of Dai-bosatsu tōge, a two movie series Daibosatsu tôge in 1935, as well as trilogies Souls in the Moonlight in 1957 and Satan's Sword in 1960.
- Ryunosuke's swordfighting technique is Kogen Ittō-ryū.
- The Sword of Doom at the Internet Movie Database
- The Sword of Doom at AllRovi
- Hines, Zachary (2005). "Review - The Sword of Doom". FilmCritic.com. http://www.filmcritic.com/reviews/1966/sword-of-doom/.
- Criterion Collection essay by Geoffrey O'Brien
- "大菩薩峠 (Dai-bosatsu tōge)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. http://www.jmdb.ne.jp/1966/cp000640.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
- Onion AV Club Review
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