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The Sword of Doom (Criterion Collection)
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Boasting some of the most impressive swordplay in the history of samurai epics, Sword of Doom is a visceral masterpiece of violent style and powerful substance. Illustrating the timeless adage that "an evil soul wields an evil sword," this highly stylized classic is driven by the fierce and fearsome performance of Tatsuya Nakadai as Ryunosuke, a sociopathic samurai whose soul--and sword--are vicious instruments of evil. Having mastered a highly unconventional style of fencing, Ryunosuke welcomes an exhibition match at a fencing school run by master swordsman Shimada (Toshirô Mifune, in a small but pivotal role), where he kills his opponent after promising not to. Flagrantly violating all codes of honor, Ryunosuke eventually finds himself challenged from all sides; even his own henchmen rally against him, and director Kihachi Okamoto stages confrontations that are as beautiful as they are graphically violent. As Ryunosuke descends into pure, bloodthirsty insanity, Sword of Doom ends with a freeze-frame that's unforgettably intense. --Jeff Shannon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Audio commentary featuring film historian Stephen Prince. Trailer. PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien. --This text refers to the Blu-ray edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Toshiro Mifune, who gives a fine performance as fencing master Toranosuke Shimada, once said in an interview, "We [the Japanese producers and filmmakers] know that many samurai films are shown outside of Japan, but we make no attempt to cater to that market." SWORD OF DOOM is a perfect example. It was made for Japanese audiences who are familiar with the original story which had been filmed and staged many times and was well-known. The Japanese audience is expected to be as familiar with the plot and historical details as an American audience watching a film about the Civil War or the Old West is expected to be.
Here are some plot points that may make the film a bit easier to understand for new viewers or for other viewers who previously watched it and got tripped up on some details. I know I did the first time I saw it theatrically. If you found the film difficult on the first viewing, give it another chance. And maybe these notes will help!
* In one scene, the main character Ryunosuke Tsukue changes his name to Yoshida after killing an opponent during a duel. The name change isn't explained in any detail. A subtitle simply identifies a sign outside his house as "Yoshida." Some characters now refer to him as Yoshida and others as Tsukue. Again, remember that Japanese audiences are probably familiar with the change.
* Tsukue first meets Shimada at his fencing school. Tsukue wants to challenge the student who won his match with "a splendid Do attack." This referrers to Kendo, the Japanese martial art of fencing.Read more ›
Structured like a good novel (and based on one by Kaizan Nakazato), DOOM allows the viewer to follow the lives of several separate people -- two samurais, two women, and a thief -- as they are inexorably drawn closer and closer together ... and a seemingly chance meeting brings this boiling masterpiece to a violent, destructive head.
However, the real mastery of this film is the sword choreography, though Nakadai's brooding menace certainly keeps the viewer riveted to the screen. Rarely has a samurai film moved to the level of the bloodbath fighting that quite probably was associated to true samurai matches, and certainly, as the product packaging provides, nods to influences of Peckinpah, Leone, and (much later) John Woo are warranted. The climax -- the inevitable explosion of a man driven mad by the ghosts of his past -- is brilliantly staged and executed.
Along for the ride in a blistering cameo is Toshiro Mifune who, in five minutes of screen time, shows what a tour de force performance is truly meant to be.
If DOOM has any shortcoming, it might be an inability to reach a suitable conclusion with Western sensibilities. American influences almost require a neat and tidy packaged ending to films, and DOOM postulates one much like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID where the fate of the participants is largely left to the imagination of the viewer. As the mad Nakadai swings and swings his way through his final showdowns with the gang he has long served, the audience is never given the ultimate vision of his survival or demise ... and that's the beauty of the tale. In the arc of his character, the samurai has already found and faced his fate, and it is madness.
Grim, inescapable madness.
But I doubt that Kihachi Okamoto intended to include all of the story in Misumi's version. And thus he chose to end it with a brilliant device, the freeze frame.
The abrupt ending is a masterful sword stroke from Okamoto because it brings a literal and figurative end to our movie's protagonist. Literally, because we know that Ryunosuke has met his end, and is about to be killed by attacking foes or the burning building. He doesn't need to show us what happens because we already know. And figuratively because it brings an immediate stop in movement, paralleling the abrupt ending of Ryunosuke's life.
But curiously it also immortalizes Ryunosuke, freezing him in time for all times. Why? Okamoto has shown that Ryunosuke deeds in life has caught up with him and he has gone insane, perhaps to escape the consequences. On a spiritual level, his psychopathic mind can live on, but only in it's insane state and not in the real world. In simple terms, the insane world and not the sane world is what's available to Ryunosuke.
Years later George Roy Hill would use this same device for the ending of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, but without Okamoto's haunting and staggering effect.
Most recent customer reviews
An epic Japanese Samurai adventure! A gifted Samurai becomes bloodthirsty and devotes his life to evil. Read morePublished 16 months ago by MCM132128
this is not going to be a helpful review, but if you like bloody fun and samurai goodness, this is the movie for you. Also, Tatsuya Nakadai is beautiful, so it's even better.Published on June 16 2011 by myninjaknees
Pretty awesome film! There are ambiguities, but that's what adds to the mystery of it all. Apparently this movie was to have been made into a trilogy, and is based on a series of... Read morePublished on Oct. 18 2009 by Marc-Antoni Tarondo
I really enjoyed the heavy atmosphere and fight scenes in this movie, but was disappointed with the abrupt ending. Read morePublished on July 14 2004 by Bertilak
this film is a classic. the entire aesthetic of the film reminds me of the classic brooding dark film noirs of the forties and fifties. Read morePublished on April 13 2004 by adrian
This movie was much better than I had expected, and have to say that it is one of the better movies that I've seen, and certainly one of the best of the samurai genre. Read morePublished on March 13 2004 by K Scheffler
Dark and brooding samurai film with one hell of an ending. I wonder how the movie might have fared if it had been in color. Whole lot of on screen bloodshed in this one. Read morePublished on Nov. 11 2003 by M. Hencke
I am a huge fan of the Japanese Samurai film, and this film is one of the main reasons. If you are a fan of Kurosawa films, you should check this out. Read morePublished on April 18 2003 by Toby Staley
Yes, this is a remake of Kenji Misumi's three part Daibosatsu tôge (1959).
But I doubt that Kihachi Okamoto intended to include all of the story in Misumi's version. Read more
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