Tatsuya Nakadai plays a marvelously evil samurai who only finds greatness at the cost of madness in this 1966 bloody Japanese film, SWORD OF DOOM.
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.