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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Sword of Doom (Criterion Collection)
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on September 28, 2014
An epic Japanese Samurai adventure! A gifted Samurai becomes bloodthirsty and devotes his life to evil. Through his unconscionable actions against others he creates a trail of vendettas. This Samurai kills a man in a competition and is pursued by the slain fighters brother.
"The Sword of Doom" has extraordinary and unforgettable sword battle scenes.
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on April 7, 2017
Brilliant version of the Sword of Doom. Something I will watch over and over again
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on November 4, 2003
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.
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on June 12, 2002
When I first came to Los Angeles, there were five Japanese language theaters in town. With my friends, I visited all of them on a regular basis. I fell in love with the first rank directors such as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi; but trailing not far behind them were other greats such as Kihachi Okamato (SWORD OF DOOM), Masaki Kobayashi (HARAKIRI), Kazuo Ikehiro (the Kyoshiro Nemuri samurai films from Daiei), Hiroshi Inagaki (the SAMURAI trilogy), and others.
Okamoto was one of the best directors of action samurai films; and SWORD OF DOOM is one of his best films. Tatsuya Nakadai stars as an evil samurai who is seemingly invincible, the sole master of a sword fighting style that runs counter-intuitive to all the existing styles of his day. Toshiro Mifune has a small role as the master of a sword-fighting school who tries to counter Nakadai's baneful influence during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The unique contribution to this film is the notion that evil destroys itself from within. In the last scene, Nakadai and some of his henchmen are at a geisha house. Overcome with drink, Nakadai sees the ghosts of his victims and runs amok trying to attack them. I won't say what happens, because I would hate to ruin the ending for you.
If you like the classical samurai films of the 1960s, this one is a must for you. The wide-screen letterbox print is nothing short of superb. A must see!
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on April 18, 2003
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. If you like Spegetti Westerns ala Sergio Leone, then you should pick up a Kurosawa film, and this one. If you like the Wild Bunch, you might like this film too.
The main charater has a dark foreboding feel of a samurai "Darth Vader". Though, in Star Wars, it turned out Vader had good barried within him. This charater is just bad. To me he will be one of the quintessential evil charaters of all time.
That said, the plot is excelent, the acting is great, and the directing is top knotch. The director is capable of creating the same tension as a Leone shoot out, and the same sinse of carnage of the shootouts in the Wild Bunch, except with swords. That is why to me Samurai films are supperior to Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, they were directed to create mood were the Kung Fu movies are only about action.
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on March 13, 2004
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. Tatsuya Nakadai was excellent as the the samurai Ryunosuke, whose decent towards evil is the central focus of the story. Interwoven are several interesting subplots, making for a complex and engaging film. Mifune's role is minor, but far from insignificant. Cinematography was great and the action sequences were fantastic. If you are a fan of samurai films, or Japanese films in general, this is one that you must see.
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on July 26, 1999
They just don't shoot films like this anymore. The deep focus, widescreen photography is some of the best you'll ever see. Ryunosuke is the ultimate anti-hero. The action in this film rivals any Honk Kong kung fu blowout. And the final battle has the passion and energy of John Woo's greatest. Not to mention the length. Where most films would have stopped, Ryunosuke just keeps going, and going, ..sort of like the Energizer Samurai. Beautiful film. Toshiro Mifune also gives a great performance (when doesn't he?), even though his part in this one is secondary. The greatest of all non-Kurosawa jedi-geicki films.
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on July 26, 2002
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. 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.
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on January 20, 2002
The complicated plot has several intersecting characters with the anit-hero at it's center as we follow his decention into bloody madness.
The b&w photography is masterful as well as the direction that never repeats a shot thusly keeping the eye always interested.
But it's the fantastic swordplay of the individual against groups
that keeps the viewers coming back for more. These are staged in a quiet forrest, a snow storm, and a burning building, making each one different. And each fight becomes bloodier as the villian becomes more insane. The ending is magnificent because it avoids the obvious conclusion and give us better than we were hoping for.
Even if you've never heard of Tatsuya Nakadai, you'll become a big fan of his after viewing this film. He gives a truely inspired(deranged) performance.
Because of the blood and flying limbs be careful who you view this film with. Even in b&w it's very bloody and the dying are vocal about it. An adult will see the style of it though and appreciate the staging of the swordplay.
But the movie is far more than the fights. It's a fancinating tale of intersecting characters that finally converge on each other, blending real historical people with fictional ones. It's only a shame that most people won't see this movie in a dark theater on a wide screen. I did many times and was always moved and excited as were the friends that I took to see it.
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on December 5, 1999
SWORD OF DOOM is one of the masterpieces of samurai, and action, cinema but certain aspects of it are difficult for non-Japanese audiences or viewers not familiar with the historical background of the subject.
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. In Kendo, participants wear headgear and leather armor and fence with bamboo swords. Only certain areas on the body are legitimate striking points: the top of the head, the forearms, and the sides. When Tsukue defeats his opponent, Shimada says, "Men. He won." He's referring to a point scored, not addressing his students!
* In one scene, a title informs the viewer, "The Shinsen Group is formed!" The Shinsen Group (Shinsengumi) were a para-military group of swordsmen who vowed to protect the Tokugawa Shogunate which was losing its once vast power. Shinsengumi fought against anything that might weaken the Shogunate; including foreign influences and internal factions. The Shinsengumi have been portrayed many times in movies and TV shows. In some cases, they are portrayed as self-sacrificing patriots loyal to their country. In others, they are portrayed as a fascist military group killing anyone who opposes them or the Shogunate. Toshiro Mifune starred in and produced an excellent film about them called BAND OF ASSASSINS (SHINSENGUMI). Hopefully, AnimEigo will eventually release this.
* The final scene. What exactly happens? Does Tsukue kill dozens of men and then die? Does he survive to face the brother of the man he killed? Or is the entire battle only in his deranged mind? It's the last scenario. When Tsukue ran out of men to kill, his warped mind invented more. Of the three versions I've seen, (this version, a trilogy of films made in the 1950s by Tomu Uchida and another trilogy made in the 1960s by Kenji Misumi) this is the only version that doesn't explicitly show that Tsukue is imagining the final battle.
* What does happen to Tsukue? If you'd rather not find out, skip to the next paragraph. Tsukue is blinded during an explosion and becomes more of a sympatric figure. The avenging brother finally has a chance to settle with him during a violent storm. He hesitates to kill the nearly defenseless Tsukue. A flood washes Tsukue away to his death.
SWORD OF DOOM is a fantastic film to watch. The director, Kihachi Okamoto, was one of the most impressive visual stylists working in film. The final scene holds up beautifully today. The acting is excellent all around. Nakadai as Tsukue gives one of the screens best performances. Few actors could create such disturbingly nihilistic characters as Nakadai does in this performance. The character is a perfect contrast to Mifune's Shimada. Both are highly skilled swordsmen but Mifune knows that "an evil soul is an evil sword."
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