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SWORD OF DOOM, THE (Dai-bosatsu tôge)(director: Kihachi Okamoto; screenwriter: Shinobu Hoashimoto/from the novel by Kaizan Nakazato; cinematographer: Hiroshi Murai; editor: Yoshitami Kuroiwa; music: Masaru Satô; cast: Tatsuya Nakadai (Ryunosuke Tsukue), Yuzo Kayama (Hyoma Utsuki), Michiyo Aratama (Ohama), Toshiro Mifune (Toranosuke Shimada), Yôko Naito (Omatsu), Tadao Nakamaru (Isamu Kondo), Ichiro Nakaya (Bunnojo Utsuki), Ko Nishimura (Shichibei, Omatsu’s ‘uncle’), Kamatari Fujiwara (Omatsu’s grandfather), Kei Sato (Kamo Serizawa); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sanezumi Fujimoto/Kaneharu Minamizato/Masayuki Sato; Home Vision Entertainment; 1966-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Given a sweeping epic treatment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bloody Buddhist samurai pic set in the 19th century of Japan. It’s adapted from a 1913 novel by Kaizan Nakazato and is written by Shinobu Hoashimoto. Under the lively direction of Kihachi Okamoto (“Red Lion”/”Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo”/”Fort Graveyard”) the brooding tale with the message ‘to live by the sword, is to die by the sword,’ is given a sweeping epic treatment, shows great swords play, is well-acted and is beautifully photographed in widescreen ‘Scope and in stunning black-and-white.

In 1862, Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), a sword master with his own peculiar style who was given the boot by the Kogen school for his bloodthirsty ways, acts like a psychopath and needlessly slays a harmless old pilgrim (Kamatari Fujiwara) praying by a Buddhist shrine atop a mountain pass to no longer be a burden on his young granddaughter. His surviving granddaughter, Omatsu (Yôko Naito), is raised by her so-called uncle Shichibei (Ko Nishimura), a crooked peddler who happened to be passing by the shrine at the time of the murder and felt sorry for the beautiful Omatsu. Shichibei thinks by doing this good deed he can find redemption for his petty criminal life.

Ryunosuke then beds down with Ohama (Michiyo Aratama), the distressed wife of an upcoming tournament opponent on Mt. Mitake from the same school he once attended, Bunnojo Utsuki (Ichiro Nakaya), who has little chance of beating the master swordsman and is the reason she did what she did so that Ryunosuke would take a dive. When the honorable Bunnojo hears about this deception, he divorces his wife and during the sporting match lunges and tries to kill Ryunosuke. Instead he’s killed and later thirty of his followers who try to ambush Ryunosuke in the woods are slain by the proficient killing-machine. Ryunosuke agrees to take care of Ohama and they have a child. In the meantime, he’s a disgraced samurai who joins an upstart rowdy outlaw cutthroat group, whose group leader is Serizawa (Kei Sato), and they aim to take down the powerful Lord Kondo and cause anarchy in the land by paving the way for the collapse of the Shogunate rule.

The brother, Hyoma Utsuki (Yuzo Kayama), of the slain Bunnojo vows for revenge and joins the school of Japan’s best swordsman, Shimada (Toshiro Mifune), who teaches that “The soul is the sword.” and “An evil sword is an evil soul.” The callow brother prepares for the day he will be ready to face Ryunosuke. That comes about some two years later, whereby the strange climax has the demonic and haunted swordsman taking on ghosts and both sides of the fray. Ryunosuke goes down after killing his selfish common-law wife, his innocent child and scores of other swordsmen in a chilling climactic scene of massive carnage.

The film, though well-constructed, has big gaps in its storytelling, leaving it incomprehensible. It seems this was meant to be an ongoing serial with many chapters, but when it materialized as just this film those chapters were condensed and we’re left hanging with missing parts to the story.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”