Friday, October 15, 2010

Samurai movie review: The Sword of Doom

The Sword of Doom is an unapologetic bad guy movie. It might even be the ultimate bad guy movie. This black and white 1966 film starring Tatsuya Nakadai is a classic of the Samurai movie genre.

Every scene in the film is artistically composed. The costumes, sets, and landscapes summon historical Japan with the care and grace of a master calligrapher. All the actors are strong, and Tatsuya Nakadai in the lead role of Ryunosuke Tatsue presents a gripping study in remorseless evil. Ryunosuke is said to have an evil soul, which, for a Samurai, translates into an evil sword. To fully grasp the pitiless nature of this man, know that his own father in the movie begs another Samurai to hunt down Ryunosuke and kill him. This is his father's dying wish.

Ryunosuke is a tremendous bad guy character, but he is not a bad guy for whom I want to cheer, like Darth Vader. No, Ryunosuke is just bad. As I watched The Sword of Doom I felt terrible for the people he killed and the lives he ruined. But what is magnificent about Ryunosuke is that he is such a bad ass. I just had to respect him for that and know that he would not change. As I watched the story, I was hoping for him to be killed but feared for those who would attempt it.

To quickly recount what The Sword of Doom gives lovers of Samurai adventure, here's the speed list:

  • Great acting all around.
  • Super awesome hat for the bad guy. (You have to see it to know what I mean.)
  • Inscrutable Japanese politics.
  • Lots of sword-slashing action.
  • Poetic introspection.
  • Detailed look at many elements of Japanese society, including gangsters, courtesans, and fencing teachers.

I'm still undecided about whether I liked how this movie ended. I'm waffling between hating it and thinking it's brilliant. I do know for sure that the moment it ended, my first thought was that I wanted to watch The Sword of Doom again.

A definite five sword rating for this Samurai masterpiece.