The Sword Of Doom or 大菩薩峠 Daibosatsu Toge (which is actually the name of a mountain pass used in the film) is a 1966 samurai movie starring Tatsuya Nakadai and directed by Kihachi Okamoto. Toshiro Mifune also appears as an experienced kendo master in a supporting role. Nakadai plays Ryunosuke Tsukue, a ronin cast out from the Kogen Itto-Ryu school of swordsmanship. He’s the ultimate antihero, a cold and ruthless murderer who kills without much thought or emotion.

The movie starts out with an elderly man going on a pilgrimage with his granddaughter through the pass afterwhich the Japanese title takes the name. The old man prays for an early death so his granddaughter will not suffer the burden of looking after him, at which point Ryunosuke duly obliges with a slash to his back.

He’s pleaded with to lose a sparring match to a rival by his father to allow him to save his face. The man’s wife even begs him to help, offering herself in exchange. Instead, he kills the man in “self-defense” and ends up staying with the woman. Obviously upset with the death of their kin, the entire school sets out to kill him, only for Ryunosuke to slash them all to hell in a really slick semi isometric/side scrolling scene. He next joins the Shinsengumi as a ronin for hire, killing whoever they want him to for a pittance.

Eventually, the brother of the man he killed in the sparring contest seeks revenge and even his mistress tries to turn on him. The Shinsengumi too in a final, climactic scene which ends abruptly but not without a lot of rather gruesome deaths; especially for the time. In total, Ryunosuke kills 90 dudes throughout the film.

Along the course of the film, Ryunosuke’s character changes dramatically. At the start, he has a certain arrogance and perhaps sees himself as nigh invincible, a human god of death sent to cleanse the earth. Yet slowly, his position turns more decrepit than before. Even if his sword skills still seem unmatched, he’s living pretty much in squalor and pinching pennies as a killer for hire.Eventually, he meets Mifune’s character and for the first time, is scared shitless. From thereon, his invincibility looks a lot less convincing and it appears that he’s about to get what he’s given. He goes from being an arrogant dick to a loser and then an insect scrambling to survive, all the while being a really good swordsman as well.

I really enjoyed the movie. I thought the action scenes were just mad, particularly for something from the 60s. It was really smooth, well planned and choreographed. Very very stylish to say the least. Hands get chopped off and blood goes everywhere and it’s like Ryunosuke just needs one hit to kill anyone. His technique is all about the bait and slash, so you see guys rushing at him and swiftly steps aside or rolls away before drawing a quick slash across his foe.

I also liked the camera work and the inventive use of lighting and shadows to tell the story, particularly just before the end fight scene where Ryunosuke imagines all the people he’s slain back to haunt him and he’s slashing at these bamboo blinds and half his faces is shrouded in lines until eventually his imaginary ghosts turn into real enemies hiding behind the screens.

Whilst you’ll hate his character from the start and probably till the end, the movie itself is pretty snappy and action intense sendup on karma being a bitch. You’ll also marvel with the ease with which Mifune and Ryunosuke just go slash slash slash with careless abandon. Check the video for more convincing proof.

The only “bad” thing is the seriously abrupt freeze frame of Ryunosuke’s face of an ending in the midst of the final fight. Apparently, the film was supposed to be a trilogy but somehow the ending as it is also maybe is a lot more powerful in a sense. I was certainly convinced that there’s more to Sword Of Doom than just a nihilistic sword slashing spree. Probably already up there in my fave films list but then again, I’m a knife loving moron who wishes he were a samurai with a topknot and mad bitches falling all over.

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