The Sword of Doom
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Director: Kihachi Okamoto
1966 / 121min / 35mm
The legendary Tatsuya Nakadai, so memorably vanquished by Toshiro Mifune at the climax of Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, has one of his signature chambara roles as Ryunosuke, an amoral drifting ronin who sells his blade to the highest bidder, and does a brisk business in the violent, lawless years of the Tokugawa shogunate’s slow disintegration. Mifune is on-hand here as the only master swordsman able to shake Ryunosuke’s belief in his total supremacy—but his worst rival is his own creeping conscience, with Nakadai giving a fierce, fraught performance as a man increasingly pursued by the ghosts of past misdeeds.
“Okamoto’s Sword of Doom was ahead of its time when it was released in Japan in 1966. Tatsuya Nakadai’s seething performance as a psychopathic samurai serial killer is a wonder. The film follows his quietly insane character as he gradually becomes a manically insane character. The film has one of the greatest single tracking shots in cinema, in which Nakadai and his many victims have to perform a flawless ballet of swordsmanship and death. The final minutes of the film are abandoned to wild mayhem, with a startling ending that shocks to this day.”—Walton Ford