July 2, 1966 [The Sword of Doom]

What a shock--and what a relief--to see Tatsuya Nakadai in The Sword of Doom. His haunted face in The Human Condition returns--sad, lost, a frightened child--but now it's wrapped around a burning skull, his voice the low monotone of the Japanese demon squatting behind the tree you pass, making you jump before it cuts you open--and Tatsuya cuts, again and again and again, as the seemingly possessed samurai. Another welcome face in the midst of too much doom is Toshiro Mifune, the fencing-master who reminds us to "study the soul to know the sword"--and he sees an evil soul in Tatsuya's Ryunosuke, who grates out words about honor and righting wrongs--and he knows who has been wronged: always him, the crazy man's defense of evil. These actors have walked into a dark sharp corner, and when Ryunosuke emerges he bares his teeth--again, haunted by all those dead--and he bites like the decapitated heads in Madame Guillotine's basket, one last snarling outraged kiss; and he defends himself from ghosts by making many more in a finale of slaughter that goes on so long it begins to feel, if not necessary, then simply what is--the normal state of things, filled with screams and groans, drenched in blood.

The film ends in close-up, Ryunosuke raising the Sword of Doom, still slicing away long after we've left the theater. He is making a world--a dead one, an anti-creation in which evil has the potter's wheel, and everything gets splattered as he spins with hands steady and black-wet.


  1. Thanks to your apettisor I saw Sword of Doom, and enjoyed it's "normal state of things". The ending,where the demon's inevitable fall is omitted was a neat "stroke".


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