Sorry if this sounds like a spoiler, but there's no point in recommending a movie as good as this one without giving a fair warning: Sword of Doom, originally titled The Pass of the Boddhisattva, was intended to be a cinematic trilogy. Unfortunately, only one of the three movies were made. Consequently, several plot elements are left unresolved at the movie's end. If you go in knowing this, it might help you feel better about the abrupt ending. I almost wish that some studio would pick this one up, secure funding for all three flicks and finish them all.
I *almost* wish that.
It's doubtful that all the elements that made this movie so masterful would be incorporated into a modern remake: The stoic performances. The even pacing. The sudden switch from meditative tension to wakeful acts of violence and back to tension. More importantly, the strong enigma that surrounds the morally ambivalent lead character, Ryunosuke Tsukue. Ryunosuke, who moves around from town to town as a samurai-for-hire, finds himself a target of men who fear him and those seeking revenge for people he's killed. In many cases, he is acting in self-defense, although this doesn't prevent Ryunosuke from developing a reputation as being something closer to a devil then an honorable samurai.
It is true that Ryunosuke seems to be unmoved by his own actions. And at times the glint in his eyes are those of a mad-man. But he seems strangely controlled, reasonable and, at times, accommodating. He hears out the pleas of most people who address him, and it can be argued that it is these pleading requests that get him into the most trouble, resulting in his infamy. For instance, at the beginning of the film he is asked to throw a sparring match by the wife of a man Ryunosuke will battle. Ryunosuke sits down and considers the proposal by the wife, and compares the dignity of a samurai's sword to the chastity of a woman (this is a period film, folks). He strikes up a bargain with the woman under terms that he feels is equanimous and fitting with his analogy.
That's when the shit starts.
Sword of Doom sets itself up to be a tale of retribution as Ryunosuke soon learns that he is being hunted down by the brother of a man he killed. However, my first impression is that the movie is exploring the fine line between a man who kills and a man who murders. Ryunosuke's greatest crime seems to be, not the act of killing, but his cold and uncompromising response to having killed. He is presented as an avatar of death, and like death, Ryunosuke is both indiscriminate and indifferent. This is a fair conjecture since the movie begins with a Buddhist pilgrim praying for death and seconds later Ryunosuke appears to answer the prayer.
Despite the movie ending with several loose-ends remaining untied, the movie has an incredible climax that makes up for most of it. And though I'll never know the complete arc of Ryunosuke over the three tales, I am at least satisfied watching him walk the line of immortal death and its perquisite mortality.
SWORD OF DOOM (1966, known in Japan as Incident at Daibatsu Pass) is a film directed by Kihachi Okamoto; responsible for acclaimed chambara films such as "Red Lion" and "Zatoichi meets Yojimbo". The film is based on the novel by Kaizan Nakazaro; "Daibatsu Tage", and this film still stands out as one of the most violent, dark epic tale even in today's standards. Please note that the novel has also been adapted into a trilogy called "Daibatsu" … more