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Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Sword of Doom (1966) d. Kihachi Okamato

The Sword of Doom is a visually compelling Samurai picture from 1966, directed by Kihachi Okamato.
The Sword of Doom (1966)
 d. Kihachi Okamato
Criterion Collection #280

I took about a month off of the Criterion Collection project because I was roughly half way through the 400ish titles that they make available to Hulu Plus subscribers. One of my insights from this off period is that you can't seriously watch the Criterion Collection without appreciating each constituent element, Japanese cinema and Italian cinema to name two consitutent elements that give me trouble.  In the past, I've deluded myself into thinking that readers don't care, but when I actually go back and check the page views for the Japanese Literature and Italian Literature (which both includes films) I see that there multiple posts between the two with more than 100 page views, and a few with 500 or more.

  For example, Yojimbo (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa, has 506 page views. Amarcord (1973), directed by Federico Fellini has 516 page views.  Salo/120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Pasolini isn't far behind, with 461 page views.  The multiple posts with 100-200 pages views include L'Avventura(I), Kwaidan(J), Boy(J), The Night Porter(I), L'eclisse(I, Branded to Kill, Double Suicide, Samurai III: Duel at Granyju Island and In the Realm of the Senses (400 page views).  The average number of page views for a run of the mill Criterion Collection review is between 15 and 40, so all of these films are at least twice as interesting to the Audience for this blog as a normal post.

  The Sword of Doom is a Jidaigeki film, one of two genres in mid 20th century Japanese film.  A loose translation of Jidaigeki is "period drama" or "historical drama" and it is a genre that precedes the medium of film, with antecedents in theater.   Most of the classic Japanese films familiar to Western viewers are from this genre, and they include the entire sub-genre of Samurai films.  The Sword of Doom is set at the very end of the timer period typically covered by a Jidaigeki film, with action between 1860 and 1865.  It is late enough in history that a handgun plays a part in the story, and the Samurais it depicts seem to just be barely hanging on to relevance.

   The lead in The Sword of Doom is the masterless Samurai Ryunosuke Tsukue(played by Tatsuya Nakadai.)  Ryunosuke is a bad dude, the first scene has him killing an elderly man for little or no reason.  The first major incident involves him banging the wife of an opponent he is facing in a fencing match.  He finds out about it, divorces the wife, then kills the dude.  It gets darker from there, and ends up with Ryunosuke going mad, plagued by the spirits of all the people he's killed.

 Did I mention The Sword of Doom is two hours long?  Yeah.  The Criterion Collection product page description emphasizes the role of director Kihachi Okamato as the Sam Fuller to Kurosawa's John Ford. I haven't seen enough of the films of any of the directors involved that comparison except Kurosawa, but I would agree that the composition/mise en scene is extraordinary and agree with the observation that Okamato makes the most of the extra wide 2.35/1 aspect ratio used in Japanese film at the time.

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