Plot: What’s it about?
A recent study in the news explained what in the world is the most powerful weapon. At the top of the list was not a gun, a knife, or a lead pipe for that matter. It happened to be a Samurai Sword. Which brings the audience cutting back into the mid 1960s and Toho Studios is reaping the benefits of a monster named Godzilla. At the same time a film is being made about one individual armed with a samurai sword and the duties that it does take him. From the black and white scope of the 19th century, it’s not just any Samurai Sword but what our main character carries is dressed in black and is The Sword of Doom.
Ryunosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a man that kills without warning and takes pleasure in revenge without remorse. He is scheduled for a match against an individual and is pleaded by more than one source to throw the match in his opponent’s favor. However, complications insue and the power of the sword as well as Ryunosuke’s well being comes into play when the match commences. Everyone around him starts to realize the danger of Ryunosuke and how far he will go as long as he has his sword in tow.
Orson Welles was once quoted as saying that “black and white is an actor’s friend” and no movie is more evident of this as Sword of Doom is. The tone that Okamoto sets seems like a pleasant day but that day is tinged with blood and a man who possesses a dangerous weapon and how far he takes that possession both physically and psychologically.
Okamoto’s choice for black and white is an extraordinary one not giving into the candy colored world of Godzilla but giving a tone of smokey woods, a code of honor and one man’s hunger for challenge even if some individuals rub him the wrong way for the smallest of things. No matter how much Ryu wants to change things, he cannot because he kills and that’s what he’s the best at doing and nothing will come in the way of that as long as he lives, breathes and walks the earth.
It is a treat to see a key role by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mufune as a fencing instructor who may have plans of his own for Ryunosuke as his assistant is an associate that shares a past with him even when the main character changes his name and challenges him in front of a class. It’s a great scene and Mufune has a little more to do than just an average supporting role.
The score to the film sounds like an origin of what was to come the music for the Planet of the Apes films as there are a lot of similarities when it is used and the ending seems to have another bit of inspiration that Fox instilled later in another big film, George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Sword of Doom is one man’s battle within himself on the flip side of good vs. evil and a journey into the method of madness with a samurai sword.
Video: How’s it look?
I’ve often said that some of the most beautiful-looking images are those that are shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a stark, black and white image. I stand by that statement. While the subject matter of The Sword of Doom might not particularly appeal to the average viewer, I can’t deny that this new HD AVC image looks stunning. Contrast works nicely with the deep, dark blacks in most scenes. It’s a nice-looking and very interesting-looking image to say the least and, as per usual, Criterion has knocked it out of the park with their efforts.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Also new to this Blu-ray edition is a new uncompressed mono soundtrack. As is the case with so many mono mixes, it’s really hard to get any sort of dynamic range out of just one channel, but this has a very nice, smooth sound to it that I had no complaints with. The effects are great including the swipe of the sword and the attacks that bring a lot to the table for that time. It may not always be in sync but it is effective enough for what it is.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Unlike some other Criterion titles, this one isn’t bursting at the seams with supplements. Still, let’s dive into what’s included.
- Audio Commentary – Film historian Stephen Prince provides a very insightful and informative commentary track. This is a new addition to the Blu-ray release and wasn’t featured on the standard DVD issue from a while back. It’s a welcome addition and fans of the film will surely enjoy this track.
- Essay – Film critic Geoffrey O’Brien provides the same essay that was included on the previous Criterion DVD release.
- Theatrical Trailer