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 does it look?
The Sword of Doom was once available by laserdisc by Criterion and in present day it gets an anamorphic treatment in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the results being in one word: stunning. The transfer on this DVD is flawless with only one or two instances of specks or debris. The blacks and the night scenes are at just the right level with the reflections and the lighting on the face without any elements of the age or the time. The rain pours and there are no print flaws and not a single misstep in this pristine print. Criterion demonstrates just how well they preserve any kind of movie with this title and it’s look.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is a decent one that allows the Japanese language to be spoken fluently and sharply with the right amount balance of score and effects thrown in for good measure. Silence is golden with this film in terms of many scenes and it is handled very nicely on this DVD. 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. This viewer could swear there is a Three Stooges eyepoke somewhere in one of the battle scene and it did give a moment of laughter and hearing it on this track was a bright light into this dark but effective film. This disc also has Japanese subtitles and the film can be viewed with or without them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The only extra on this disc is not on the disc but what comes with the disc. It is an intriguing essay written about the film by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien.
With the advantage of shooting in wide black and white and intrigue boiling from one moment to the next, The Sword of Doom is nothing short of madness, mayhem and solid action given to any DVD collector in another great job by Criterion with it’s clarity visually and audibly that doesn’t need an abundance of extras to justify it.