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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Sword of Doom (1966)



Reviews and Comments

The story told by Kihachi Okamoto's Sword of Doom is well known in Japan; virtually not at all in the western hemisphere. Viewers of the film, then, will need to pay close attention, because numerous characters and plot threads weave in and out of the picture, and it can be tricky to keep them straight. It's such a rich tapestry that even if you follow it all, it takes two or three viewings to really absorb and appreciate it.

The film is exquisitely crafted. The cinematography is stark and moody. Okamoto loves to play with the depth within his frame, preferring the illusion of three dimensions to the reality of two. It is remarkable how frequently psychological undertones are achieved by the placement of characters or action in the near foreground or deep background.

It's a somber, ponderous film and will particularly seem that way to anyone expecting the high adventure in Akira Kurosawa's samurai epics. The story is about an evil samurai and the effect his aggressive swordfighting techniques eventually have on him. The cultural backdrop here specifies that a samurai, in his complete dedication, becomes one with his sword. An evil man wields an evil sword. Much is made of the ending, which appears to drop important plot threads. Indeed, the story continues: just a few years earlier, in fact, Kenji Misumi filmed it as a trilogy, but Sword of Doom only covers the first part of it. Critics of the film's ending do have a point. Nonetheless, if one understands the primary purpose of Okamoto's film, then one understands the appropriateness -- and brilliance -- of the ending.