Monday, March 11, 2013

The Sword of Doom

Based on the novel by Kaizan Nakazato, Dai-bosatsu Toge (The Sword of Doom) is the story about a disgraced samurai who works as a hitman for various groups only to be pursued by a man whose brother was killed by this samurai. Directed by Kihachi Okamoto and screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto, the film is an exploration of a samurai whose lust for violence and competition leads him into a path of destruction where he would descend into madness. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Yuzo Kayama, Michiyo Aratama, and Toshiro Mifune. Dai-bosatsu Toge is a chilling yet mesmerizing film from Kihachi Okamoto.

In the world of the samurai, there are rules that one has to live by while contests are settled with an air of respect. For the film’s protagonist in Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), he is a very skilled samurai with an unorthodox style but is also amoral and seems to care less at who he kills. After coercing a man’s wife to sleep with him and later kill that man in a duel, he becomes disgraced as he and the woman known as Hama (Michiyo Aratama) live in another town as outcasts while he works for money to kill people for local lords. Yet, he would encounter a revered master in Shimada Toranosuke (Toshiro Mifune) who is aware of Tsukue’s reputation as well as the fact that Tsukue is being pursued by the brother of the man he had killed years before. Eventually, all of Tsukue’s demons would come into place as he loses control of his emotions and the reputation that he’s known for.

Shinobu Hashimoto’s screenplay definitely explores a man who is defined by his sword and skills as a samurai warrior but also someone who is notorious for his actions as he basically kills whoever for no reason. Notably in the film’s beginning as he kills an old man who is praying to Buddha while he later kills another man without remorse. Tsukue is a very complicated individual who respects his role as a samurai but is also one that is very dangerous and not willing to be emotional about anything. Even in the way he gets Hama to sleep with him in order to disgrace her as she ends up marrying him and raising their child as she tries to regain whatever sense of respect she has. Even as she becomes a woman trying to run a business where she gets a young woman into some trouble prompting her uncle to deal with Hama’s carelessness.

While Tsukue seeks money to kill for whoever and find someone who can be a worthy opponent, he is also seeking the brother of the man he had killed the year before. Particularly as he feels that he can kill him with ease but what he doesn’t know is that this young man is being guided by Toranosuke who is this revered and skilled swordsman. Yet, these two men would have an encounter but it would be something where a revelation is unveiled that could allow for one to have the advantage over his opponent. The aftermath of this encounter would leave Tsukue troubled where he would deal with people he’s working for but also those he is unknowingly connected to in the actions that he committed in the span of two years.

Kihachi Okamoto’s direction is very intense in the way he presents not just the duels but also some of the film’s dramatic moments. Notably as Okamoto uses the widescreen format to create these gorgeous compositions of a period in time where things are changing in the world of the samurai. Many of the dramatic moments are often presented in simplistic tones while Okamoto use tracking shots to present some kind of movement or close-ups to intensify the drama. Even as there’s some unique framing devices in the way Okamoto places the actors in a shot and allows that shot to say something about where these characters are. Even in the way Okamoto builds suspense to emphasize something that is about to happen that would advance the story or play to a character’s motivation.

For the duel scenes, Okamoto uses the widescreen format to create these eerie shots of where the actors are placed in the frame. It is all about this slow build-up in the duel to see who will strike first. When it involves group fighting against one, the action is more intense where it is about one trying to fight for his life. What is more startling about the action is the gruesome nature of the violence as there’s blood and body parts being cut off. Even to people who aren’t violent as they become victims of this violence as it gets more intense in the film’s climax in terms of what is presented and the power of it. Notably where it is preceded by this strange sequence that plays to Tsukue’s sins of the past in something that is just surreal but also visceral in what is later presented. Overall, Okamoto creates a truly gripping yet harrowing film about madness and the actions that define the life of a troubled samurai.

Cinematographer Hiroshi Murai does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture some of the brooding aspects of the locations along with some entrancing interior settings including the film‘s climax. Editor Yoshitami Kuroiwa does great work with the editing to play out the suspense with slow, methodical cuts while using more rhythmic cuts to establish the cruel nature of the film‘s violence. Art director Takashi Matsuyama does terrific work with the set pieces from the look of the homes and places to re-create the world of the early 1860s. The sound work of Shin Watari is fantastic for the mood it creates in some of the film‘s quieter moments along with the layer of sounds in a very chilling scene where Tsukue is haunted by these demons. The film’s music by Masaru Sato is amazing for its mixture of eerie, percussive-based music and more ominous string pieces to play out the dark mood of the film.

The film’s cast is phenomenal as it features small yet noteworthy performances from Kei Sato as Tsukue’s boss, Ichiro Nakatani as Hama’s first husband Bunnojo whom Tsukue killed in a duel, Yoko Naito as the young woman Omatsu who works for Hama as she is later sold to a lord, and Ko Nishimura as Omatsu’s uncle who is a man with very little fear as he later aids Bunnojo’s brother Hyoma. Yuzo Kayama is excellent as Bunnojo’s younger brother Hyoma who seeks vengeance over Bunnojo’s death while trying to figure out how to defeat Tsukue. Michiyo Aratama is wonderful as the anguished Hama who deals with the mistakes she made to save her husband only to be with Tsukue as she descends further into disgrace while desperate to save whatever grace she had left.

Toshiro Mifune is brilliant in a small yet crucial role as the master swordsman Toranosuke Shimada as a man who knows every technique in the art of sword fighting while guiding Hyoma into how to approach someone like Tsukue as he would later have an encounter with Tsukue about what it takes to be a great samurai. Finally, there’s Tatsuya Nakadai in an incredible performance as Ryunosuke Tsukue where Nakadai displays a haunting performance as an amoral samurai who is all about killing only to realize that he might not be as invincible while facing the demons that are surrounding him.

Dai-bosatsu Toge is a dark yet captivating film from Kihachi Okamoto led by the masterful performances of Tatsuya Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely among one of the key films of the samurai genre as well as engrossing story about a man’s descent into madness. In the end, Dai-bosatsu Toge is a remarkable film from Kihachi Okamoto.

Kihachi Okamoto Films: (Sengoku Yaro) - (Samurai Assassin) - (Kill!) - (The Human Bullet) - (Red Lion) - (Zaitochi Meets Yojimbo) - (Battle of Okinawa) - (Blue Christmas) - (Rainbow Kids) - (East Meets West)

© thevoid99 2013

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