The Sword of Doom is about an amoral and some might say, sociopathic samurai Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), a master swordsman who uses a ruthless sword technique to devastating efficacy. Ryunosuke is scheduled for a fencing competition in the coming days, and knowing that her husband can't beat Ryunosuke, and that a public defeat would cause him to lose his inheritance and respect, Ohama (Michiyo Aratama) offers herself to Ryunosuke to "throw" the match, which he accepts. However on the day of the competition, her husband finds out about her betrayal, he divorces her, and then in a fit of rage he attacks Ryunosuke with an illegal blow, to which Ryunosuke kills him without so much of a second thought. Ryunosuke is completely indifferent to everything that's happened.
Ryunosuke Tsukue leaves and since Ohama has been disgraced, she begs to leave with him, which he allows. Ryunosuke joins a group of assassins and killers that work for, or enforce the shogun's rule and it's here where he comes across another master swordsman, Toranosuke Shimada (Toshiro Mifune) who causes Ryunsuke to doubt his ability for the first time. The master swordsman Shimada sees Ryunosuke's unforgiving and brutal style for what it is. It's a style that's largely dependent on the counter strike, Ryunosuke is only able to best utilize his style on those who attack him first. The effectiveness of his style depends on the aggression of his opponents. So Shimada sheaths his sword, taunting Ryunosuke to make the first move, but he can't, Shimada has beaten Ryunosuke without even lifting a finger. Meanwhile back at home Ryunosuke is having domestic troubles, but decides to rejoin his gang of murderer's and killers, only to find out that he'll have to face all the demons of his past in one insanity fueled night of what might be considered karma.
The Sword of Doom is an intriguing, yet frustratingly nebulous samurai movie, this is partly due to the fact that The Sword of Doom was supposed to be the first in a planned trilogy that never eventuated. So The Sword of Doom really leaves you hanging on a massive cliffhanger. If ambiguous endings annoy and irritate you, then you'll hate The Sword of Doom, I guarantee it. Despite the abrupt ending, The Sword of Doom is still an exceptionally well crafted samurai movie, it's almost a sin that the other two movies never got made. I'd love to know why they never got made.
The Sword of Doom is also a surprisingly violent movie for its time, it could probably rival Kill Bill in terms of the body count. Despite all the violence I actually think that at its heart, The Sword of Doom is a nuanced character study of Ryunosuke. I would probably compare The Sword of Doom to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, in the way that both movies set out to explore what's the true weight of taking a man's life, and the subsequent toll it takes on a man's soul. Many movies show the good guys and the bad guys killing people as if it were as easy as breathing, but very few movies have explored the eventual toll it can take on a man's soul, spirit, subconscious, or whatever you want to call it.
I actually thought that Ryunosuke was a tormented man who was trying to live a stoic life all to himself. Ryunosuke never shied away from violence, nor did he seek it out, violence simply followed him everywhere he went, partly due to karma and to his emotional apathy for the most part. Much has been said about Ryunosuke, is he evil? a demon? is he misunderstood? or an avenging angel? I don't think he's any of the above. I think he's merely a skilled swordsman whose actions continually haunt him in one way or another.
Ryunosuke is a fanatically devoted samurai whose actions (kills) come crashing down on his psyche in an explosion of blood and carnage that was really unparalleled for its time. The swordplay and choreography is truly exceptional. The narrative of The Sword of Doom can often feel fractured though and a lot of subplots were left unresolved, but I think that can be chalked up to the planned trilogy that never eventuated. I don't think there's any particular right or wrong interpretation of The Sword of Doom, make of it what you will. It's such a shame that the trilogy was never completed. Ryunosuke was a deeply complex character that I would have liked to have seen more of, but as it stands now, The Sword of Doom is one flawed part of what could have been a masterpiece of a trilogy. Sadly, we'll never know now.
Written by - The Sentry - 25/02/2015