11 December 2017



'The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil soul, evil sword.'

This thrilling Japanese swordplay movie is based on a forty-one volume novel, which gargantuan amount of effort and labour screams 'epic' in any language. Ryunosuke is a handsome samurai and virtually unbeatable master swordsman, wandering (mostly) solo around Japan in the 1860s, the turbulent final days of shogunate rule in that country.

Boy, is he handsome...! With his quirky ponytailed dark hair and those fabulous, fabulous big dark limpid eyes, he'd be a good catch by any woman's standards. His moral code, however, might raise an eyebrow or two and it is this very stumbling-block that causes him big problems in his life. Ryonosuke is mostly described, in fact, as 'amoral,' and it must be said, in fairness, that there's a strong case for the prosecution.

He's a samurai-slash-assassin who seems to like killing for the sake of it or, at the very least, he certainly engages in enough of it. When we first meet him, he's brutally slaughtering an old codger who's engrossed in prayer up in the green grassy hills. True enough, the old man was praying for death, but still, Ryunosuke's act of shocking violence turns our collective stomachs a little bit. Why did he do such a thing? What could possibly have prompted him?

We never really find out what makes our handsome villain tick, as such. Was he abused or neglected as a child? Certainly he's dead behind the eyes and he doesn't differentiate between the sexes when it comes to cold-blooded murder. He's an equal opportunities assassin, lol.

I'd love to go into his mind and see what's making him behave like a demented serial killer on acid. I'd love to try and change him. I'm sure I could too. All he needs is the love of a good woman. I could be that woman, and succeed where so many others have failed. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself. Wouldn't be the first time, and I doubt it'll be the last, heh-heh-heh.

Still though, he's such an attractive challenge! He's moody, broody, horny and almost monosyllabic about his feelings or emotions, of which he appears to have none. He coldly and calculatingly has brutal sex with a woman called Ohama in exchange for 'throwing' a duel against her hubby. The sex, which we don't see (boo, I wanna see it...!), is by implication almost a rape. There's some rather clever ironic imagery complementing the scene to compensate for the lack of visual evidence and, I must say, it compensates somewhat...!

Ryunosuke kills the hubby during the pre-arranged duel anyway, not really deliberately as such but more in self-defence, and then he leaves town to escape the dead guy's buddies who all have it in for him now. Sooner or later, the dead guy's brother will come gunning for the cruel and callous Ryunosuke, but for now, the killer's leaving town.

The woman whose life he's more or less ruined, Ohama, begs to be allowed to tag along. Ryunosuke doesn't seem to give two shits one way or the other and, when we fast-forward a year or so, we see them living unhappily together with a child, a fretful little boy with an uncertain future. 

Ryunosuke is coldly indifferent to the presence of both the woman and the child but his having a woman around at least guarantees sex and cooked meals on tap. Not much has changed since the 1860s, I see...!

The events around the death of his mistress Ohama are truly shocking. She dies artistically, it's true, outside in the beautiful knife-sharp cold and snow, but it's a cruel and unfeeling death nonetheless. And who's gonna look after the baby now, the poor motherless little scrap of humanity?

I doubt if Ryunosuke, he of the giant lampshade-hat and glassy-eyed stare, gives two hoots for the infant he's sired and, in any case, he seems to be descending more and more into a quiet and desperate insanity. This is partially fuelled by the sight of another master swordsman in action, which makes him question his own 'unbeatability,' as it were.

When his enemies finally descend on him en masse, will he be mentally compos mentis
enough to take them on or will his growing insanity actually be an asset to this desperate swordsman, caught in a trap of his own making? We shall see, dear readers, we shall see.

This is one of the best Japanese swordplay movies you'll ever see. When the swordplay is done well, as it is here, there's nothing in the world more satisfying to watch. Ryunosuke never puts a bare foot wrong, or a hand or an arm either.

His swordstrokes are clean, swift and deadly. I personally wouldn't mind directing him to a nice safe haven to bury his weapon in up to the hilt, lol. By the way, you do know that the word 'swordsman' has a naughty double meaning, don't you? I love a good swordsman. I have nothing but admiration for a good swordsman. Could really use one around the place, too. My scabbard grows rusty from misuse, haha. 

On that rather dazzlingly witty analogy, dear friends, we'll gracefully bow out, before my big mouth gets me into trouble. Just watch this superb sword-fighting historical epic and have yourself a merry little samurai Christmas and all that jazz. We'll talk more anon...

THE SWORD OF DOOM out now on special Blu-Ray release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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