Hello Shenandoah Valley film buffs! Welcome to a new feature here on From the Projection Room brought to you by Andy and myself (I’m Russ… you know, that one guy that’s always there super early for some weird reason…). Each month I am going to go digging deep into the recesses of my Criterion Collection to hopefully help you discover (and possibly even rediscover myself) some important works of world cinema.
If at this point you are asking yourself “What is a Criterion?” then let me enlighten you and welcome you to your new favorite thing!
The Criterion Collection is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality, with supplemental features that enhance the appreciation of the art of film.
I’ve been collection Criterion titles since I was 18 and they have helped shape, discover, educate, and inspire my love for the world of film and what it can achieve. From classic monumental directors as Kurosawa, Kubrick, Godard, Bergman, Fellini, Renoir, and Hitchcock to contemporary visionaries like Altman, Gilliam, Fincher, Soderbergh, Cronenberg, Lynch and Anderson (Wes… STILL waiting for Paul Thomas…) Criterion represents the best of the best.
Each edition comes packed with extras such as commentary tracks, documentaries, trailers, deleted scenes, interviews and sometimes even novels and screenplays. In fact, Criterion invented the entire idea of extras, including the commentary track, on their Laserdisc editions back in the ’80s. Fun Fact: The world’s first commentary track was for a little movie from 1933 you may have heard of, King Kong.
In addition to all the awesome extras each film comes with an essay – or sometimes two or three! – written by authors ranging from critics, film historians and other filmmakers, giving you special insights into each movie and its importance in the history of cinema. Each one is like film class in a box!
If you want to know more or want a whole wealth of information on cinema go check out their web page by clicking HERE.
On to the review!
It was after our screening of THE ASSASSIN that I went to Andy with my idea for a monthly Criterion review and I knew then and there exactly which film I wanted to review first: Kihachi Okamoto’s 1966 classic samurai flick THE SWORD OF DOOM. I immediately gravitated to it out of my disappointment from the misleadingly titled THE ASSASSIN. I wanted fencing and blood and death but instead got silence and pretty landscapes. My thirst for blood needed to be quenched so I decided to go straight to the cinematic jugular. The title alone conjures images of arterial blood splashing in glorious gusts of violence! THE SWORD OF DOOM!!!! YES!!!
Tatsuya Nakadai stars as Ryunosuke Tsukue, a cruel, heartless, evil samurai who dispenses death with each swift stroke of his blade. There is no explanation for his cruelty, he is just a Bad Mother F&*Ker.
In the first scene we see an old man and his granddaughter traveling on foot to Edo (modern day Tokyo). The pair stop at the top of a mountain pass to rest. Granddaughter goes off to fetch some water from a nearby stream while Grandfather offers a prayer to Buddha at a small shrine. He unwisely asks Buddha to take his life to spare his granddaughter the hardship and burden of having to take care of him. Be careful what you wish for old man… you just might get it. Ryunosuke appears seemingly out of nowhere behind him to grant him his wish only too willingly.
After traveling back into his village we learn of Ryunosuke’s upcoming fencing match with a swordsman from rival samurai clan. Apparently this swordsman’s future and honor, as well as his entire family, rests upon the outcome of this match. Even Ryunosuke’s own master urges him to lose the match even though his skills far exceed those of his opponent. When his opponent’s wife (posing has his sister) comes to appeal to him, begging for the sake of her whole family, Ryunosuke agrees to concede, but for a price… When her husband finds out about her infidelity he immediately divorces her and his match with Ryunosuke becomes a true duel. Being the better swordsman, Ryunosuke strikes down his opponent with a single lethal blow to the head, prompting retaliation from the rival samurai. In a single take he manages to strike down more than a dozen ambushing swordsmen with hardly a wasted swing of his blade.
Flash forward and we now find Ryunosuke eking out a meager life working as a political assassin and shackled to the aforementioned woman whom he has now had a son with. After a mistaken and failed assassination attempt that leaves two dozen of his accomplices dead in a whirlwind of blood and dismembered bodies, Ryunosuke finds himself descending even further into drink and madness.
The film’s ending is one of true apocalyptic violence as Ryunosuke fights a legion of demons and swordsmen, real and imagined. The final shot is one of the greatest and most purely cinematic in film history which will shake you to the core.
THE SWORD OF DOOM has been a huge influence on a number of filmmakers ranging from Sam Peckinpah to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and their antihero leading men to Tarantino and his KILL BILL volumes. While the whole movie isn’t action packed, it’s actually quite philosophical, the scenes of action and violence are totally satisfying. If you are a fan of action, martial arts, or Asian cinema in general check this one out. In the words of some other guy in some commercial… “I guarantee it.”