Sword of Doom Kihachi Okamoto

You have to admire any film that doesn't follow a traditional guideline for its plot, abandoning the opportunity to create a love story or paint a distinct picture as to who are the hero and villain. Sword of Doom contains these elements and manages to leave viewers stunned when justice fails and an evil madman is just too powerful to be taken down. Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a terrifying samurai that has lost his way and now lets evil guide his swift and unstoppable sword. In the opening scene we see a beautiful, innocent young girl named Omatsu (Yoko Naito) brought to tears as her grandfather is slain by Tsukue, leaving her abandoned and taken in by a passer-by. Tsukue's dying father pleads with his son to stop his senseless rampage, but our "hero" seems to be possessed with his love for murder, smiling to himself after offing dozens of attackers with his silent technique. The movie jumps ahead to Tsukue's troubled marriage to a woman he widowed in what was supposed to be a non-lethal match. The rest of the film touches on Tsukue's downward spiral into insanity and the people who try to bring him down, including his wife's brother, who is training to battle the psychopath that murdered his brother Hyoma (Yuzo Kayama). A blossoming relationship with Omatsu and Hyoma and what appears to be an equal match from another master swordsman are all thrown out the window in the end though as director Okamoto finishes this story at the height of his demonic lead's mind-loss. Though the plot might make you burst out in outrage at its disregard to tying up lose ends, you can't deny the breathtaking cinematography and unbearably intense moments before Tsukue battles. His presence is as powerful as any horror villain's, as the black-robed killer slowly walks through the snow like a supernatural force. Although presented by Criterion, there are absolutely no extras, unless you count an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien within the booklet's liner notes. Still, you get an excellent presentation of a classic and very worthwhile Japanese samurai film, which Tarantino clearly referenced for the Kill Bill films. (Criterion/Morningstar)