A samurai film set during the feudal era of Japan, The Sword of Doom centres on a nihilistic samurai warrior, Ryunosuke. He ends up making a huge number of enemies, and eventually kills someone in a duel. Then the victim’s brother is pursuing him, leading him to join a sort of militia group to make money. The opening scene sets the tone, as the lead character kills a Buddhist pilgrim for absolutely no reason, which tells you everything you need to know about Ryunosuke.
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto, it is a brutal and very violent samurai film for the mid-1960s. It is somewhat unique, a mixture of the style the Kurosawa samurai epics, which it looks more like visually, and the more experimental side of Japanese cinema exemplified by Suzuki, as it has a crazed, off-kilter tone that Kurosawa’s work usually lacks. You can see the influence of the film on Sergio Leone, who was a massive fan of Japanese cinema, in the extreme violence on screen, on Sam Peckinpaw. But perhaps its biggest influence was on Jim Jarmusch, a huge fan of Japanese film culture. When Jarmusch was making Coffee and Cigarettes he decided to quit smoking, read the book to The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, but found his best motivation was to stay home alone and watch The Sword of Doom over and over. He said: “you get really tensed up and angry, and [watching this film] relieved so much pressure.” Author Jonathan Lethem is also a fan.
The film features Toshiro Mifune in a small supporting role, and is full of actors you will recognise from other Japanese films of the time.
The Criterion release is fairly barebones, but includes a commentary by Stephen Prince, the trailer and an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien.