SWORD OF DOOM
DAIBOSATSU TOGE
1966, Janus Films, 120 min, Japan, Dir: Kihachi Okamoto

Director Kihachi Okamoto made a slew of great films, including KILL!, DESPERADO OUTPOST, AGE OF ASSASSINS, SAMURAI ASSASSIN and THE HUMAN BULLET – to name only a few! – but his ultimate masterwork is this uncompromising samurai film. It is a riveting, desolate picture, anchored by a mesmerizing portrayal from Tatsuya Nakadai as paranoid killer Ryunosuke Tsukue, an outcast from his family and a hunted man recruited by the notorious Shinsengumi band of assassins. There have been many movie renditions of Kaizan Nakazato’s popular novel The Great Boddhisatva Pass since it first appeared 70-plus years ago, but Okamoto’s version in ashen black-and-white ’Scope best captures the nihilistic netherworld of the sociopathic swordsman. Masaru Sato’s music is at the pinnacle of a multitude of great Japanese movie scores from the 1960s. The supporting cast, including Toshiro Mifune, Michiyo Aratama and Yuzo Kayama, are all excellent. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto (who co-wrote many of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces) provides an expert distillation, going back to the literary source. If you’ve never seen it on the big screen, it is not to be missed.


THE FACE OF ANOTHER
1966, Janus Films, 124 min, Japan, Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara

This haunting meditation on identity focuses on Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai), a businessman who has been horribly disfigured in an industrial accident. Through his psychiatrist, the man is fitted with a lifelike mask molded from a stranger - but the new face sparks changes in Okuyama’s personality and he begins to lead a double life. Reunited with his WOMAN IN THE DUNES screenwriter Kôbô Abe and cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa, Teshigahara imbues this film with striking imagery and an unsettling atmosphere that recalls the creepiest corners of “The Twilight Zone.”


RAN
1985, Rialto Pictures, 160 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

In Akira Kurosawa's epic and existential samurai/Noh theater rendition of Shakespeare's "King Lear," a once-merciless and bloodthirsty Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) leaves his kingdom to his three sons. As Hidetora attempts to enjoy retirement in his twilight years, he is dropped into a nightmarish hell when filial squabbling and betrayal erupts. In Japanese with English subtitles.


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