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


RED BEARD
AKAHIGE
1965, Janus Films, 185 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

A period film set in samurai times without a sword-wielding hero in sight, this remains one of Akira Kurosawa’s most humanistic efforts. The subject is a run-down infirmary for the poor in feudal Japan where a confident young novice physician, Dr. Noboru (Yuzo Kayama), is sent to begin his career. Expecting to visit only temporarily and then to leave to serve the Shogunate, he is infuriated to learn he must remain at the destitute hospital, which is brimming with society's dying poor, wretched and unwanted. Though he learns that the patients need him, Noboru is quick to take measures that will ensure his termination. But he is foiled at every turn by head man Dr. Kyojio (Toshiro Mifune), otherwise known as "Akahige" ("Red Beard"), whose methods and behavior are as caring and compassionate as they are unconventional and unpredictable. At times RED BEARD veers dangerously close to soap-box philosophizing and pretension. But ultimately the film earns the emotions and ideas it attempts to evoke; the young doctor's heart and mind are forever changed, and we are as enamored of Red Beard and his patients as Noboru is. In Japanese with English subtitles.


SANJURO
TSUBAKI SANJURO
1962, Janus Films, 96 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

Director Akira Kurosawa helms this YOJIMBO sequel, utilizing Shugoro Yamamoto’s novel Peaceful Days as a model. Wandering ronin Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) decides to help a young samurai (Yuzo Kayama) and his brash cohorts when Kayama’s uncle (Yunosuke Ito), the chamberlain of their clan, is framed by a corrupt superintendent. Much of the humor and character interplay is based on Mifune’s scruffy appearance and the seeming contradiction – at least to the adolescent proper swordsmen – of his consummate, strategic skill. Tatsuya Nakadai is the prime adversary, a proud samurai in the superintendent’s employ who’s every bit as dangerous as Mifune. There’s not nearly as much swordplay here as in YOJIMBO – since the war is mainly one of words and subterfuge – but when the final burst of violence erupts courtesy of Mifune and Nakadai, it’s a dazzling shocker. In Japanese with English subtitles.


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