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


SAMURAI REBELLION
JÔI-UCHI: HAIRYÔ TSUMA SHIMATSU
1967, Janus Films, 121 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

Toshiro Mifune stars as Isaburo Sasahara, an aging swordsman living a quiet life until his clan lord orders that his son marry the lord's mistress, who has recently displeased the ruler. Reluctantly, father and son take the woman in, and, to the family’s surprise, the young couple fall in love. But the lord soon reverses his decision and demands the mistress’s return. Against all expectations, Isaburo and his son refuse, risking the destruction of their entire family.


THRONE OF BLOOD
KUMONOSU JO
1957, Janus Films, 110 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

As its alternate English titles (COBWEB CASTLE and CASTLE OF THE SPIDER’S WEB) suggest, director Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a chilling blend of gothic melodrama and samurai swordplay, Elizabethan tragedy and Noh theater. Taketori Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), inspired by a ghostly vision and coaxed by his frighteningly ambitious spouse, Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), conspires to murder his lord to rise in the ranks to become eventual ruler. In the process, he betrays friends and foes alike, is driven to madness along with his cold-hearted spouse and is overwhelmed by the violent forces of chaos. With Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Akira Kubo. "Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD is the grisliest Macbeth you’re likely ever to see. It’s powerful filmmaking and provides much revelatory cultural frisson. It also features some of the best work of Kurosawa’s alter ego Toshiro Mifune." – Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle. In Japanese with English subtitles.


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