Although we had remembered it as one of the greatest samurai movies ever, The Sword of Doom turned out to be even better than we remembered.
It starts with an old man, a religious pilgrim with a young daughter, being murdered by a strange swordsman, played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai plays a swordsman with an unbeatable technique, and he uses it without mercy or compassion. Yet, strangely, the technique is summed up by one of his challengers as "When I retreat, he advances. When I advance, he drops his sword". He looks down, invites attack, and then destroys the attacker.
His technique is unbeatable, but it is evil and it corrupts Nakadai, drives him insane. Or is it the other way around? Toshiro Mifune, who has a small role as a fencing master, says that the sword reveals the soul - an evil mind makes an evil sword.
We love Nakadai, as I have mentioned. This might be his best role. And we just noticed: with his bulging eyes and burning intensity, he is very much like Richard Widmark, in Night and the City, or Kiss of Death (which we are watching next week).
Furthermore, the movie has a strangely noir look. That is, it looks completely like classic samurai film - stark, shadowy compositions in black and white - but with a grittier, seamier texture. It reminded me of Sam Fuller, so we got House of Bamboo which we watched this week, and will be reporting on soon.