"Sword of Doom" (spoilers)

I finally got around to watching Sword of Doom last night, and I guess “thought-provoking” is an apt description, since I don’t know what to think about it.

It’s definitely a beautiful movie, visually – huge sword battles in the snow at night, battles inside a burning building, and the composition of just about every shot is just perfect. Better cinematography than any Kurosawa movie I’ve seen. But I’m having trouble coming up with a coherent meaning or purpose for the film, especially its ending.

There’s a good bit written online about it, but everything I’ve turned up is either your typical internet cinema-studies-wanking or people with no idea what they’re talking about. I’ve got a bunch of theories about the movie, based on what I was watching and what I’ve read, but none of them really work for me:

  1. It’s nothing more than a samurai equivalent of the TIE Fighter videogame: take a stock genre (the samurai movie) and just make the protagonist the bad guy instead of the good guy avenging the death of his brother – no additional message.

  2. It’s the samurai equivalent of The Wild Bunch. That movie took a genre that was already outliving its usefulness (the western) to tell the story of a bunch of people that had outlived their usefulness and had no place in the world. Sword of Doom does the same with the samurai genre and just shows how as the shogunate was failing and becoming more and more corrupt, the elaborate notions of honor and loyalty had become meaningless.

  3. The Japanese title Daibosatsu Pass has more significance than a westerner like me can grasp. The grandfather talks at the beginning about water flowing to the east and west, which evokes an image of the division between good and evil. The message is that a single choice can have greater repercussions that follow you for the rest of your life.

  4. Ryunosuke is a sociopath who doesn’t understand how his actions do have real consequence – he sees no greater purpose or honor or loyalty in what he does, and his sword technique reflects that. He simply waits and watches to let others expose their own weakness or corruption. What he sees as nothing more than objectivity is correctly perceived by everyone else as cruelty. That’s what I thought the movie was trying to say, especially when they contrasted it with Toshiro Mifune’s character’s own killing spree, but it doesn’t make sense with the ending and all the unresolved sub-plots.

  5. The movie doesn’t tie up all the lose ends because it’s part of a larger story. (One in which Ryunosuke survives, apparently, which just doesn’t make sense to me on any level). That’s fine, but it’s not as if the filmmakers suddenly ran out of film and couldn’t finish, is it? You don’t present something like that without having a reason for it.

Any Dopers have interepretations of the movie that manage to tie up all the lose ends?