‘The sword is the soul. Study the soul to study the sword.’
Undoubtedly one of the classic violent Japanese masterpiece ever made. Kihachi Okamoto deserves the position Japanese Sam Peckinpah! He brought to screen the antagonist to watch from the very beginning to the very end. From basket hat clad stranger who finishes an old man praying on mountain pass to the irrepressible swordsmen on brutal killing spree, Ryunosuke is one hell of gifted but cruel swordsman I’ve ever seen on Samurai cinema.
Unlike moralizing cinema Kurosawa, Okamoto captured the film almost like nihilistic violent ballet. Here is an outcast man who kills without purpose and he enjoys it. The dazzling camerawork of Hiroshi Murai brilliantly captured the striking swords action with the chilling dead calm muteness of sound serves as tension motif. The long bloodiest duel in the climax brilliantly captured incredible light and shadow.
Forget the legendary Toshiro Mifune (though he’s present here)…it’s Tatsuya Nakadai who’s man to watch here; with a slaying sword, that bloody wry smile and nihilistic body language he brought Ryunosuke as the villain not to miss. His unchallenged sword remains doom for others and finally for himself. I must say this is one of the brilliant villain acts I’ve ever seen in Japanese cinema. The bloody mayhem in the climax is one of the most fierce and violent one to witness. Ryunosuke’s uncontrolled evil soul symbolizes his sword and the climax where he’s destroying the shack followed by massacring the group of swordsmen is something as strikingly and impressive moment as the final of Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’.