Sword of the Beast (1965)

15 11 2008

I’ve seen a few samurai films already, but I went into this thinking of it as somewhat of an introduction, and boy, what a way to get acquainted not only with a whole genre, but with a wonderful director in Hideo Gosha. Had I seen this film about a year ago, I probably would have hated it, but it feels like a comfortable “next step” from the powerful and personal westerns that Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher made in the 1950s. Gosha’s style is a bit more kinetic compared to their contemplative tone, but I still can’t help but see some sort of connection. Perhaps the only relation is in the fact that all three made beautiful genre films that are ten times more complex than the works of their colleagues.

This film, unlike those Boetticher or Mann westerns, is definitely an action film. It ends with an action sequence and closes with an action sequence, yet Gosha deserves lots of attention for the careful way in which he balances his characters, their relationships, the fighting sequences within a slightly conventional plot device. Essentially the main character, Gennosuke, is running away from his revenge-hungry samurai comrades after killing their clan minister. In the mountains, he gets mixed up with a couple and their search for gold. All these elements collide in the final twenty minutes for one of the most legitimately exciting, but also beautifully photographed, action sequences in all of cinema.

I’ll admit it, this isn’t a completely arty or humanistic masterpiece. There is lot of action and plenty of plot related sequences that I would almost always be irritated by, but Gosha molds his content beautifully. In a decade filled with formal experiments, even in Japan alone, Gosha stands quite tall among a more respected director like Yoshishige Yoshida. This film lacks the superb editing of The Affair, but it does have a very similar visual style. There’s only so many ways to say a film looks fantastic, but man, this is really a fantastic looking film. Kazuo Ikehiro’s even more underrated In a Ring of Mountains would be a good reference point, but Gosha is far more mobile with his camera.

At a mere 85 minutes, Gosha’s movie feels a tad bit short and maybe even a little bit underdeveloped but I think the short scope and length plays to his advantage. As I already mentioned, this is a very energy-fueled film. There is always something interesting going on – be it the cinematography, the characters, or the absurd nature of the samurai code which Gosha seems to be poking fun at, at a sub-Buñuel level. With this in mind, we never feel setteled in to the movie, which could be a negative element in a more straight-forward character drama, but it seems to perfectly echo what Gosha is aiming for. Hopefully, Gosha’s other films are just as confidently crafted.




4 responses

15 11 2008

Interesting development, from westerns to samurai films. Fun fact: the first film essay I ever wrote was a comparison between Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Are you going to be watching more samurai films soon?

16 11 2008
Jake Savage

I hope to, but I’m a little lost as to what particular direction I should go in.

16 11 2008
gaston monescu

This sounds pretty great, I haven’t explored samurai films yet. I think I will begin looking into them them immediately! Thanks for the inspiration.

16 11 2008

The summer I started going to the Cinematheque they did a program of samurai films (didn’t see any though, c’est la vie). Most of them were pretty popular but there might be some more obscure ones that you might want to follow up on. http://cinemathequeontario.ca/programme.aspx?programmeId=13&archives=1&season=Summer2006

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