The Sword of Doom

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The Sword of Doom
Sword of doom poster.jpg
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Produced by
Screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto[1]
Based on Dai-bosatsu tōge
by Kaizan Nakazato
Music by Masaru Sato[1]
Cinematography Hiroshi Murai[1]
Distributed by Toho
Release date
  • 25 February 1966 (1966-02-25) (Japan)
Running time
119 minutes[1]
Country Japan [1]

The Sword of Doom (大菩薩峠, Dai-bosatsu Tōge, "Great Bodhisattva Pass"), is a 1966 jidaigeki film directed by Kihachi Okamoto and stars Tatsuya Nakadai. It was based on the serial novel of the same title by Kaizan Nakazato.


The story follows the life of Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), an amoral samurai and a master swordsman with an unorthodox style. Ryunosuke is first seen when he kills an elderly Buddhist pilgrim who he finds praying for death. He appears to have no feeling. Later, he kills an opponent in self-defense in a fencing competition that was intended to be non-lethal, but became a duel after he coerced his opponent's wife to have sex with him in exchange for throwing the match and allowing her husband to win. His opponent finds out about the affair prior to the match, and is shown giving his wife a notice of divorce. His rage at Ryunosuke during the match causes him to take an illegal lunging attack after the judge proclaims a draw, and Ryunosuke, the better swordsman, parries and kills him with one stroke of his bokken. Ryunosuke flees town after killing the man, and cuts down many of the dead opponent's clansmen who attack him as he is leaving. His opponent's ex-wife asks to go along with him.

Two years pass, and in order to make a living, Ryunosuke joins the Shinsengumi, a sort of semi-official police force made up of rōnin that supports the Tokugawa shogunate through murder and assassinations. Through all his interactions, whether killing a man or at home with his mistress and their baby son, Ryunosuke rarely shows any emotion. His expression is fixed in a glassy stare that suggests a quiet insanity.

Eventually Ryunosuke learns that the younger brother of the man he killed in the fencing match is looking for him, intent on revenge. He plans to meet this young man and kill him, but before the duel can take place, two events occur that shake his confidence. In a botched assassination attempt, he sees another master swordsman, Shimada Toranosuke (Toshiro Mifune), in action, and for the first time he doubts that his own skill is truly unbeatable. That same night, Ryunosuke's mistress, horrified by his unremitting evil, tries to kill him in his sleep. He kills her in the gardens, to the ominous cries of their sleeping child inside the house, and flees without keeping his appointment to duel with his pursuer. Later he rejoins the gang of assassins at an oiran house (courtesan brothel) in the Shimabara district of Kyoto. There, in a quiet (and he is told, haunted) room, he starts seeing the ghosts of all the people he has killed. Further, he is haunted by the words of Shimada: "The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword." The final blow comes when he realizes that the apprentice oiran sent to entertain him is the granddaughter of the pilgrim he murdered at the film's beginning.

With this realization, Ryunosuke appears to descend into complete insanity. He starts slashing at the shadows of the ghosts that surround him, and then begins attacking his fellow assassins, who seem to number in the hundreds. Ryunosuke kills dozens of gang members in the burning courtesan house as they gradually wear him down with what few wounds they can inflict. Finally. it appears that Ryunosuke will surely be killed. Bleeding his face contorted in rage, he lurches forward, raises his sword one last time, and the film ends; a freeze-frame catching Ryunosuke in mid sword-slash.



The Sword of Doom was an adaptation of Daibosatsu toge (lit. Great Bodhisattva Pass), a novel that has remained popular since its initial release, a year after the death of the Emperor Meiji, the ruler who oversaw Japan's transition from hermetically sealed feudal state to modern nation.[2] The novel originated from a newspaper serial, appeared for three more decades; forty-one volumes were published before it was left uncompleted at the death of its author, Kaizan Nakazato.[2] The film had previously been adapted in two part film by Hiroshi Inagaki in 1935.[2] After the war, it was remade again, in three parts by Kunio Watanabe in 1953 and in three parts by Tomu Uchida between 1957 and 1959, and in three parts by Kenji Misumi and Kazuo Mori in 1960 and 1961.[2]

The Sword of Doom was an adaptation imposed on Kihachi Okamoto by Toho after the studio was dissatisfied with his film The Age of Assassins, a film completed in 1966 but only released in 1967.[2]


Sword of Doom was distributed by Toho and was released on February 25, 1966.[1] The film was released with English subtitles in the United States by Toho International in February 25, 1966.[1]

A sequel was proposed for the film which was never made.[1]


In a contemporary review, "Robe" of Variety found the film to have an "overlong unfolding story" that "rarely stops for a rest" and ultimately declared the film a "programmer".[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Galbraith IV 2008, p. 227.
  2. ^ a b c d e O’Brien, Geoffrey. "The Sword of Doom: Calligraphy in Blood". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  3. ^ Variety's Film Reviews 1964-1967. 11. R. R. Bowker. 1983. There are no page numbers in this book. This entry is found under the header "April 12, 1967". ISBN 0-8352-2790-1.


  • Galbraith IV, Stuart (2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 1461673747.

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