Just saw this, and I’m interested in hearing from people who have seen and thought about this film. What’s the deal with the ending? I mean, specifically that Ryunnosuke dies before Hyoma can challenge him. My initial reaction is that the stories of the other characters (the thief, girl, etc.) seem irrelevant. Why were they in the film? What is the film really about?
Ryunnosuke’s death signifies that, in the end, someone like him—amoral—will be destroyed by himself. The ghosts of his past (his conscience) couldn’t be avoided and they drive him out of his mind. (Yes, the other samurai end up killing him—or do they?—but it’s his madness that leads to this.) I’m not totally satisfied with this answer, however.
I also still don’t have an explanation for the purpose of the other characters and storyline.
First, the pragmatic answer… as I understand it, Sword of Doom was supposed to be one small part of an epic series. Whether Ryunosuke died at the end is up for debate, but whether he did or not, somebody was going to try to continue the sagas of the various characters.
So we have to take the film as a work of art in itself. What now?
It seems to me that putting such an oblique ending on such an intense movie makes a statement about the total indifference of fate. We’re so used to seeing “destiny” as a path toward a meaningful resolution… in Sword of Doom, fate seemed to have this in mind, but without warning, it drastically changes its trajectory. The side-story of Hyoma isn’t irrelevant… it represents, for Ryunosuke, the satisfaction of mortal finality and confrontation. However, his momentum toward this final battle is thwarted, and he’s punished by a cosmic indifference that parallels his own indifference to the lives of his victims.
I see Sword of Doom having a sister-story in No Country for Old Men, which was another story of a ruthless killer and a thwarted final showdown… of people who seem to be completely in control, but who ultimately have to submit to circumstance, just like their victims did.
Nihilistic stories, to be sure… defying the power of humans to impose meaning on the world.
Damn god explanation, Jesse, It makes me want to go back and appreciate that film even more. That’s a pretty valid comparison with No Country for Old Men. Besides its obviously thrilling sword-fighting scenes, I loved Sword of Doom for its unique brand of nihilism and the totally over-the-top, randomly brutal ending. Its frustrates the viewer for sure, but it parallels the actual random trajectories of conflict in real life all the better for it.
If this is part of a series of films, then that explains a little about the weird ending. Is it even possible to interpret the film without having the other films to see. Certainly, the intention of creating other films (could) dramatically change the abrupt ending (i.e. the other films could deal with the other characters rather then leave their stories incomplete).
Jesse M said, “The side-story of Hyoma isn’t irrelevant… it represents, for Ryunosuke, the satisfaction of mortal finality and confrontation. However, his momentum toward this final battle is thwarted, and he’s punished by a cosmic indifference that parallels his own indifference to the lives of his victims.”
But the level of detail in the story—and the stories of the thief and the girl—seem way too elaborate for him to just leave the characters/stories so abruptly without resolving them. In a way, the interpretion feels like something a modern viewer (one familar with films like *Funny Games) would offer and not some one from the 50s. Certainly, I’d be surprised if that’s the director intended to end the film so abruptly, but I can’t rule out the Jesse’s interpretation either.
Jazz, it’s true that I’m probably pushing way beyond the filmmaker’s intention here, and that my interpretation is the kind of liberal reading that’s more common to current postmodern/stream of consciousness films than to these older, more didactic, more predictable studio films. I generally follow the mantra of new criticism: “Interpret the film however you can, based on its internal logic, rather than second-guessing the author’s intentions or the sophistication of the time period.”
Anyway, I found a reading to make the film make sense to me in an interesting way.
“Interpret the film however you can, based on its internal logic, rather than second-guessing the author’s intentions or the sophistication of the time period.”
I wholeheartedly agree with this approach, though I would add that it’s also nice (for purely academic curiosity) to consider the time period as well in addition to the “mantra of new criticism”. But yeah, I liked Jesse’s explanation of the film’s possible purpose. Personally, I’ve always interpreted the film to be about the unpredictability of fate and the dispersion of such traditional narrative inclinations by, for one, ending the way it did. I always suspected though that it was possibly an unfinished tale whose ending was hurriedly rushed (for whatever reason). It just seemed like an ending so wonderful that it could’ve only happened by “accident” (or more likely, circumstance) … kind of a mirror for the story of the film itself.
The film was based on a Japanese newspaper serial which began in 1913 and culminated over the course of 30 years into an unfinished epic 28 volume series of books called “Daibosatsu Tôge” (The Great Bodhisattwa Pass) It’s a swordsman’s journey to find Buddha which featured hundreds of characters and scores of interconnected story lines, many of them left open-ended and vague in resolution. A western equivalent that comes to mind (and I’m sure it’s not the best one) is a cross between Robert E Howard’s unfinished Conan series and Frank Herbert’s Dune books.
If there was ever a film in the Criterion collection that screamed for a commentary, it would be this one. Considering it’s rich history and complexity, it really peeved me that there wasn’t one.
As I saw it, the young swordsman, Hyoma does indeed encounter Ryunsuke in final sword battle but he is dealt with so quickly, it’s difficult to notice. Why the director intentionally chose leave it vague and unverified is a mystery to me.
Normally any film without some sort of perceived resolution in the end leaves a viewer dissatisfied, screaming for a sequel, but despite it’s minor flaws, part of what makes Sword Of Doom such a masterpiece is with this ending we’re given a viewing experience that leaves us feeling exactly what all the characters in the film felt: a looming uneasy alien feeling of dissatisfaction and a longing for more.
…but there is more.
There’s a film series called “Satan’s Sword Trilogy”. I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, except to say that both Ryunosuke & Hyoma survive. The 3 films cover all the events in Sword Of Doom further in depth and what happens afterwards; It sheds more light about Ryunosuke delirium and bouts of hallucinations; His torment of losing his high station in life; His complex relationship with his wife, Hama; His disregard of Hyoma’s desire to avenge his brother’s death and his real fear of Shimada, the master swordsman training Hyoma.
“As I saw it, the young swordsman, Hyoma does indeed encounter Ryunsuke in final sword battle but he is dealt with so quickly, it’s difficult to notice.”
This is interesting and unexpected. I’ll check the ending again.
I love what Jesse M wrote about the irony of fate, and would agree with his choice of post-structuralist criticism. It’s wholely unsatisfying to explain away the ending as solely the result of unfulfilled sequels. I even find it unconvincing, as there’s no reason for Okamoto to leave the main thread of the third section unsolved for film 2 if he hadn’t intended on introducing vagueness. The unceasing unslaught of swordsmen and the final freeze frame do seem to suggest Ryunsuke (and Hyoma as well) is robbed of catharsis or even a final sense of damnation. Instead he is stuck in a limbo where he must continously kill and be wounded. Fate wouldn’t even allow him another film.
here is the first part of tomu uchida’s daibosatsu tôge trilogy: souls in the moonlight
(if u wanna see a different perspective and find out what happens next)
the ’satan’s sword’ trilogy is by kenji misumi who directed many of the ‘lone wolf and cub’ series
I have been meaning to watch this film again. I bought it on DVD randomly years ago and actually enjoyed it.
Personally, I burst out laughing at the end. Even though it was supposed to be the first part of a series of movies, as a stand alone ending, I don’t see how it could have ended any better. I wish more films ended so abruptly.