"Evil mind, evil sword." This is the mantra of Sword of Doom, Kihachi Okamoto's great 1965 samurai bloodletting. Tatsuya Nakadai's sword is a nihilistic bearer of death, responsible throughout the film for dozens of pointless murders, including an excruciating massacre that serves as the climax. This sequence, coming at the end of the countless deaths we have already seen, seems to take the violence into a higher plane of frenzy, almost as if the blade is injuring the very concepts of right and wrong. Thus is the sword of doom, and thus is Nakadai.

Trying to parse Nakadai's motives out of the gore is a difficult task. Some of the murders result from somewhat legitimate showdowns, especially later in the film when he is used as a killer for a Shogunate organization in decline. Yet other murders seem to come with the brutally simple justification of "practice," including the slaying of an elderly man (which will come back upon Nakadai later). Nakadai becomes an anti-hero in a true sense of the word. He becomes a figure of total nihilism as the film unfolds along its three-year plotline. His presence becomes like a specter of death, a mythological harbinger of the gravest misfortunate. Yet, he has no moral agenda, and little justification for actions, as if his conscience, the only thing that could make him human, was carefully excised from his mind. What results is a towering figure, deadly and frightening in his capriciousness.

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