Sword of the Beast is a strange one. On the surface, it seems a standard tale of swordplay and vengeance, but there’s much more at work here: namely, a meditation on what it means to live honorably as a human, hidden in the guise of an almost Ahabic quest for gold. What better vehicle for such heavy ideas than a samurai film?
The beast of the film’s title is a ronin (masterless sumaurai) named Gennosuke (Mikijiro Hira), disgraced and on the run after killing a counselor in his clan. He did this on the implicit orders of another superior, a man who then went on to betray him in order to wrest power for himself. Gennosuke’s act is thus murky in terms of morality, and it’s a good while into the movie before you’re able to get good read on him: Even as he’s called anything from a beast to a dog to a wolf–sometimes by himself–it’s clear that there’s a complexity to the character hidden beneath his disenchantment. This development is subtly woven into the 85-minute film; Gennosuke acts far more often than he speaks, and you almost don’t realize you’re getting to know him even as you are. It’s quite a feat, and adds layers to a film whose principal attraction is seemingly its swordplay. Continue reading