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Gennosuke, a clan retainer, kills one of the clan ministers as part of a plot to achieve reform. He is pursued by his former comrades, each hoping to complete the vendetta put on Gennosuke by the clan. With the help of a master swordsman, Yamane, Gennosuke has a chance at survival. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This early Hideo Gosha jidai-geki that was released by Criterion opens quite abruptly with a ronin named Gennosuke being hunted down for having killed his clan's counsellor. We're at 1857, on the brink of the Meiji reformation that saw Japan opening to the west after years of seclusion and the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The central plot revolves around the struggle between the old and new in a country on the verge of change. Although short in duration (clocking in at 85 minutes), the story never lets up with numerous twists and a fast pace. A series of events will find Gennosuke and a prospector he meets along the way searching for gold in a mountain, until they get caught up in another clan's schemes. Nothing is what it seems though, and therein lies the beauty of Sword of the Beast. As the story progresses both forwards and backwards (with glimpses in Gennosuke's past in the form of flashbacks), the characters' motives are fully fleshed out and this provides the extra dramatic oomph that pushes Sword of the Beast above "merely OK" territory. Behind all the swordfighting (and there's enough of it to be enjoyed here, certainly not Lone Wolf and Cub though), Gosha has a story to communicate.
With beautiful natural exteriors photographed in stark black and white, confident directing from Gosha, very good swordfighting scenes from actors who know their trade and decent performances all around, Sword of the Beast should appeal to all jidai-geki fans. It's neither as monolithic and tragic as Masaki Kobayashi's work from the same time nor as lyrical as Kurosawa's, but it stands somewhere in the middle, stripped to the essentials with a focus on story and theme.
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