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February 25, 2012

Movie Review: Sword of Desperation (2010)

Directed by Hideyuki Hirayama

Starring Etsushi Toyokawa, Chizuru Ikewaki and Koji Kikkawa

A local lord of a small clan is bewitched by the charms of his first mistress, Renko, and allows her to exert her will over the governing body of the clan. Her cruelty and selfishness begins to cause financial strain on the lord and the local peasants are on the verge of rioting. After an afternoon dance show at the lords palace, Sanzaemon, (Etsushi Toyokawa) a low-level samurai employed by the lord decides it is his duty to assassinate the lords concubine for the good of the clan. He approaches her upon her leaving and plunges a sword into her chest and then surrenders himself, leaving his fate to the mercy of his lord. Certain he will be beheaded for this deed, he is shocked to find the lord has decided his punishment will be only a year of house arrest and a reduction of his pension.

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After spending the year locked in a barn, he follows that by spending the next 2 years in near solitude, his only companion being his beautiful young niece, Rio (Chizuru Ikewaki) whom he eventually falls in love with. It is at this point where Sanzaemon is summoned to the lords palace and is told that he will now serve as one of the lords personal body guards, the main reason being his swordsmanship and his unique, secretive and invincible “bird catching” sword fighting technique, which he only can use when near death. It appears now that the only reason his life was spared was because the lord knew if anyone was to try and dethrone him, his only hope would be Sanzaemon and his special skills. Sensing his end may be near, he sends his now pregnant niece away to a far off farm for safety, vowing to return for her one day.

Soon after this, on a rainy day, the lords nephew, Obiya, the most feared swordsman of the clan, storms the palace alone, determined to kill his uncle and claim the throne for himself. A sword fight ensues between the would-be assassin and Sanzaemon, which ends with our hero killing Obiya and saving the lord from certain death. The lord and his entourage soon appear and seeing the dead assassin suddenly scream that Sanzaemon has gone mad and killed the lords nephew, the guards are ordered to kill Sanzaemon and he now realizes he has been set up, kept alive to do the lords dirty work. The climax of the film is a bloody sword fight between the guards and Sanzaemon, which he eventually loses but not before he takes out most of the guards and uses his“bird catching” technique on the lords right-hand man and mastermind of his plight.

What I was expecting when I began watching this was a cheesy samurai movie, heavy on sword fighting and short on story line, but what it delivered was just the opposite. It was actually an enjoyable and engaging period-piece drama full of intrigue, mysterious characters and even an incestuous love story thrown in for good measure. Although at times it was a bit hard to keep track of everything going on due to the fact that the time-line of the movie switches back and forth between present and past quite often. Also, the subtitles come fast and furious at times so you've gotta be on your A-game if you wanna keep up with the story. In spite of those little distractions it was still a very enjoyable movie with believable characters and some beautiful scenery. The cinematography was outstanding and the score was quite good as well. The highlight of course being the surprisingly bloody sword fight at the end, which was a stark contrast to the relatively subdued pace of the movie. I dont even think you'd have to be a samurai fan to enjoy this one, anyone who enjoys a good drama will probably be happy with a purchase or rental on this one. Fun Stuff

7 out of 10

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