There is an unmistakable uneasiness about Sword of Doom, director Kihachi Okamoto’s 1966 oft praised if strangely construed chambara action picture. With each passing frame its title rings truer and truer. An impending yet ill-defined doom lurks over all proceedings like an unshakable dark cloud, slowly but inexorably propelling nearly all of the characters onto a dark path, towards fates that would be best reserved for far more deserving souls. Sword of Doom’s beating black heart is the anti-hero Ryunosuke’s very existence, for all he does is out of some form of malice.
In its frequently sorrowful tale of young Japanese siblings struggling through the tail end or immediate aftermath of World War II, anime Giovanni’s Island faces seemingly inevitable comparisons to both Grave of the Fireflies and the Barefoot Gen features. Mizuho Nishikubo’s film, however, has a spirit all of its own, even if you can trace in it bits of those other films’ DNA, as well as notorious British anti-war animation When the Wind Blows, whose art style it resembles more than the likes of Studio Ghibli. It stands apart in offering a look at an aspect of Japanese history rarely explored in any art form to date, that of the Russian occupation of the island of Shitokan after Japan’s defeat in 1945, as seen through the eyes of two Japanese children among the residents whose lives are upended by the new rule.
A director of Kurasawa’s skill was probably best served by exploring different stories and themes throughout his career. As such, it seems perfectly understandable that he never went back to the Sanjuro well. Thinking back to the towering films he went on to direct, who would argue that he really should have produced another entry? Even so, one can be forgiven for asking ‘what if?’
Akira Kurosawa is known one of Japan’s great cinematic exports, if not the very greatest. Dabbling in drama, historical epics influenced by the works of William Shakespeare and entertaining romps replete with unforgettable characters and splendid adventure, his career spanned six decades and earned him the sort of reputation most directors will only ever savor in their dreams.