“The Sword of Doom,” Part 2

01 October 2018 Comments Off on “The Sword of Doom,” Part 2


This is the final installment in a two-part analysis of the 1966 film “The Sword of Doom.” The first part, which concerns the general plot and Ryunosuke Tsukue’s self and moral nature, is available online at bilnews.bilkent.edu.tr/opinions.

Even in his active being, Ryunosuke is not human. In his final bout of insanity, he displays complete disregard for anything except the fight, for his engagement in fighting, which he clings to so intensely and with such little recognizable emotion that anything can be projected onto him. He laughs without sense as blood spurts out of his slashed legs. He will still respond to anyone who comes onto him, ready as ever to react with unmodulated ferocity. His impending death illustrates the truth of what the old master says of him: “Only the thrust, perhaps, can defeat him.” Only the thrust will make him move. His spiraling insanity is a response to the million deaths of his life being cast back into his face, pressing in on him from all sides so that he has to seek a fight. Every one of these moments have been used to give Tsukue selves – the monster, the murderer, a young master. It is his undoing to be made into a person. Without a soul, Tsukue is free.

One last point of interest is the irresolute end to which all other plotlines come once Ryunosuke dies. We see the life of Hyoma, who seeks revenge on Tsukue for killing his brother, intertwine with those of the young courtesan Omatsu, her guardian and the old master. All of them intend for Ryunosuke to die, but none manage to kill him. Had Hyoma, with his sword technique and reserved tenderness, both in natural contrast with Tsukue, succeeded in ending his enemy’s life, the film would take up the familiar tune of righteous vengeance on definite evil. It would be a moral story with moral satisfaction, bringing together Omatsu and Hyoma in fulfillment of another well-grounded trope. It would also lose all its depth and character, washing away everything that makes Ryunosuke as arresting as he is, making him a common villain where in fact he is anything but. The film leaves every plotline hanging but his, which finishes with almost victorious newness. There is no care for righteous anger, youthful innocence or conscious evolution in the face of Ryunosuke’s shivering confrontations. We are as purely focused on Tsukue’s transformation as he himself is clean of human need. The emphasis on one’s becoming less human than inhuman is yet another indication that the film concerns not morality, but purity: the question of how the soul resolves.

Is Ryunosuke amoral because he is insane? Does his inhumanity cause insanity, or is it that he is more sane than the others because he processes his actions without emotional inhibition, because what he does doesn’t need to be named or compartmentalized, because death can just be for him? To be more clear – is it the self, the soul, that prevents us from being indifferent? Is what is insane inhuman? Is it subhuman? What is more evil – the human and real, or the withdrawn and amoral? Is Ryunosuke Tsukue worse than his contemporaries? Is he really mad?

Sitting in the chair of usual morality, we see immediately that insanity becomes an apt description of anything that is persistently and unjustifiably immoral. This is almost identical to Ryunosuke’s character, with the single distinction that he is not immoral but amoral, which brings with it the taste of conscious decision. Had Tsukue been unable to tell common goods from evils, or unable to comply with moral rules, he would more easily fit the general notion of insanity. Instead, he has absolutely no moral qualms, as he has no distinct motives, thoughts or desires. His sanity is doubtful to be sure, but his distinguishing trait is not madness, but rather a complete freedom from human engagement: “I, Ryunosuke Tsukue, trust only my sword in this world. When I fight, I have no family.” But perhaps this is unfair to Tsukue, who is after all cold but not animal. He has an attachment to the bamboo flute through his father, and takes in his opponent’s wife when she begs him. His strangeness comes from the way he turns, as if in the wind, in response to the breath of passing things: he kills the wife only when she tries to slay him, but his reaction to the attempt is completely unhesitating. “The cruelty does not stop with your sword,” his father says tiredly, with Ryunosuke at his bedside. “It’s seeped into your whole mind and body. It really frightens me.” The moralist would find in this the fulfilled prediction that when a man loses his virtues he ceases to be man, while before this corruption he is fallible but human, and can be redeemed. And indeed Tsukue’s actions seem to carry deep within the seeds of humanness, which his father says have been swallowed by the sword of doom.

In this respect we see also that to have moral principles is to be human and so to have a soul, all of which means that one will give predictable responses to the rules – and to the transgressions of the rules – of a specific community, which its moral code essentially intends to preserve. Clearly from a moral perspective it is by far the greater evil to be amoral, because one without morals cannot be redeemed by either the promise or withdrawal of virtue, redemption in this case being the reintegration into moral, regulated society of one’s actions and values. Furthermore, the truly amoral man is more threatening to the integrity of a community than the sparingly immoral one, because he responds neither to the fear of punishment nor to the sweetness of reward. He is secure enough in himself not to need the company of many, as Tsukue is in his mountain home. He can forgo the comfort of simple self-examination. The truly dangerous man has no self, and is therefore completely immune to the sight and words of others, as Tsukue is when implored to be merciful, when put down with shame.

A more symbolic evaluation of Tsukue might put him elsewhere in the close ring of good and evil. At the beginning of the film, the grandfather is praying for death before Tsukue appears and asks him to look to the west. As if moving with the force of a strange spirit, he brings the old man his wish. Ryunosuke Tsukue is an animated corpse, morally repulsive to his audience, and curiously like a new world’s being, singular, alone, in every nerve and bone Nietzsche’s Great Man, “colder, harder, less hesitating, and without fear of ‘opinion’; [lacking] the virtues that accompany respect and ‘respectability,’ and altogether everything that is the ‘virtue of the herd,’ [with] a solitude within him that is inaccessible to praise or blame.” It is easy to read him as anything because he is nothing, which makes him the single worst man in the world. He is the only man in the world who is no one and everyone. The film is built entirely on what he is and isn’t, and what he is becoming and might want to become. Pure Ryunosuke Tsukue and his inhuman heart.