Sword of Desperation (Japan, 2010)

I can remember the first time I saw a Kurosawa Akira film: it was a cold winter here in Chicago and my asthma started to kick in as I became enthralled with the story and characters of Seven Samurai.  Its great black and white cinematography mixed with brutal combat allowed me to embrace this foreign film as my own.  As the years went by, I always looked back upon that day as a defining moment in my life at the movies.

Based on the novel by Fujisawa Shuhei, Sword of Desperation stars Toyokawa Etsushi as Kanemi, a clever and skilled swordsman who has vowed to protect his lord (Murakami Jun) from the evil clutches of his most trusted lover, an ex-prostitute named Renko.  After serving his time confined to his quarters, Kanemi seeks forgiveness and becomes a personal assistant to the lord.  As time passes, Kanemi realizes that his new post will no longer allow him to maintain face, so he sets on a philosophical quest to free himself from the horrors of his past while embracing the possibilities of a brighter future.

In the spirit of entertainment and nostalgia, Sword of Desperation stands on top of the ever-growing collection of films dealing with the past and how it is still relevant to the present.  As I sat there in the theatre, I could not help but think of the Samurai trilogy starring Mifune Toshiro as  Miyamoto Musashi.  This series, along with the other films based on the work of Fujisawa Shuhei (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, Love and Honor) have set the foundations for an intimate and detailed look into the lives of these samurai and the women who love them.  As samurai films go, every scene of honor and betrayal rectifies itself in the form of a grand, old style sword fight.  In The Hidden Blade, the total sum of hardship and sorrow manifests itself as an obstacle for the hero to outwit.  Likewise, in Sword of Desperation, it is Kanemi who must embrace these obstacles of sorrow and hardship to save himself and prevent his hidden sword technique from seeing the light of day.

Sword of Desperation is one of the best films I have seen this year.  Its honest and brutal portrait of a man who takes his code of honor to the next level is fresh and innovating.  In terms of action choreography, it has one of the best sword fights in recent years; it is a quick and brutal sword fight that doesn’t try to explain itself, it just is.

Miguel A Martinez

Miguel Martinez is a new contributing writer at VCinema.  Check out his blog, Cinematic Copycat.