One of the most impressive modern day jidai-geki films from Japan, Sword of Desperation is an achievement in every aspect of its production and its adaptation of Shohei Fujisawa’s novel. The film, set in the Edo period of Japan, follows Kanemi Sanzaemon (Etsushi Toyokawa), a loyal swordsman under the rule of the daimyo, Tabu Ukyou (Jun Murakami). One day, Sanzaemon kills one of the daimyo’s favorite mistresses, for reasons unknown. Since he has been a perfect servant up until that point, he is sentenced to house arrest for one whole year, as opposed to seppuku (ritual suicide). After the year is up, he is placed as Ukyou’s personal guard and must endure the shame placed upon his principles of bushido.
While it doesn’t necessarily add anything to the genre, Sword of Desperation follows every single rule of the jidai-geki and places it on display in exemplary fashion. Everything from the costumes, to the sets and even the actor’s mannerisms give a genuine feel for life in ancient Japan. Etshushi’s portrayal of Sansaemon is fantastic and is a perfect model of a samurai that adheres to the strict code of honor. Everyone in the cast, from Chizuru Ikewaki’s sweet and sensible Satoo to Ittoku Kishibe’s sly and cunning Tsuda, give tremendous performances that carry the film and make it highly entertaining. One my favorite aspects of the film are the actual duels that take place within the third act. While they very much carry dramatic weight, portions of the duels are shot in very long takes. They gives a sense of the battle taking place mentally between the two duelists, as well as physically in the moment. Scenes like these add much tension and give Sword of Desperation a real sense of gravity and root them in reality.
Animeigo’s presentation of Sword of Desperation is really great in terms of video. Granted, the film was released in 2010, but it still looks really fantastic. Another great feature on the disc are their liner notes, for which the company is very much known for. From phrases to the historical context of the story, Animeigo’s liner notes for Sword of Desperation provide some great insight on the film, as well as the talent that helped create it. There’s also some theatrical trailers and an image gallery on the disc that showcase some great scenes from the film.
Sword of Desperation is a model jidai-geki film and one that shows the power of the genre at its finest moments. If you’re a huge fan of the jidai-geki, you owe it to yourself to see this film. Highly Recommended!