The Mysterious Sword/The
Director: Sadatsugu Matsuda
Production Company: Toei
Running Time: 79 minutes
By 1960 this series of films starring Otomo
Ryutaro as Tange Sazen was at least in its fifth episode and many of the
basic characters, their traits and their relationships had already been
set in previous films like “The Swordsman’s Trouble with Women” (1958),
“Ketti Ban” (1958), “Secret of the Bronze Dragon” (1959) and “The One-Eyed
Wolf” (1959). Thus beginning with “The Mysterious Sword” is a bit like
coming into a conversation halfway through and trying to catch up. The
four main characters that seem to be in most of the Tange Sazen films all
make their presence felt – Tange Sazen of course, his female companion
Ofuji, her pickpocket brother Yokichi and the orphan Chobiyasu. The relationship
between Tange and Ofuji seems to often differ in the various takes on these
characters – Gosha depicted them as hungry lovers, the most recent version
had them almost as an old married couple while here it appears that they
are only good friends with Ofuji clearly wanting it to go further.
With an angry scar slashing downward over his
right eye, Otomo plays Tazen with great swashbuckling bravado and vigor.
Otomo was a very popular actor at the time and was involved in three different
series of films at the same time. Born in 1916 in Iwakuni City, he first
joined a theatrical troupe in Osaka and didn’t make his film debut until
1937. He later joined up with Daiei for a few years before moving to Toei
in 1952 where he performed in numerous period films over the years. He
acted right up until his death in 1985 and was the noodle maker in "Tampopo".
He brings some poignant depth to his characterization of Tange – part beast,
part poet – and has one touching scene in which he stares at a beautiful
sleeping woman he admires and his face becomes overwhelmingly melancholic
in his awareness that she is now too good for him.
Sazen is in need of money to buy clothes for a
ragtag group of children so that they can celebrate the Sanja Festival.
A liking for children seems to be his one emotional soft spot and so he
goes about earning money the only way he knows how – by fighting. He goes
up and down the streets challenging the fighters in various dojo’s and
after beating them all senseless he asks for an amount of money to leave.
In one such dojo though he finds himself face to face with Hagino (Oka
Satomi), the daughter of the sensei, and he allows her to defeat him as
he is so in awe of her spunk and beauty. He soon finds an opportunity to
make some real money though and tells his sword “You will be drinking a
lot of blood soon”.
A councilor from the Soma Clan comes to Sazen
to request a favor, but this being the clan that he once belonged to until
they betrayed him he refuses – unless he is well paid. The councilor explains
that a branch of the clan has broken away and has designs on a shipment
of gold that the clan needs to use to curry favor in Edo. Sazen agrees
to protect the shipment and goes in search of it and the many men who want
to steal it. Unaware of it, Sazen is being followed by Ofuji (Sakuramachi
Hiroko), who wants to know what he is up to and to be there in case he
needs her, and also by the orphan Chobiyasu and his pack of young friends.
Into this unruly mix comes Hagino who has learned that some men in her
father’s dojo are among the thieves and wants to stop them before they
bring dishonor to her family. She is accompanied by her mild-mannered servant,
Gennsuke (Okawa Hashizo) who eventually reveals that there is much more
to him than meets the eye. There is a fair amount of swordplay as Sazen
constantly challenges and harasses the large group of men who have set
out to steal the gold and he slowly kills them a bit at a time. It is all
quite enjoyable and becomes fairly engrossing as it goes along.
Oka Satomi who plays Hagino made over 150 films
in her career. She was born Yamamoto Mieko in 1935 and joined Toei under
her stage name in 1955. She quickly became very popular and was referred
to as one of “Toei Castles Three Daughters”. Hashizo Okawa was born in
1929 in Tokyo and was actually a kabuki actor for almost twenty years (generally
playing female roles) before joining Toei in 1955 and becoming a film actor.
He later was to turn to TV and acted in the series "Zenigata Heiji" from
1966 to his death in 1984. He appears in a number of the Sazen films.
My rating for this film: 7.5