Classic-looking widescreen black & white cinematography makes Kedamono no ken or Sword of the Beast a wonder to watch, & some of the swordfighting sequences are elegant as all heck. But a weak story places it well below the level of actual classics & maybe not even quite as good as any random Zatoichi adventure.
An idealistic young samurai (Mikijiro Hira as Gennosuke) at the end of the feudal age is hornswoggled into assassinating a minister, believing he will be rewarded when reforms follow. Instead, he finds he must flee the clan which sends four samurai to kill him, together with a samurai couple (daughter & intended son-in-law of the assassinated minister, played by Yoko Mihara & Kantaro Suga) on a mission of kataka-uchi or honorable revenge, which turns out to have very little of honor about it.
Deciding pride & honor are phony, Gennosuke runs from those who would kill him instead of facing them & dying bravely like a samurai is supposed to. He links up with a random peasant (wonderful rubberfaced character actor Kunie Tanaka) & they decide to go up on a mountain to pan for gold, though anyone caught on the government's gold-loaded mountain will be summarily executed.
They don't actually have time to pan for gold since Gennosuke is being hunted down, so they decide to hang out near where a samurai & his wife have already been panning for a couple years & have lots.
A gangsterish priest & his minions had the same idea. So there are plenty of folks either already on the mountain, or soon to arrive, to provide no end of pointless swordplay & death, which ends up being the only point of the story.
Gennosuke discovers that the gold-panning samurai (Go Kato) is not a ronin but has been secretly commissioned by a clan to take gold illegally from the river, with the promise of the reward of a koku rice stipend & full retainership.
He & Taka (the beautiful Shima Iwashita) have suffered in poverty to accumulate the gold, believing life will be good for Jurata & his wife once he has the stipend & a position within the clan.
Gennosuke however finds out that just as he had had a retainership dangled before him only to be sacrificed by his clan's evil machinations, so too will the gold-panning couple be killed lest they be witnesses to the theft of the gold from shogunate land.
Though initially planning to duel & kill Jurata to steal the gold, Gennosuke now wants to save them from their duplicitous clan.
And never mind that in order to kill those two witnesses, a minister (Eijiro Tono) arrives to get the gold with a whole mess of guys disguised as monks, & it makes no real sense to replace two proven devoted people with a dozen assassins who don't care what's right.
Not that it actually matters; they'll all be dead before long, & the accumulation of gold will be left behind since by then even Gennosuke is so bored with the whole show & just wants to leave.
The pseudo-irony of the piece is that Gennosuke considers himself a "beast" who turned his back on honor to live like an animal, but surprise-surprise, he has more courage & decency than anyone. As a story it just falls flat on its face, so the film has to be appreciated pictorially. And it's worth it just for that.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl