Saturday, January 18, 2014


In Kenji Misumi's Sword Devil (1965), the lead protagonist, Hanpei ('Han' for spot; 'pei' for the lower social class he belongs to) becomes a practitioner of Lai (a draw-sword art; his teacher's only lesson: draw, kill, put back) midway through the film. Towards the end, a change in the lordship of the clan he belongs to means that his earlier performance of his duty towards the clan, which constituted murders of his fellow clansmen themselves, is now seen as a grand crime that must be avenged. He is tricked by various other members of the clan into coming alone to the flower-garden he has himself sowed; they propose his murder, he tells them it's on. In a grand sword-roulette that follows (and that predicts Kenji's later masterpieces with the Lone Wolf series), Hanpei takes them all one by one. This sort of a one-against-all within the same two-dimensional plane is an idea that must have inspired later manga, as well as, in no small measure, the famous side-scroller brawl in Oldboy (2003). Anyways, most of them get murdered by Hanpei's sword, but then he is wounded himself, and it is at this point that the brawl breaks down into a splendid formation within the frame: Hanpei places his sword back and bends over, his hands to his knees, to regain breath and just rest for a little bit. His opponents see this as an opportunity to gain on him, they move closer to him in scavenger-circles with much ill-intent. But as it goes with most Kenji Misumi fights, the protagonist will never accept a graceless, crowded brawl; instead, he prefers a series of dignified one-on-ones. And so the stage for a near-perfect demonstration of the sheer speed of his prowess is set. As he rests, one of his opponents makes a quick advance and Hanpei responds with great ferocity.

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