Nakadai is memorably psychotic as Tsukue, a samurai gone to the bad, a hired assassin whose cruelty is only exceeded by his swordsmanship. Mifune has little more than a supporting role as a fencing master – Shimada – who proves Tsukue’s spiritual nemesis. (‘The sword is the soul,’ Shimada says. ‘Study the sword to study the soul.’) The script goes to some trouble to contextualise the action (the early 1860s, when brigands were threatening anarchy) and to introduce a wide array of characters, but the numerous strands never cohere and some are left hanging, as if the production ran short of money and cut back on plot development. The film stands up due to the dynamic ’Scope camerawork and half-a-dozen set pieces, including duels choreographed with chess-like solemnity and an astonishing climax in which the whole world seems to turn against the haunted Tsukue. Based on the novel by Kaizan Nakazato.