Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2016 August 08 • Monday

The 425th Soundtrack of the Week is a movie I saw a dozen times on the big screen when I was a teenager, pretty much every time it played at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. The music is by one of my favorite composers of all time, Masaru Sato, and the movie is the great Sword of Doom.

It must be about twenty years or so since I've seen this. Listening to the newly released soundtrack on CD is giving me the urge to watch it again.

Sato's scores often socialize well with the music of his peers Henry Mancini, John Barry and Ennio Morricone. The brooding, obsessive and oppressive nature of this score recalls Bernard Herrmann and Akira Ifukube. It should go without saying that it's still all Sato, his personal sonic world.

The story is one of moral dissolution, as a swordsman's quest for power rots him from inside as he chalks up victory after victory, whether in official tournaments or illegal assassinations, whether he fights one opponent or a dozen at once.

This samurai Dorian Gray has a misleadingly placid exterior. His signature move is to lower his sword and present himself as exposed and vulnerable, thus luring his enemy into a trap.

Sato's music is responsible for bringing to life much of the character's interior world. There's much effective use of space punctuated by unsettling and pounding percussion and insistent fragmented figures. Shakuhachi urgently describes the fraying of the hero's humanity while the inside of a piano is stroked to produce wave after wave of gloomy and menacing sound.

There are a beautiful love theme and some traditional Japanese music but this is ultimately a score of isolation and dread.