Waldemar Daninsky goes to Japan to find a cure.
By 1983, cinema was changing. There was less and less need for the double-bill, and a foreign horror film like THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD would find difficulty in being exhibited. Then, too, it was not your typical horror film and took its time tell its story. No more was this the era of the 1970s when the Spanish horror boom was at its peak. Along with other creators, Paul Naschy would find it more and more difficult to get the funding he needed. Naschy kept on, trying his best to make a film that would have some artistic merit, but also find a welcome reception in the world and in the United States, which was always a standard for a foreign film's success. THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD was never dubbed or shown in theaters in America. It was even a stranger in the land of American television. There was no American pressbook, either. For a long time, the only way to see this film was through dupey-looking videos sourced from either the Greek or Japanese videos. Then, in 2009, Spain's Vellavision distributed a number of Naschy films on DVD and in proper aspect ratio (mostly). Included was the first DVD of LA BESTIA Y LA ESPADA MAGICA. For the first time we were able to see what is going on, the previous video releases having been mediocre.
After LATIDOS DE PANICO, Naschy looked to helm in Japan. His project was based on Kyoto, the Beast, an outlaw who had done in various Japanese in the forest. When captured, he had been punished with a hand-to-hand fight with a Bengal tiger. He won. Taking that as a starting point, Naschy wrote a screenplay, initially titled LA BESTIA Y LOS SAMURAIS. Takeda was very enthusiastic about the project. Julia Saly, who was a partner with Naschy and Takeda, had a contact in Japan that would be perfect for Japanese role: Shigeru Amachi. (The timeline here is a little confusing. Naschy states that he was at a party in Japan where Amachi and Mifune were present. It is very possible that this party was after Amachi was involved with the film, though the party seems to occur before.) Amachi had a long list of acting credits in Japan, starting in 1953, with many action films and historical period pieces. A gentleman of the "old school," Amachi smoked cigarettes with a holder and had a servant in tow, affectionately called later by the Spanish that were filming, a "monkey." Naschy was also looking for funding, and Amachi agreed and took half of the film's financial responsibility and helped in other ways. Through Amachi, the large studios of Toshiro Mifune were used, including the actors and the surrounding scenery.
The filming presenting many headaches and difficulties. One time, Amachi walked off the set, angry that he was being shot from the back. Naschy, himself infuriated at that point, wanted to cancel the entire film, as Amachi was critical in its making. But Amachi came back and apologized for his behavior. Another time, at a nighttime shoot, the actress Yoko Fuji was required to lie down in boat, the temperature freezing at that point. When he didn't need her, Naschy try to send her to her dressing room to warm up until he needed her again. The Japanese production manager contradicted this, saying that Fuji was a professional and should stay in the boat. A row started between Naschy and the man, but Naschy won in the end. Then there was the tiger scene, one of the best in Naschy's filmography. After being told that using a tiger would be impossible, Naschy heard that a tiger used in the television show SANDOKAN was available, and it was this tiger that fought Waldemar Daninsky after being fed 25 chickens beforehand.
Though Naschy thought highly of the Spanish male actors he was employing, veterans like Conrado San Martin and Gerard Tichy, he was less enthusiastic about his Spanish female leads: Violeta Cela and Beatriz Escadero.
Despite these difficulties and more, Naschy was satisfied. As Naschy would say in the VIDEOOZE double-issue devoted to him: "It was very interesting to film two worlds so opposite and to make them coincide, since it is a voyage which begins on this continent and ends in the Orient. This voyage gave us the opportunity to learn the authentic origin of the legend of Waldemar Daninsky, which is to say we begin in the time of Otto the Great and finish up on the sixteenth century. Artistically it is one of my best films."
There is no doubt that this film is a major one from Paul Naschy. He worked with Japan and at Toshiro Mifune studios, and continued to bridge the gap that existed, cinematically, between Spain and Japan. But the film is too heavy-handed at times. Perhaps it was the absence of Naschy's best cinematographer, Alejandro Ulloa, or Naschy's own temperament that interpreted this as an "important" film and therefore hampered him. Or Naschy played his role too glum, with no presence of levity from him nor anyone else. At times, particularly in the scenes that arise before Waldemar goes to Japan, the film seems lifeless and going by route. The film should have been better edited and dispensed with most of the laborious Spanish scenes. There is a sequence in Japan where Waldemar is hallucinating about a past, a scene that is perfect for a recap of the Spanish story.
The framing of the picture is curious, too. It seems full frame. Perhaps Naschy was going for a similarity with Japanese films (which ones?), something he admitted to in talking about the pace of the film, but a full-frame shooting is a puzzlement, though it is possible that the framing was compelled in trying to get the film shown in a variety of venues. The new Blu-Ray from Mondo Macabro presents two aspect ratios, just in case. (More of this release soon.)
THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD contains some of the best sequences of any Waldemar Daninsky film, but it is too long, though obviously deserving to be better known and then appreciated for what it attempted to do.
During the first scene and the battle between Irineus Daninsky and Bulcio, in the stand are seen, dressed of the times, Naschy's wife, Elvira, and his two sons, Bruno and Sergio.
The hara-kiri scene compelled applause from the Japanese members of the crew. For Naschy this was another example of Japan's fatalistic merging of honor and death.
At the wrap-up party, Naschy was forced to sing, in Spanish, some of the classic songs of Spain. The sake may have helped, but Naschy realized his voice was in no way a match for Amachi, who sang several songs in wonderful voice,, including the "Waldemar" one that appears at the end of the film.
Amachi passed away in 1985, a victim of a stroke and still not seeing the distribution of his co-financed film in Japan. For Naschy, this film was the last premiere that his father, Enrique Molina, was able to attend before he passed away.
A sequel was considered but never made.
Now on Blu-Ray
The song, "Showa Blues," was used in THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD. And the actor and singer, Shigeru Amachi, was known for his sword play in many films. His character, Kian, tried to help Waldemar Daninsky when the latter arrives in medieval Japan trying to find a cure.
I was working on the page and finishing what I thought would be acceptable to her. She had a Facebook page, which was pleasantly surprising as a lot of actors and actress do not want one. I tried to make contact a few months ago but heard nothing. Now, with the revived and new Mark of Naschy page, I was going to try again. As I put in her name into a search engine, I found out the truth. Junko Asahina had died in a Tokyo hospital on March 30, 2021.
I read her Facebook page using a translation. She had been in poor health for a number of years, it seems. Her last Facebook post was on January 21, 2015. What you see to your right is the heading of her Facebook page.
A video release. The actual video is booted and sold by Luminous during the days of video and conventions.
This may be an original video inside, but the cover is original. Aside from Greece, there were Greek neighborhoods in the world.