Circle Of Death
Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing
aka Nemuri Kyoshiro 3: Engetsugiri Japan 1964
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Anime Eigo Region 1
There are both good and bad elements to this, the third in the Daiei series of Sleepy Eyes Of Death movies, but I certainly didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous two entries in the series (which is strange since the same director helmed a couple of the better Zatoichi movies in my opinion).
The good elements are a story which is, perhaps, a little too formulaic and over familiar but certainly gets audience sympathies on the right side straight from the outset. Starting with a bastard heir to the shogunate going down to the underside of a bridge where the poor make their homes, simply so he can test one of the new swords in his growing collection to see if it is a good sword. Testing his sword means picking on some innocent, lowly villager and chopping his head off to test the sharpness. The villagers are outraged and scared but the son of the villager who is cut down swears vengeance on the character who will take peoples lives just to test a sword... unfortunately, this one is not only a bad swordsman and a bit of a slob, he’s also low in intelligence... as demonstrated in spades over the course of the film.
Meanwhile, the bastard heir's mother starts having all of the other heirs to the Shogun covertly eliminated so her son can inherit the title himself.
Enter, Nemuri Kyoshiro: The Sleepy Eyes Of Death, who at first seems to be unconcerned but, as you figure out soon enough, wishes to help the son of the slaughtered villager in his vengeance... more so when the despicable dealings of the main villain are apparent and his sword is a wanted collectors piece which this bad guy is trying to obtain by hook or by crook.
It isn't long before the son of the dead villager demonstrates his lack of intellect by kidnapping the little sister of the villain's girlfriend... however, he’s not a very good kidnapper and soon bonds with the girl and grows protective of her. Nemuri Kyoshiro returns the girl to her rightful home and a bond forms between him and the son of the dead villager who once again proves how stupid he is by trying to rescue Nemuri Kyoshiro after Kyoshiro has been drugged and captured by the enemy... thus necessitating Nemuri Kyoshiro to save both their skins in the ensuing chaos of his escape. After this, of course, the stakes are higher and the end game approaches...
This is all good stuff, of course but it has to be said that the storytelling is quite formulaic, variations on a theme of which have been used in many chambara including, of course, the Zatoichi and Lone Wolf And Cub movies... and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, I did find the direction and particularly the cinematography in terms of the framing of the shots and the general way in which the camera moves around the set quite pedestrian in style... more like a good, work-a-day director fulfilling his role rather than an artist fussing over the finer details. There’s one little sequence where the approach is a little more startling and it involves a fight you kind of don’t actually see properly because you’re stuck in the middle of it. It’s a sequence involving some steps... and it’s those steps... you know, THOSE steep steps which seem to be in every other Japanese movie made in the sixties and early seventies? Nemuri Kyoshiro is walking up them while a very large amount of assorted thugs with swords drawing are running down them towards him. Cut to first person and a rolling camera eye is used in a kind of hand held capacity to catch slashes of chaos unfolding... before cutting back to Nemuri Kyoshiro’s continued upwards journey while his antagonists lie dying or defeated below him. This is pretty interesting but I’m sure I’ve seen it before somewhere... maybe this director used it in one of his Zatoichi movies?
However, it has to be said, that other than that brief and intense sequence, the camerawork and general mise-en-scene are less than stunning in this third entry into the series. And I still don’t know anything about Nemuri Kyoshiro. He rarely mentions his past. It’s like you’re supposed to have read the novels before watching the movies.. so not much chance on catching up on those if there are no English translations available (yeah, I already checked... there’s one issue of a manga adaptation available and that seems to be it).
When all is said and done though, it’s still a rip roaring adventure in the Nemuri Kyoshiro series... it’s just not as sleek in the shooting and editing as I might have liked and, as such, it’s definitely my least favourite of the series so far... but still definitely worth a watch as you will be rooting for some of the characters as their plots and conspiracies lead towards a final stand off between Nemuri Kyoshiro and his opponents. Definitely don’t leave this one out if you’re a fan of this series of movies.