Light My Fire
Sleepy Eyes of Death 5: Sword Of Fire
aka Nemuri Kyoshiro 5: Enjo-ken Japan 1965
Directed by Kenji Misumi
Anime Eigo Region 1
Warning: Thrusting spoilers to cut you down where you stand.
Okay, so director Kenji Misumi, who directed the excellent second movie from the Nemuri Kyoshiro series is back at the helm of this fifth movie and, so far, this one is by far my favourite of the five I have seen.
Everything about this one comes together... the camerawork is top notch, the acting is more than competent and the scripting is pretty cool too. The Sword of Fire from the UK/US version of the title is not talking about Nemuri Kyoshiro’s actual metal sword but... um... you know, that other kind of sword he carries about on his person ;-) The film provides a lot for him to test his “sword” on too as there are a number of very different female characters in this one who kinda drive the plot and then, for the most part, let the male figures in the film get on with the action and slice each other into sushi without realising the way they are being manipulated.
Nemuri Kyoshiro is very well played in this one, more of a bad-ass and “invincible” ronin than I’d got the impression of him from some of the previous movies. He’s not getting drugged by the various female characters in this one at least and this is the first time I’ve really taken a shine to the way Raizô Ichikawa plays the part. Usually he just goes around telling everybody he doesn’t care to help them and then ends up helping them anyway and, while the same can also be said to be true of this installment in the series, there’s something in his tone and attitude in this one that really makes you believe him.
That being said, though, even he is not invincible to the charms and manipulations of some of the female characters and it’s interesting that it’s the two most likeable and non-scheming of the ladies in this movie who actually make it out of the story in one piece, while the power players don’t.
One such power player is a woman who asks Kyoshiro to intervene as she tries to revenge the death of her husband by killing a ronin at the opening of the movie. Of course Kyoshiro wants nothing to do with this but she is armed with only a dagger and when the subject of her “revenge” does his best to cut her down with his sword, Kyoshiro distracts his aim which allows the lady to thrust her blade home. What our hero (or should that be anti-hero?) doesn’t know, of course, is that the man who lays dead at her feet is one of a few ex-pirates who survived a massacre when their gold was taken by the chief of a clan. The lady in question, who at first tries to kill Kyoshiro when he claims his debt of a night of pleasure with her, is actually in league (to a point, her manipulations know no respite) with the chief of the clan and they are trying to silence the few remaining pirates who know what they did so that word doesn’t get back to the shogunate.
This is the story that the Sleepy Eyes Of Death becomes embroiled in and the usual slice and dice routine is made infinitely superior by some of the brilliant female characters in this film including somebody who could best be described as a “pirate princess”, who is a practical wench and good with a blade... and another who is the daughter of a pirate, the father of whom Kyoshiro sees cut down by his enemies. The girl has never known her father and has no idea of his shady dealings but Kyoshiro sees that she is absolutely pure of heart and so he protects her when her life is in danger (without her even knowing that she is in any danger) and when he has to tell her that her father has died, after he has already struck up a simple friendship with her, he gives her some money (saying it came from her father) and concocts a story so she never knows he was a pirate.
By the end of the film, the fact that he has encountered such a pure heart puts him in a good mood and he walks off into the sunset, pausing in his way only to slice dead the woman who started all the trouble for him at the start of the movie... as she lays dying she expresses her love for him.
This is a really great entry in the cycle and, if this review is shorter than my normal Nemuri Kyoshiro reviews, it in no way undermines the fact that this entry in the series stands head and shoulders with some of the Zatoichi series which was also very popular at the time. A solid piece of chanbara cinema if ever there was one and a definite recommend from me... if you want to get hooked on this series, this is probably the one to jump on with.