Sleepy Eyes of Death 6: Sword Of Satan
aka Nemuri Kyôshirô 6: Masho-ken Japan 1965
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Anime Eigo Region 1
Warning: Spoilers slicing satanically into your brain!
Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda follows on from directing the ninth of the Zatoichi movies, Adventures Of Zatoichi, with this quite strong entry in the Nemuri Kyôshirô cycle and, I have to admit I was surprised I enjoyed this one so much because I thought the same director’s work on the third movie in the series was less than stellar (reviewed here...).
Visually, this one seems to be a lot more engaging than his previous Nemuri Kyôshirô movie, Full Circle Killing but it also retains the strong story element which many of the earlier movies were a little lacking in. This one starts off very well in the pouring rain and for quite a while there, it does maintain its own unique and sinister little atmosphere when compared to previous installments.
In this story, a mysterious masked lady begs Nemuri to sleep with her for money but all he does is listen to her story (after paying her) and casts scorn on her misfortune. The next day she has killed herself, leaving behind a young son who a clan have been trying to kill as an heir to the shogunate but who now want the boy to stay with their clan and be th next shogun in line... or their clan is doomed. This is the first film in the series where Nemuri Kyôshirô actually develops a real conscience and is actually regretful of his earlier words which were, ultimately, the words which convinced the boys mother to end her own life.
As the clan comes to take the boy, he leaves him in hiding while he pursues a few other things, including a black mass to which the boys appointed guardian is kidnapped to for ritualistic, naked slaughter. This movie is “all about the boy” as they say, and with Nemuri as his protector, you can be sure various factions in this movie want Nemuri dead and the boy for themselves.
And if that wasn’t enough, Nemuri is also being pursued by a vengeful lady assassin who was related to somebody he killed in an earlier picture. She is easily stoppable but relentless and tries varying methods to bring down our hero, such as having a bald headed nun seducing him and trying to sleep with him, which really doesn’t work out that well for all parties concerned, as you can imagine.
There’s also the old “small deadly creature let loose in the room” ploy (a snake in this case) which, to be fair, has always been a requisite ingredient in pulp fiction (I personally tend to associate Fu Manchu and Sherlock Holmes with being experts in this field). Given the timing of the movie in close proximity to the first cinema-released James Bond film, I suspect this element owes more to the box office success in Japan of Dr. No and its tarantula scene than it does to anything else. It’s not a very good snake scene, I should probably add, and it’s over very quickly and without any real menace or worry on the part of both our main protagonist or the audience, is my guess.
The assassin is quite fixated on her revenge against our angst-ridden hero, even trying to kill him after saving her life from a bunch of samurai who want her dead. And she’s not the only one to hate Nemuri. The little boy who he has sworn to protect hates samurai and would much rather grow up to be a carpenter. What’s more, and this is quite understandable since Nemuri is kinda responsible for his mother’s death, the kid does not want Nemuri’s protection and shuns and rejects our main protagonists noble intentions towards him as much as he possibly can.
This is a Sleepy Eyes of Death movie like no others before it in that the hero is not just on a journey as typified by the traditional “road chanbara” of the time, but also a journey within himself as he realises the way his actions have affected others and is given, in some cases, physical manifestations of these consequences... such as the orphaned boy and the vengeance filled assassin. And the most haunting and taunting of these manifestations is the mask of the boys mother who killed herself after her scornful rejection by Nemuri, which he carries around with him on his belt as a reminder of the harm he has caused due to just a few unkind words.
This is a film which is as much about a small journey of redemption for our lead character as it is about the numerous action sequences which pepper the movie. One of the more satisfying entries in the Sleepy Eyes Of Death movie series and one which has left me looking forward to the next one. Only two more left to watch out of what’s been released so far, though. I hope Anime Eigo get around to bringing out a third box soon.