Friday 10 February 2012

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure

Sworded Past

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure
aka Nemuri Kyoshiro 2: Shôbu Japan 1964
Directed by Kenji Misumi
Anime Eigo Region 1

Wow... what a great little film. Kenji Misumi, who is perhaps better known for his work on some of the Zatoichi movies and also for a significant chunk of the original six movie Lone Wolf & Cub film series, takes the reigns for this, the second entry in Daiei’s series of Sleepy Eyes Of Death films... and I have to say that, in many (but perhaps not all) ways this second entry surpasses the first.

Nemuri Kyoshiro may be a self proclaimed nihilist (see my review of the first movie here), but I have to say that the deeds and actions of the character point to a much more honourable outlook on life in this one, as he’s often making choices based on a moral highground rather than letting everything go to hell in a handbasket, so to speak. One character even refers to him as being a “noble” person in this one and it would be hard to disagree with this observation.

For instance, Nemuri starts the film by trying to do a kind deed which backfires when an old man, who turns out to be the wandering fnancial adviser to the shogun, highlights Nemuri’s intention to the young boy he is trying to help. This all leads to a duel with the recent killer of the young boy's father (who now posesses the father’s dojo as an outcome), who Nemuri quickly dispatches, and hence the young lad, who was a poor boy seeking money on the streets, becomes the dojo owner... and all this within the first ten minutes of the movie.

Nemuri’s relationship with the old financial adviser blossoms and deepens as he finds himself defending the adviser against paid assassins seeking to “permanently overturn” the advice the old man has given to his shogun master. The chemistry between Nemuri and the old man is quite electrical, it has to be said... and this really helps the viewer accept the character as much more of a heroic figure as opposed to him just going through the motions somewhat, as I feel he kinda did in the last movie.

Which is strange actually because, no matter how much the audience is in sympathy with the plight of Nemuri in this one, we still learn next to nothing about his origins as a character or see anything (of significance to anything other than this specific story) relating to his past and the burden he carries with him. He patently refuses to answer any questions leading to what can only be described as an orphaned past and although you may feel that this stuff really ought to be getting tackled at this point, this in no way derogatises or makes meaningless the richness of the character or deflects audience sympathies away from him. Which is odd and also highlights the differences in the way in which the same story might be handled if, for instance, a European or American director was making this.

The film is not nearly as colourful as the previous entry in the series and there’s no extra depth designed into the shots... but this is not to say that there isn’t some interesting cinematography happening on this one... there is. A shot where Nemuri lowers himself simultaneous with a camera dolly in, for instance, so his head becomes framed within a smaller frame within the shot is quite interesting (pictured above at the end of the shot). And a scene towards the end of the film where Nemuri faces down a sizeable amount of samurai opponents has a nice moment where everybody is poised for 5 or 10 seconds waiting for the carnage to happen. The sequence takes place in a forest and in this calm before the storm the director has a thin vertical tree trunk splitting the action quite rigidly into two different sections... nice stuff.

I’m really getting into this series now and I can’t wait to kick back and watch the third DVD in the package... I just hope that Anime Eigo see fit to release a boxed set of the 9th to 12th films in the series soon. Talking of which, the subtitling options on these releases are superb. They’re basically following the titling styes of the old UK Artsmagic label... the difference being that the Artsmagic DVDs were really poor and muddy transfers from old video transfers by the looks of it (seriously, if you’ve got their UK Zatoichi editions or their slightly cut Lone Wolf and Cub films... upgrade to the superb Anime Eigo Region 1 editions... the difference is like apples and oranges). So on these ones, for example, you can have yellow or white subtitling for the dialogue, but you can also choose to have subtitling for little explanatory glossary notes which appear at the top of the screen to explain Japanese cultural phenomena as they come up in the conversation. Very cool (although maddeningly hard to follow sometimes as you’re trying to read both sets of subtitles before they clear again). These releases are well worth having for every fan of chambara cinema... grab them now so the sales are such that a third box set is on the cards!

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