Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword Of Seduction

Thrust In Me

Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword Of Seduction
aka Nemuri Kyoshiro 4: Joyoken Japan 1964
Directed by Kazuo Ikehiro
Anime Eigo Region 1

Warning: If you’re planning to watch these films,
there’s a big The Empire Strikes Back style spoiler in here!

This fourth outing of the first twelve of Daiei’s Nemuri Kyoshiro movies, starring Raizô Ichikawa in the title role, is the concluding DVD in the first of Anime Eigo’s boxed sets. It’s also a lot more interesting than the previous entry in the series (reviewed here).

That being said, however, it’s also got a more formulaic plot, once again, and the story arc is decidedly something which all afficionados of 50-80s chanbara will recognise from numerous others in the genre... but that’s not a bad thing and the general mise-en-scene on this one is a lot more satisfying than the previous installment, though perhaps still not as clean or inventive as the first two movies in the series.

We also get to find out a little... very little... of Nemuri Kyoshiro’s past in this one and it’s only now that I realise that Nemuri Kyoshiro doesn’t know much about his own birth either... and it is the possibility of finding out more about himself that enables him to go on a journey to become the bodyguard of a Christian icon (Christians were persecuted at this period in Japanese history) since it’s hinted that she is a blood relative of the main protagonist. Kyoshiro’s character seems a lot more ruthless in this one too. Even when he goes to the aid of a persecuted Christian near the beginning, it’s done so in a manner which suggests that he actually hates Christians (or anyone who has any kind of belief to be honest, let’s not forget that Nemuri Kyoshiro is a self proclaimed nihilist) and at one point goes to observe how a Christian will act when faced with death versus temptations which will persuade him to renounce his faith.

When said aged Christian is, fairly easily it should be pointed out, coerced and then released from jail, the Sleepy Eyes Of Death rides after him on a horse and beheads him in disgust. It’s not until near the end of the film when he is finding out a small piece of his own family history, that he realises the man who’s head he cleaved from his body was almost certainly his own father.

There are a couple of other surprises in this one too... one being a woman with hideously deformed features who looks like she’s pretty much being set up to be a recurring villainess in the series... maybe not though. Nothing I’ve so far tried to guess about the direction this series is heading in seems to have been correct and I had heard that the tone of the series is fairly fragmented in nature. Still, with over twelve entries in the continuity, I’m sure that some key ingredients should start making themselves known to me at some point as I watch these.

One element in this one, which manages to be both a piece of continuity from a previous episode... while at the same time beggaring that same continuity, is the return of Tomisaburô Wakayama’s character from the first installment... this allows for a friendly face in a villainous terrain and the two “enemies” still obviously enjoy each other’s company... but there the similarity ends. The character not only looks different, lacking the fierce crew cut he sported in the first movie, but no longer talks up the same fighting style and this time, rather than go into battle bare handed, instead uses something like a quarterstaff to make his point against his enemies. It seems a very bizarre and half-hearted nod to any cohesive elements to the series’ but I was, at least, glad to see this actor again as I am only really used to him playing the title role in the Lone Wolf and Cub movies.

The violence quotient in this one is a little more than the previous installments... none of those Kurosawa-spawned fountains of gushing arterial spray on show yet but there were some impressive wounds inflicted which, although mild by todays standards, would probably have seemed quite visceral at the time of the movie’s release and it will be interesting to chart the levels of gore as the series progresses and seeing if it, at any time, reaches the gorefest of those Babycart movies.

Again, the ending seems a little open ended as far as two of the antagonists are concerned but, as I said earlier, I’m no longer taking anything for granted in that area and I shall wait and see if things start happening in terms of pulling the various threads together as the series progresses. I’m guessing there won’t be a great effort to do that but we shall see what we shall see. The camerawork in this one is a far cry from the first two movies but certainly a less pedestrian effort than the last one and most people who appreciate the “lone wolfs and stray dogs” of Japanese samurai cinema are advised to give this one a watch.

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