Movie Impressions: Sleepy Eyes of Death Collector’s Set Vol. 1

I heartily enjoy my Japanese films – the more I can devour the better! You might have seen from previous movie reviews that I’m a fan of some of the older, classic ninja and espionage films put out by the country so many years ago. I’m continuing my journey today through Japanese film history with the four-DVD set Sleepy Eyes of Death, the first volume of a multi-part DVD series, starring Raizo Ichikawa as a nihilist ninja known as Nemuri Kyoshiro. These four films follow a series of novels by the same name, cleverly titled as titular Nemuri’s name in Japanese means “sleep.” The four films included with this set are: The Chinese Jade, Sword of Adventure, Circle of Killing, and Sword of Seduction. As you wade through each film. you’ll note the characters and subplots taking on more and more of a concrete stance rather than just ideas brought to light by simple movie plots or novelizations. I greatly enjoyed the adventures of this chronic nihilist, and I’m certain that if you are at all a fan of films of the period you’ll find something to enjoy here.

The first film to begin with, The Chinese Jade (1963), introduces you to the strange Nemuri, who is a wandering samurai without a proper master – that makes him a ronin. He is both feared and revered throughout the land for a sinister sword technique known affectionately as the Full Moon Cut. While wandering the countryside Nemuri faces a group of assassins who would have his head. Upon defeating them, Nemuri attracts the attention of Lord Maeda, the leader of the assassins, who is looking for someone just like Nemuri to carry out some of his own dirty work. In an attempt to get under Nemuri’s skin, he sends a lowly orphan girl to Nemuri’s hacienda in order to seduce him and persuade him to carry out Maeda’s wishes, but as we all know, there’s no seducing a nihilist. There are some great laughs to be found within this film, mostly at the absurdity of some of the ideas Maeda tosses out and the fact that Nemuri hates the world and everyone inhabiting it (though he has a girlfriend!). The introductory film is peppered with some noteworthy action sequences as well, but nothing particularly standout, this entry serving more as a stepping stone for those wishing to establish Nemuri as a viable front man in what would become a classic series of films.

The second and third films Sword of Adventure (1964) and Circle of Killing (1967) hasten the pace a bit since Nemuri has already been introduced and follows him through a bit more seedy excursions. We see more of his darker, most disgusting desires, as he molests and attempts to rape a woman who belongs with another man, torturing her and even resorting to removing her tattered clothing with his sword, obviously taking pleasure in the torment of a defenseless woman. We learn through these two films that he is not the savior that many that he comes in contact find him to be – in fact, he often helps those in need only for his own selfish reasons, letting them rot if it is not to benefit him in any way. I’m sure you’ve seen many anime character archetypes similar to what’s presented in Nemuri, which is what makes these films so accessible. He’s such a jerk, but you can’t help but to keep watching!

The final film of this collection, Sword of Seduction (1964), is the darkest entry and perhaps the most engaging out of the four. It’s as if all three of the former films were chopped up and thrown into a blender to combine all of the nihilism, sex, violence, and various other seedy aspects to create the most raunchy of the four. Following a princess who savagely addicts her servants to opium before murdering them and dumping them in the river, Nemuri once again steps in to check out the drug smuggling ring the princess is running (for his own gain of course). This film is a culmination of all that you were expecting to see within the first three and likely from the warnings on the box, this one is the one you’ll want to avoid most if you’re squeamish due to some intense violence in a few of the scenes. I enjoyed Sword of Seduction more than the previous movies, and it’s likely that you will as well.

The first collection of Sleepy Death films is a very swanky box set from AnimEigo  that should help give fans of classic Japanese cinema their daily dose of samurai bastard, because Nemuri Kyoshiro is nothing but one. There’s no pansy side to unrepentant ronin rouge, and though you might enjoy these films, it’s likely he’ll still look you in the eye and tell you how little your existence means to him.  With four thrilling features packed into one attractive package there’s no reason for fans not to check Sleepy Eyes of Death Vol. 1 out, and I can easily imagine this despicable character picking up plenty more along the way.  What are you waiting for?

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