Saturday, April 23, 2011

REVIEW: Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing

眠狂四郎円月斬り (Nemuri Kyōshirō Engetsugiri)

Released: 1964

Kimiyoshi Yasuda

Raizo Ichikawa
Kyoko Azuma
Ryonosuke Azuma
Saburo Date
Hajime Etsukawa

Running time: 86 mins.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Given Raizo Ichikawa’s popularity, Daiei studios assumed they would have a hit on their hands by adapting Renzaburo Shibata’s tales into films with the glamorous star. However, by the third film, it was obvious the series wasn’t the huge success they had hoped for. The fault for this lies with the studio and the fact that they wanted to present a watered down version of Nemuri Kyoshiro, a nihilistic ronin content with spending his time destroying other bastard samurai, worried people would be turned off by his anti-hero ways. Apparently not. And so "Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing" is the last film in the series that uses the more subtle depiction of Kyoshiro’s peculiarities.

The film opens with a young lord Takayuki, wandering through the slums, protected by his samurai, his face concealed, as he practices his swords craftsmanship by beheading innocent people, an act known as tsuji-giri. Kyoshiro stumbles across the scene, and knows a bastard samurai when he sees one. Even the Shogun himself has outlawed the vile act, so Kyoshiro becomes embroiled in what winds up being a bitter scheme for the title of Shogun. You see Lord Takayuki, like Takahime in part 2, is a child of the Shogun, although in this case, he is a bastard child with a mother hell bent on seeing her son attain the throne. Takayuki is in love with Konami, the daughter of a wealthy merchant who helps through monetary support Takayuki and his mother, in exchange that he will wed Konami when he becomes Shogun. Everyone in this film is dirty, save the lower class folk who reside in huts under the bridge which Takayuki assaults in the films opening. Kyoshiro becomes even more fascinated by the situation when he discovers Takayuki is an avid sword collector who has an eye on Kyoshiro’s masterwork Musou Masamune sword, and will stop at nothing to get it.

This is the last film that presents Kyoshiro in his more restrained portrayal, which isn’t to say that he’s still everyone’s favorite ronin. We are treated to what at times must be the softest side of Kyoshiro, but his motives are always a mystery. He’s an empty vessel, allowing the audience to fill him with their own notions of good and evil. He helps the innocent lower class folk who are abused by the samurai and the wealthy, the proud and the greedy, but his actions don’t reflect a good heart. Early on, he visits the best sword smith in Edo who is working on his Masamune sword, and the smith mentions that the sword ‘emanates evil, as though it is accustomed to killing’, the sword representing the samurai’s soul. He often talks down to the under dwellers he’s saving, and defiles Konami to not only draw Takayuki into fighting him, but to also break her of her pride (what he does is left to the imagination as the film cuts once he cuts off her clothes, but he does leave us with the words ‘I will have you’).

The film, like the others is fantastically crafted, this time the directing reigns passed onto Kimiyoshi Yasuda who direct several "Zatoichi" films, as well as the first "Daimajin" and "Yokai Monsters" films. It features a wonderful POV display of swordsmanship when Kyoshiro dispatches some swordsman on a stone stair ascension, and a great final duel on a burning bridge. The films have grown more bloody in their depiction of violence, this time opening with a beheading, and following up with severed limbs and many corpses. It also presents Kyoshiro with his first moment of regret when forced to battle a samurai he recognizes as one who actually upholds the code of bushido and doesn’t abuse it. This is not the kind of samurai Kyoshiro wants to kill This seems to trigger his selfless act shortly thereafter when he surrenders himself to Takayuki if he spares the under dwellers, an act that seems off for Kyoshiro. Of course, it is also part of his plan for brining down Takayuki and his mother, but for a moment it seems like the crossing paths of the two swordsman gives meaning to Kyoshiro. Of course, by the end, when he realizes he was also a pawn in the political game, it all gets blown out of the water.

The film does a great job of subtly alluding to the past films, keeping Kyoshiro a bastard who still has some dignity, and presenting us with a highly complex film. It also has a terrific, soul shaking score by Ichiro Saito, who did scores for Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse. Yes, this is the last of Kyoshiro the subtle, but comparatively speaking, even a subtle Kyoshiro is still a great bass ass anti-hero ronin who ensures he pisses off everyone he crosses paths with.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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