SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: SWORD OF ADVENTURE is an outstanding entry in the 1960s samurai series known as "Son of the Black Mass," in reference to the heritage of the protagonist, a red-haired ronin named Kyoshiro Nemuri who is damned to be an eternal outcast because he was the progeny of a
satanic ritual in which his Japanese mother was raped by a European monk.
Wandering swordsman Kyoshiro Nemuri (Raizo Ichikawa) befriends an old man named Asahina who turns out to be the Finance Commissioner for the Shogunate. Asahina's economic reforms bring him into conflict with the Shogun's spoiled daughter Princess Takahime. When he eliminates the Princess's
extravagant allowance, she plots to have him killed, along with Nemuri, who has decided to protect Asahina. Nemuri is lured into a trap by Uneme, a fortune teller who has agreed to help the Princess in exchange for the release of her incarcerated foreign missionary husband. Uneme drugs Nemuri's
tea and ties him up, but he manages to escape, and Uneme later finds herself falling in love with Nemuri.
The Princess and her stewards then plot to eliminate Nemuri and Asahina by inviting Nemuri to participate in an official duel, where he will be given a sword that has been tampered with so that its blade will detach and fly into Asahina. Despite Asahina's suspicions, Nemuri agrees to the duel, and
during it, the blade does indeed detach, but it flies into one of the Princess' stewards and kills him. When the Shogun hears of the Princess' murderous conspiracies, he has her exiled. Nemuri then goes to see Uneme, who has been captured by dozens of samurai, and after freeing her, Nemuri kills
them all in duels. Asahina and Uneme asks Nemuri to stay, but he refuses, and disappears into the woods.
The SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH series is unique in the samurai genre in that while it includes plenty of action, it concentrates mostly on character development and solid plotting. Nemuri may be an invincible swordsman, but he's vehemently antiheroic. The story of SWORD OF ADVENTURE is fascinating in
its depiction of ancient Japanese politics, and even somewhat radical in that the Finance Commissioner is attempting to take some wealth away from the corrupt ruling warrior-class in order to help the peasants. It also deals with the Japanese concept of racial purity, which is central to Nemuri's
character, most memorably in the powerful flashback where Uneme's Western-missionary husband is arrested for preaching Christianity, and as he's being dragged to jail, he picks Nemuri out of a crowd and speaks to him because he recognizes pain and misfortune in Nemuri's face.
In keeping with Nemuri's tortured and rebellious nature, the films also place a strong emphasis on philosophy, as he and other characters often engage in conversations about religion, race, bravery, cowardice, and what it means to be a man or a woman. These discussions are always an intrinsic part
of the narrative, and only add to the film's rich texture of exotic physical beauty. As with other films in the series, the cinematic style is also somewhat different from the norm, employing many static shots and long takes instead of quick cutting, even during the duels themselves, and using
objects such as trees, walls, and even snow, to split the widescreen frame into sections, creating marvelously expressive compositions. (Violence.)
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- Review: SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: SWORD OF ADVENTURE is an outstanding entry in the 1960s samurai series known as "Son of the Black Mass," in reference to the heritage of the protagonist, a red-haired ronin named Kyoshiro Nemuri who is damned to be an eternal outcast… (more)