SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: THE CHINESE JADE is an excellent entry in the 1960s Japanese samurai series (released on US video in 1997) about the adventures of a rebellious Eurasian ronin called Kyoshiro Nemuri--known as "Son of the Black Mass" because he was conceived during a satanic ritual in
which his Japanese mother was raped by a Portuguese missionary.
Kyoshiri Nemuri (Raizo Ichikawa), considered the best swordsman in Tokyo, receives a note from a Chinese monk called Chen Sun (Joo Kenzaburo), requesting a meeting. Nemuri is then visited by a courtesan named Chisa (Tamao Nakamura) who wants to hire him to kill Chen Sun, whom she claims is trying
to kill her. At his meeting with the monk, Nemuri is told that Chisa is a spy for the powerful Kaga clan, which is led by Lord Maeda. Chen Sun asks Nemuri to be the bodyguard for a former associate of Maeda's named Lord Zeniya who was thought to be dead, but is still alive and is in possession of
a jade statuette which contains evidence that could lead to Maeda's downfall.
When Zeniya comes out of hiding and kidnaps Chisa, Maeda offers to pay Nemuri to kill him. Nemuri refuses and Maeda sends a team of ninjas to kill him, which he defeats. Nemuri rescues Chisa and steals the statuette from Chen Sun and Zeniya. Nemuri and Chisa gradually fall in love and he tells
her he has learned that she is actually the daughter of a former courtesan who's now a nun, and Lord Maeda, making her the true heir to the Kaga clan. Stunned, she confronts Maeda and forces him to abdicate. Nemuri takes Chisa to see her mother, but she's been killed by Zeniya, who shoots Chisa
when she won't give him the statuette. Nemuri stabs Zeniya and defeats Chen Sun in a duel, then returns to help Chisa, but after she dies in his arms, he curses the statuette and throws it into the ocean.
SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: THE CHINESE JADE is quite different from most Japanese samurai films in its mournful tone and emphasis on characterization and complex plotting over frenzied action and gory violence. To be sure, there are plenty of swordfights and duels, but they're depicted as
psychological, rather than physical, battles. The story is filled with a number of intensely emotional familial confrontations which are just as brutal in their own way. The film is also distinguished by its stately and poetic mise-en-scene and its highly artistic use of color, lighting, decor,
and composition. Most notable, however, is the existential character of Nemuri himself, whose red hair marks him as an eternal outsider. Despite his philosophical nature, Nemuri is also a ferocious warrior, and there are a number of superbly staged duel sequences in the film.
The fascinating mystery plot is a kind of feudal variation on THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), with the characters double-crossing one another right up to the surprisingly bitter finale, where, in a stunningly framed shot on top of a jagged cliff, Nemuri throws away the statuette which was responsible
for killing his beloved Chisa, and looks to the sky, screaming "Is there still any beauty left in this world?" (Violence.)
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- Review: SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: THE CHINESE JADE is an excellent entry in the 1960s Japanese samurai series (released on US video in 1997) about the adventures of a rebellious Eurasian ronin called Kyoshiro Nemuri--known as "Son of the Black Mass" because he was con… (more)