Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade (1963)

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sleepy eyes chinese jade cover

Director: Tokuzo Tanaka

Starring: Raizo Ichikawa, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Tamao Nakamura

82 Minutes

Master swordsman and ladies’ man, Nemuri Kiyoshiro (Raizo Ichikawa) is attacked by a group of ninja with no explanation. Dispatching them with his renowned skill, he files the occurrence away. When he is approached by Chisa (Tamao Nakamura) a servant of Lord Maeda (Sonosuke Kawamura) for protection from a killer named Chen Sun (Tomisaburo Wakayama). When Chen Sun makes contact asking for Kiyoshiro’s help as well, Nemuri is understandably suspicious. With Kiyoshiro unsure of who to trust, he must weed out the truth, and the secret behind a Jade Buddha statue, while unleashing his formidable swordplay which may decide the fate of one of Japan’s most dominant fiefs.

Veteran director Tokuzo Tanaka helms this introductory film which is an adaptation of the acclaimed novel series from Renzaburo Shibata. Starting out with a bang, we are quickly introduced to Kiyoshiro and his formidable Full Moon Cut technique. He isn’t fully explored really, that happens in later installments, but he’s mysterious enough and suave enough to keep you interested. Differing from many of the testosterone fueled swordsmen of other jidai geki pictures, Ichikawa pursues a much more slick and analytical hero. With qualities similar to a fox, Ichikawa lays the foundations for one of the greatest samurai film characters of all time.

The terrific Tomisaburo Wakayama is solid as the kempo practitioner Chen Sun. He demonstrates an adeptness with bare-handed techniques to go with his legendary swordplay ability. Tamao Nakamura, also Wakayama’s real life sister-in-law, reveals a conflicted character in Chisa; she’s bound by gratitude to Maeda, her love for Kiyoshiro, and her desire for family. Her tragic life is pretty sorrowful, but she sees in Kiyoshiro a chance at a new one.

Beautifully shot, there are number of petty gorgeous shots throughout the film. Offering great dynamic shooting, the action is easy to follow and pleasingly choreographed. The music in the film is generally solid, though the lighter moments seem to have better cues and use.

A perfectly serviceable film that has some absolutely terrific photography, The Chinese Jade is a solid entry to the storied franchise. Some very good swordplay and action punctuates this samurai tale that plays more like an espionage/mystery and Raizo Ichikawa is a terrific lead whose introduction to the Sleepy Eyes of Death is a portent of the great things this franchise has to come.

You may enjoy this film if you liked: Samurai Spy, Zatoichi series, Shinobi no Mono series

Special thanks to Animeigo for providing a viewing copy of the film!

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Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP!

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