In the third installment of the saga of Nemuri Kyoshiro (Raizo Ichikawa) we see a new director and a darker turn for our anti-hero. This chapter finds Kyoshiro caught between a group of peasants trying to survive oppression from the samurai class and the manipulations of a shogunate heir and his power hungry mother. As he is both threatened and propositioned by both sides, he metes out his own brand of justice using the legendary Full Moon Cut!
Taking over directing duties, Kimiyoshi Yasuda directs his first Sleepy Eyes film and the picture takes a much darker and much more worldly stance. We see probably our first scenes of graphic violence in this series, with a decided bend towards the growing chanbara style of swordplay. Illustrating caste conflict, oppression, and the cutthroat world of feudal Japan, Yasuda seems to take a page out of Koike but limiting the sleaze. Providing a generally compelling story that also lends itself to some stellar swordplay, we are able to get a better idea of the world Nemuri inhabits while also getting a glimpse at his character that hadn’t yet been revealed.
Ichikawa tears up the screen here as a Nemuri fully in control of his situation despite the seemingly high odds against him. He seems to relish getting one over on the antagonists, especially the heir. Always ready to laugh at and embarrass him, Nemuri takes great delight in making him angry. His swordplay is good but not as much as in earlier installments; there are more quick cuts and stylized editing but form is solid. A standout sequence is the forest fight with another samurai and the terrific burning bridge scene. They showcase fluidity and are excellent examples of Japanese chanbara.
Production seems mostly done on stage; sets and painted backgrounds are easily spotted but provide a nostalgic feel to the film as opposed to giving a fake or insincere impression. Music is strong when using traditional instruments but modern accompaniment is forgettable and average.
Full Circle Killing is a solid entry in the Sleepy Eyes series that suffers from following a phenomenal film and part two. It features solid fight choreography, a greater focus on story, and some memorable character scenes, but lacks the pure entertainment value and discovery of the two earlier films. Nonetheless a dark and competently executed film, Sleepy Eyes of Death is one of the most well known samurai series for good reason.
Special Thanks to Animeigo for providing a viewing copy!