The fourth installment of the Sleepy Eyes series starring Raizo Ichikawa finds a new director and a new stylistic tone for the saga of the master of the Full Moon Cut technique. Coming into contact with a persecuted Christian, Kyoshiro (Raizo Ichikawa) learns about a venerated nun, Shima who may have information concerning his murky past. Along the way he runs afoul of the devilish Princess Kiku and a dirty rice merchant. As he looks to uncover information about his origins, he meets up again with a formidable challenger from the past, Chen Sun (Tomisaburo Wakayama) the warrior monk!
Director Ikehiro Kazuo takes over directing duties on the Sleepy Eyes series, and not for the last time. Having worked on the legendary Zatoichi series starring Shintaro Katsu; including my favorite film of the series, Chest of Gold, Ikehiro puts an indelible stamp on the film series and truly makes it his own. While not a horror film per se, this installment features a number of techniques popularly used in horror cinema but within the setting of a ruthless Edo Japan. Great use of lighting and shadows, terrified victims, a horrific physical impairment to a main player, and a particularly memorable Black Mass ceremony. In fact, stylistically, this film may have more in common with giallo productions and other European horror than the other previous films in the series. It is a refreshing take and apparently one that revitalized the series after talk of ending it at this installment. The terrific Full Moon Cut’s visualization also makes its first appearance here, something which would continue for many more films.
An infinitely darker film than any in the series before, Kyoshiro’s search for identity is the crux of the film. While other period markers play important roles; ie. the persecution of Christians, Kyoshiro’s journey is the main focus. While hints have been dropped in previous installments, we get a much clearer picture behind the generally aloof Nemuri, and his ferocity and ruthlessness is on full display. He does retain more than a few of my favorite character traits like his lady-killer status, his propensity for screwing with the antagonists, and showcasing some great action scenes. Standout moments include a battle in a field and the awesome ship sequence which includes some great exchanges with the incomparable Wakayama. Carrying a lot of build-up this sequence does end all too soon but with a promise of more to come.
One of the more memorable of the Sleepy Eyes series, Sword of Seduction has one of the best visual looks of any film in the series and further fleshes out one of samurai cinemas greatest characters. Very engrossing and well executed, this is one of the better entries thus far and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Black Hair, Trail of Blood, and/or Demon Spies
Special thanks to Animeigo for providing access to the film from their stellar release of films 1-4!