The Films (4/5)
Sleepy Eyes of Death, where have you been hiding all my samurai loving life. Sleepy Eyes of Death is a series of 12 samurai films made in the 60's and starring Raizo Ichikawa(Shinobi No Mono), they deal with the samurai Nemuri Kyoshiro, the son of black mass, and master of the infamous “Full Moon Cut” technique. This set includes the first 4 films in the Sleepy Eyes of Death series.
The Chinese Jade
The first film in the series opens with Nemuri Kyoshiro, the nihilistic master of the full moon cut technique being attacked by a group of ninja assassins. This battle garners the attention of Lord Maeda the master of the assassins, who is interested in utilizing Kyoshiro's skills. He then visits Lord Maeda's rival and learns of a scroll hidden in a jade statue that could bring the downfall of Lord Maeda. Kyoshiro ends up in a Yojimbo-esque plot between the two rivals. This first film in the series is a bit slow moving in comparision to the later films in the box set, but is still an excellent piece of samurai cinema.
Sword of Adventure
The second film in the series Sword of Adventure continues Kyoshiro's story. This time he gets involved with a mission to protect the local finance minister. It turns out he has been working for some time in restructuring the economy in the area, and put an end to the extravagant spending by the Shogun's Court. This infuriates Princess Taka who has had her “allowance” cut by these changes, and decides she would rather kill than be broke. The Sleepy Eyes of Death series begins to find it's footing here. Sword of Adventure is a much more satisfactory film with better choreographed fight sequences, and a faster more interesting plot. It also introduces the recurring villains of the series the bastard children of Shogun Ienari.
Full Circle Killing
The third film in the series is centered around the exploits of one of the bastard children of Shogun Ienari, Katagari Takayuki. He is a deranged psychotic murderer(and collector of rare swords) who along with his Mother and followers have been killing off the competition, so that he may one day ascend to the shogunate. Kyoshiro gets involved in the battle against Takayuki, and helps to protect the villagers from this power-hungry madman.
Sword of Seduction
The fourth and final film in the Sleepy Eyes of Death collection is the Sword of Seduction. This film is probably the best film in the entire set. Kyoshiro becomes involved in the protection and rescue of a few 2 Christian siblings, one of whom has been captured, and is scheduled to be crucified. The sister of this man attempts to free him by converting a Western man to Buddhism, however, they renege on the bargain, and the sister than finds herself targeted by one of the bastard daughters of Ienari, who plans to have her raped during her brothers crucifixion. It is up to Kyoshiro, who while reluctantly involved, must now find a way to stop the crucifixion, rape, and recover their icon the Virgin Shima.
Animeigo has presented the Sleepy Eyes of Death series in a 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and they are practically flawless. All 4 films look clean and crisp, with nary a single bit of print damage. Occasionally there will be a little scratch or line, but nothing that detracts from the overall viewing experience.
Sleepy Eyes of Death Vol. 1 is presented with Dolby Digital Mono tracks preserving the audio of their original release. The audio is completely audible throughout all 4 films. All 4 films are presented with optional English subtitles. The subtitles are one of my favorite things about Animeigo releases dating back to when I first bought their Lone Wolf and Cub collection. The subtitles are clear and multi-colored to differentiate the various characters.
Also, aside from simply just translating the dialogue, they also define certain key phrases that relate to the historical and geographical elements of the dialogue/story. Many of us love these films, but are not exactly history majors, so these provide a lot of good background information, and context for the films. I wish more companies releasing foreign films would take the time to offer this option.
This set is sort of light on the extras. The Chinese Jade has an audio commentary track by two experts on Japanese cinema. The rest of the discs have trailers for other Animeigo releases, a stills gallery, etc.
Sleepy Eyes of Death is an excellent series of samurai films. They feature quite possibly the most nihilistic, misanthropic, misogynistic samurai that you cannot help but be compelled to watch. The transfer for these films are gorgeous, and the subtitles add some great background information on the film. The extras may be slim, but the films are so good it really doesn't matter. Animeigo has done it again with another great samurai box set.