When I think of a cult samurai film, the very first thing that comes to my mind is Lone Wolf & Cub. It’s got some crazy plot elements, over the top action and plenty of blood to go around. Now, it won’t be, thanks to watching Animeigo’s release of Volume Three of the Sleepy Eyes of Death series from Daiei Studios. While it is my introduction to the series, the films are much like Zatoichi or Godzilla, where we’re given enough info on our main character, placed into crazy situation and see them use their skills to fight their way out of it. Kyoshiro Nemuri is an absolute bad ass and total anti-hero, taking women’s virginity and slicing people up with his Full Moon Cut style that leaves no one unscathed. Born from a Japanese mother and an English father, that performed the sexual act during a Black Mass ceremony, Nemuri is a ronin that ends up taking on missions, once they’ve involved him through violence or enticed him with a woman’s chastity.
While there are the typical plot elements of evil officials and wronged princesses, some of the things happening in the Sleepy Eyes series are just about some of the strangest that one can get out of a chambara film. Even Nemuri’s origin forces him to be an otherworldly being that cannot exist within the normal confines of society. This strange origin, along with devil worshiping cults, nuns with guns and a pair incestuous siblings that plague an entire are the many things that make Sleepy Eyes stand out as a chambara series and offers something radically different.
After marathoning all four films in one day, I can’t say which one is my favorite, but one that stands out is the 11th entry, In the Spider’s Lair. While all of the films either reference Nemuri’s background or elaborate on it, this entry hits close to home, with him returning to his mothers home town. Here, he finds that a shogunate’s son and daughter, who had on paper committed seppuku, are actually alive and are stealing random villagers, in order to play evil, torturous games with them. With the inclusion of these worthy adversaries, this entry was action packed and strayed a bit from the typical formula that the series exhibited from the previous entries. Another thing to note is that these films weren’t as blood soaked as something like Lone Wolf & Cub but rely more on things like traps, double crosses and a few fights sprinkled throughout that make up the bulk of the action.
The Sleepy Eyes of Death series is unlike any other chambara ever made and deserves to be seen by anybody that considers themselves an samurai aficionado or loves an awesome anti-hero. With the series being finally completed by Animeigo, do yourself a huge favor and get acquainted with this fantastic character and these boxed sets, ASAP! Highly Recommended!