Review: Sleepy Eyes of Death: Full Circle Killing (1964)

It was bound to happen.  Since the second feature in the Sleepy Eyes of Death series was so good, I approached the third with big expectations.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, the greater the expectations, the greater the letdown.  While SEOD3 – Full Circle Killing isn’t as good as part 2, it’s well made and features some wonderful performances from some familiar faces of that era.

Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda would go on to direct the first (and best) Daimajin movie as well as a handful of Zatoichi films.  He also went on to direct two more SEOD pictures.  He was an experienced director who’d displayed his abilities, but one look at this entry reveals that his talented hand was unable to turn the disjointed elements into a cohesive whole.

The core story is interesting enough.  One of the many bastard sons of the shogun is being groomed by his mother to succeed his father.  He’s also a total psychopath who spends his spare time collecting swords and using them to randomly kill peasants.  While he’s running around chopping and dicing, his mother is working behind the scenes to destroy the shogun’s other children so he’ll have no choice but to promote her son.  So, you might ask, what our hero has to do with this story.  Well, that’s part of the problem.

Ronin Nemuri Kyoshiro, played once again by the charismatic Raizo Ichikawa, is more peripheral in this feature than in the previous two and we learn nothing new about him. here.  Since I’ve already read a few spoilers about the character, I’ve looked forward to seeing how these facts would be revealed.  Part 2 was very satisfying in this regard, doling out tidbits about Kyoshiro’s past without calling too much attention to them.  This film, however, eschews character development in favor of a few more fights.  While I like the sword combat in the series, those scenes only work because of the character bits that precede and follow them.  Here, Kyoshiro is little more than a two-dimensional cutout.

Since Seiji Hoshikawa wrote both this screenplay and its predecessor, I have to imagine that this was by design.  Maybe the studio felt that the third installment needed more action.  Who knows?  But whatever the reason, this film, while better than many of the golden age samurai pictures, just isn’t as good as the two previous SEOD movies.

Another troublesome element that deserves a mention is the scene wherein our hero uses rape as a punishment for a young woman.  While I realize that accepted practices in 1964 Japan were a long way from modern western mores, it seems unfathomable that a hero, even one as nihilistic as Kyoshiro, would use sexual assault as an accepted weapon.  I hope this sort of thing doesn’t continue throughout the series.

On the plus side, the film has some of the most beautiful photography I’ve seen in a Japanese film from this era.  Cinematographer Chishi Makiura, who also shot the previous two films, continues to shine here.  What could have easily been seen as stage-bound sets are vibrant and realistic because of his lighting, and exteriors, especially those that occur in nature, are simply beautiful to behold.  Once again, AnimEigo’s transfer is top notch, even when upscaled.

I recommend SEOD3.  It’s a beautiful, if somewhat convoluted feature, that ends up being less satisfying than its predecessors but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.  If you’re just going to watch one film in the series, I wouldn’t suggest this one but it’s still a decent action picture.

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