Review: Sleepy Eyes of Death 7: The Mask of the Princess (1966)

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The seventh Sleepy Eyes of Death film is one of the best that the series has to offer.  Stunning cinematography paired with a tight story make this a great standalone feature as well as a satisfying addition to the franchise.

This installment brings back Princess Kiku, the villain that anti-hero Nemuri Kyoshiro (played with aplomb once again by the late great Raizo Ichikawa) last dealt with in SEOD4 .  If you’ve seen the fourth film, you know that the shogun’s daughter is disfigured and hides her burned face behind a noh mask.  She’s also a sadistic psychopath who literally gets away with murder because of her father’s position.  This time around, Kiku’s on the warpath, dispatching ninja in a vain attempt to capture and torture Kyoshiro to death.  Her minions set up murders to implicate our hero and they threaten virtually everyone around him in an attempt to engage him.  This is good stuff that gives the film its downhill momentum.

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The screenplay by Seizi Hoshikawa is lean and efficient.  Quite a few of the films of this era were padded with extraneous subplots that had little to do with the main through line.  That cannot be said of SEOD7.  The plot here hangs together like a meticulously designed, streamlined mechanism that propels Kyoshiro through the tale.

Director Akira Inoue and cinematographer Yasukazu Takemura take that script and use it as a framework for some of the most articulate images I’ve ever seen on film.  This is a beautiful movie.  The craftsmanship and artistry involved in creating such images is practically invisible as they all click into place, reinforcing the story every step along the way.  The only missteps are the random moments of shaky-cam work, but if you consider the era when this film was made, you realize those elements were way ahead of their time.  The director obviously wanted to communicate that the characters, in particular Kyoshiro, were on shaky ground.  They just didn’t have the tech necessary to make that idea work.

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Composer Akira Ifukube creates an effective score here.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many other films scored by him that this one sounded a bit too familiar.  SEOD7 was released the same year as the first Daimajin feature and the two scores are very similar.

All of the performances here are excellent.  I feel like I should single actors out for praise, but this group is great as an ensemble.  With the limited rehearsal time afforded productions of this nature, that’s no small feat.

I highly recommend The Mask of the Princess, even if you’ve never seen another SEOD film.  It’s among the best that 60’s jidaigeki has to offer.

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