The Sleepy Eyes of Death series sure has its ups and downs. Mostly ups, in my opinion, but when it stumbles, it really falls flat. I think that’s due to the fact that most of the filmmakers involved in this series were taking risks. That’s always a good thing, but with big risks come occasional failures. SEOD8 – Sword of Villainy is one of them.
Raizo Ichikawa is back as Nemuri Kyoshiro, the nihilistic ronin. Well, at least I think he’s back. He’s in a few of the scenes here but this plot hardly revolves around him and that’s the movie’s big problem. Kyoshiro is peripheral to the convoluted goings on that involve insurrection against the shogun, revenge, and a couple of different conspiracies involving lamp oil production. There’s so much going on that the characters are constantly explaining it to the audience. There’s lots and lots of talking in this one – so much so that it was often hard for me to keep up. I wanted to soak up the luscious visuals that are always present in the SEOD films, but I couldn’t if I wanted to pay attention to the increasingly convoluted plot. Maybe a second viewing would be more enjoyable, but my first viewing was almost a chore. After the series high point of SEOD 7, this one was a real letdown.
It’s not that any one thing is to blame. All the performances are excellent. Chishi Makiura’s cinematography shines as usual, as does the excellent score by Akira Ikufube. Seasoned director Kenji Misumi does his best to keep the story moving, utilizing techniques that are new for the SEOD films, including voiceovers, illustrations, and maps, but it isn’t enough. At the end of the day, I wanted a movie about Nemuri Kyoshiro and what I got isn’t that. Despite the fact that there’s enough plot here to fuel three films, none of it directly involves our anti-hero in a significant way.
There are, of course, a few good fight scenes in which Kyoshiro demonstrates his prowess with the full moon cut, but even those scenes fall a little flat. I just never felt like I was involved in this one. The is no single point of view from which to focus the film’s direction. In SEOD 7, the camera comments on Kyoshiro’s plight to great effect. In this film, there are so many characters to choose from and so many ways to interpret what’s happening that the camera is lost in the jumble. The story is more of a puzzle for the audience to solve than it is a tale of one man’s journey through that story. In that way, this is more like a Haruki Murakami book than a 60’s chambara adventure. In the end, it just wasn’t a satisfying story.
Recommended for Nemuri Kyoshiro fans because Ichikawa has a few nice moments here, but not recommended for casual viewers or those who are new to the series.