Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the Son of the Black Mass series of Samurai films. This is the sixth film overall but just the third starring legendary Raizo Ichikawa. The films were based on Renzaburo Shibata’s novels about Nemuri Kyoshiro, a red-haired fallen Samurai whose odd hair coloring was the result of his mixed birth. A Portuguese Christian missionary dabbling in Satanism raped Nemuri’s mother during a Black Mass, hence his red hair, outcast status and supernatural abilities.
FULL CIRCLE KILLING (1964) – Beginning with the next film the Nemuri Kyoshiro series really hits the dark, offbeat and transgressive stride that it is most remembered for. Think of Full Circle Killing as a stylistic stepping stone, since it has a cynical Samurai Noir feel to it plus heavier blood & gore as well as further clues about the supernatural nature of our hero’s Full Moon Death Strike. We also get our first hint in the movies that Nemuri can sense the whispers of the dead whenever he passes by cemeteries, a concept more fully developed in the novels (which I will review separately).
Our story once again takes place in the 1780’s. Poverty-stricken homeless people are living near a well-traveled bridge and have found themselves easy targets for abuse from the local Samurai swordsmen. The Samurai consider the commoners to be less than nothing and one of them slices off the head of one of the poor people literally JUST TO TEST THE QUALITY OF THE BLADE ON HIS NEW SWORD. He and his colleagues then walk away making casual conversation without so much as a backward glance at the horrified commoners.
Nemuri happens along shortly afterward and is at first mistaken for the Samurai who committed the deed, but quickly convinces the “hobo camp” residents that he doesn’t commit such vile acts. Nemuri spends some of the money he makes from gambling and from hiring out his sword on a masterfully crafted new blade. By sheer chance this blade becomes the object of an obsession by the evil Samurai who callously chopped off the commoner’s head. He desperately wants the sword for his collection.
Naturally our hero resists all intimidation efforts and all offers of money, contemptuously telling the leader of the evil Samurai that such a fine weapon “would weep in unworthy hands like his”. The evil Samurai is also part of a cabal led by his Lady MacBeth style mother, a cabal which has slowly been eliminating potential heirs to the elderly Shogun. The end result has been to leave the evil Samurai as the heir apparent, as long as nobody finds out about the murderous plot.
A complication arises when one of the poor people (a Daiei supporting actor whom Kaiju fans will recognize from a few Gamera movies) kidnaps an adorable little girl from the Shogun’s household as revenge and demands a ransom. Nemuri Kyoshiro has attached himself to the homeless people and does what he can to return the child before the Shogun’s men wipe out the commoners, who they realize are the kidnappers.
As always there are multiple women who have the hots for our misanthropic but charismatic hero. His main squeeze as the film opens is a successful artist’s model but the older sister of the kidnapped child also falls for Nemuri. Trouble is, she’s the woman of the evil Samurai. In a Zorro-esque moment Kyoshiro shows that woman his prowess with a sword by seeming to slash her up, only to leave her unharmed while nothing but her clothing falls to the floor in shreds. Since this is a movie this leads to the two having sex (talk about weird notions of foreplay).
A nice moment in the film comes when Nemuri faces a highly skilled Samurai sent by the bad guys to kill him. The Lady MacBeth figure has left nothing to chance and has surreptitiously sent a half-dozen swordsmen to join the Samurai in ganging up on our hero. The venerable Samurai is a man of honor, though, and once he realizes what’s up he kills off the six swordsmen himself, earning Nemuri’s respect. He still uses his Full Moon Death Strike to kill the man, however.
Action highlights include a) an assault on a boat Kyoshiro is using as a love nest with a woman whose husband just got out of jail, b) an uphill battle on a long set of stone stairs with Nemuri fighting his way to the top, c) a bit where our hero is disarmed and caged by the conspirators, following which their thugs try to kill him by poking long lances through the bars from all sides and d) the climactic battle, set at the bridge overlooking the homeless people’s camp. Nemuri takes on the evil Samurai and the few dozen men he’s brought with him. The battle rages while more of our villain’s goons set fire to the bridge, adding further elements of danger.
Our hero is triumphant, of course, even emerging Jason Voorhees-like from the ruins of the collapsed and still-burning bridge in a great visual moment. Absent from the film is the novel’s depiction of Nemuri’s grim satisfaction as he hears the slain Head Villain’s whispers indicating he is less than happy about his post-death fate.
*** I’ll be examining the rest of the movies soon!
FOR MY REVIEW OF THE FIRST MOVIE IN THE RAIZO ICHIKAWA SERIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/12/31/samurai-films-the-son-of-the-black-mass-series/
FOR SIMILAR ARTICLES AND MORE OF THE TOP LISTS FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/top-lists/
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