Sword of Adventure 2Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the Son of the Black Mass  Samurai films from Japan. In the previous installment I reviewed the first of the films to star Raizo Ichikawa, the man who made the character his own even though there were three films made with the figure before Ichikawa and two after his death in 1969.

The title character was Kyoshiro Nemuri – a red-haired Samurai, the offspring of a Japanese woman and the insane Portugese Christian Missionary who raped her. That madman was dabbling in Satanism and so Nemuri was conceived during a Black Mass, hence the title of the novels and the subsequent film series.

Raizo Ichikawa as the Son of the Black Mass

Raizo Ichikawa as the Son of the Black Mass

At least it USED to be the title of the film series. The most recent video release of these neglected gems discarded the original title and even the secondary moniker of The Full Moon Killer series and went instead with the silly Sleepy Eyes of Death. I’ll point out again how misleading that title is for such a badass character.

SWORD OF ADVENTURE (1964) is the second of Ichikawa’s twelve films as Kyoshiro Nemuri. We’re still a couple installments away from this series reaching the heights of bizarreness and anarchy that it is known for, so this tale has more in common with conventional Samurai flicks.

In late 1780’s Edo (later to be called Tokyo) Nemuri is whiling away an afternoon along a public thoroughfare whose dining and shopping establishments afford a magnificent view of Mount Fuji. An enterprising little boy trying to raise himself after his father was killed and his establishment taken over pulls one of the few strings yet unfrozen in Nemuri’s ever-colder heart.  

Okay, if they didn't like the Son of the Black Mass title why not The Full Moon Samurai? That title would convey more of the feel of the series.

Okay, if they didn’t like the Son of the Black Mass title why not The Full Moon Samurai? That title would convey more of the feel of the series.

The fallen Samurai uses swordplay to strike down the killer of the boy’s father and restore his household to him. The film’s just getting started, though, and a bemused Kyoshiro next finds himself protecting the provincial Finance Minister. This elderly gentleman is a true rarity – an honest office-holder who does what he can for the poverty-stricken common citizens. This stance has gotten him marked for extermination by the bratty daughter of the local Shogun, whose allowance is being cut down to make things easier for the over-taxed villagers.

Sword of Adventure goes further than the previous film in terms of establishing the supernatural nature of Nemuri’s fictional Full Moon Death Strike. Among our anti-hero’s countless male opponents in this movie are a quintet who employ a variety of gimmicks and strategies to thwart Kyoshiro’s go-to manuever but with no success.

To the surprise of nobody Nemuri kills all the men who get in his way, saves the life of the Finance Minister and disgraces the Shogun’s daughter in the eyes of her father, prompting him to exile her. It’s also no surprise that by movie’s end the seductive and self-centered lady has fallen for Nemuri, the only man to ever resist her charms AND outdo her at games of deceit.

As always Nemuri excites both love and hatred in the women he meets.

As always Nemuri excites both love and hatred in the women he meets.

The other two prominent female characters in the story also wound up smitten with our protagonist’s smouldering charm. One of them is the pretty young girl who works as a waitress and hawker at a noodle shop.

The other is a female fortune-teller forced into serving the conspirators who want to kill the Finance Minister. Their leverage is the fact that she is hoping they’ll free her husband, a white Christian clergyman who has been imprisoned for preaching his now-forbidden religion. We get to see some of the historical persecution and mass-crucifixion of Christians in Japan at the time, an element that will have much more prominence as the film series moves along.

At any rate this woman and Kyoshiro bond in an odd way since she can tell from his hair and features that he is a half-breed. Toward the end of the film her fondness for our main character prompts her to betray the conspirators, who in turn kill her jailed husband. They then crucify the woman deep in the forest to lure Nemuri into a trap but the wiley Ronin turns the tables on them, rescuing the newly-widowed woman and slaughtering his foes.

We viewers perceive the possibility of a romance between the hate-filled former Samurai and this woman who understands him as none other has. Unfortunately Nemuri divorces himself even further from humanity by coldly walking past the imploring woman without a word or backward glance. (Sort of a gender-flipped Third Man ending.)

Ichikawa shone as always in the action scenes, with the standouts being the sword-fight in the falling snow (and yes, I know countless other Samurai flicks do fights amid snowfall) and the climactic battle in the forest. In that very satisfying finale Nemuri shrewdly uses the surrounding trees to mute the advantage of his foemen’s vastly superior numbers. It’s one of the best-choreographed battle scenes in the series.  

***  I’ll be examining the rest of the movies soon!



© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 


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