Balladeer’s Blog resumes my reviews of the Son of the Black Mass series of Samurai movies. This time around I will examine the fifth film with legendary Raizo Ichikawa. I will eventually cover the pre-Raizo and post-Raizo SOTBM flicks as well PLUS the original novels that the movies were based on.
Though the Son of the Black Mass series has also been released under alternate titles like The Full Moon Killer and Sleepy Eyes of Death (?) I go by the original title to the novel and movies. The recurring lead character is Kyoshiro Nemuri, a Ronin who is the product of the rape of a Japanese woman by a Portuguese Christian Missionary during a Black Mass.
Nemuri inherited his father’s red hair, marking him as a half-breed and leading to his disgrace. He wanders Japan of the 1780s, a time when Japanese Christians and the foreign Christian missionaries who converted them were being oppressed. As in imprisoned and told to renounce their faith or be executed through Crucifixion.
I consider Passion-Fire Sword to be the worst of the Raizo Ichikawa movies in the series. Usually the Son of the Black Mass films go beyond typical Samurai movies and into a realm of quasi-horror and moral anarchy. This flick is instead so bland it could pass as just another Samurai story. It even takes a step backward regarding Kyoshiro’s supernatural abilities like his power to communicate with the dead and the hypnotic nature of his Full Moon Death Strike.
Stripped of the whispers our anti-hero hears from the dead, he winds up looking like just a man who makes incredible guesses as he sorts through the layers upon layers of deception in this tale. (The novel highlights the manner in which Nemuri’s most recent kills speak to him from beyond the grave to set him on the right path in this labyrinthine conspiracy.) And the story itself is a rehash of The Chinese Jade as crooked businessmen and outright criminals conspire to hide their joint activities from the Shogun and from the head of their own Clan.
One of the fresh elements of Passion-Fire Sword comes in the way Kyoshiro gets caught up in the intrigue. The conspirators refuse to believe that a man who interacted with our protagonist at his Edo hideout did not have time to tell him anything about their plot. Believing that Nemuri MUST have been given information that could lead to their death they have no choice but to continue to try killing him, no matter how many people die in the attempt. Continue reading