Category Archives: Samurai Films

PASSION-FIRE SWORD (1965): SON OF THE BLACK MASS SERIES

Son of the Black Mass

Raizo Ichikawa as the Son of the Black Mass

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.

Raizo Ichikawa 1

Raizo Ichikawa as the red-haired Samurai Kyoshiro Nemuri, the Son of the Black Mass.

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

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SAMURAI FILM: SWORD OF SEDUCTION (1964) – SON OF THE BLACK MASS CONTINUES

Raizo Ichikawa headshot

Raizo Ichikawa, the definitive portrayer of Nemuri Kyoshiro

I figured Halloween Month was a good time to – at long last – resume my reviews of the Son of the Black Mass series of Samurai movies. This time around I will examine the fourth 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. FOR MY BRIEF OVERVIEW CLICK HERE  

SWORD OF SEDUCTION (1964) – We revisit our protagonist 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 Nemuri was conceived during a Black Mass, hence the title of the novels and the subsequent film series.

sword-of-seductionOnce again the story is set in Japan in the 1780s. The persecution of Japanese Christians continues, with the religion officially outlawed and with practitioners being imprisoned and – if they refuse to renounce their belief system – executed by crucifixion. 

I always jokingly refer to the opening of Sword of Seduction as “the Casablanca opening.” A fugitive Christian approached a boozing Nemuri Kyoshiro at a tavern and showed him a logo of a cross inside a secret compartment of a piece of jewelry like the Free French ring used in Casablanca. To further the similarities to the Bogart film this Christian soon gets dragged off Ugarte-style for his Christian beliefs and he flees back to Nemuri Kyoshiro in a vain plea for help from our melancholy antihero.  Continue reading

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SON OF THE BLACK MASS: FULL CIRCLE KILLING (1964)

Full Moon Killing aBalladeer’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).   Continue reading

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SON OF THE BLACK MASS: SWORD OF ADVENTURE (1964)

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. Continue reading

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SAMURAI MOVIES: THE SON OF THE BLACK MASS SERIES

Raizo Ichikawa 1

Raizo Ichikawa as the red-haired Samurai Kyoshiro Nemuri, the Son of the Black Mass.

Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of various Samurai films from Japan. In keeping with my blog’s overall theme I won’t be covering the uber-popular Samurai flicks like Yojimbo, The Seven Magnificent Samurai or the Musashi Miyamoto Trilogy. Regular readers who are familiar with my contempt for organized religion will not be at all surprised that I’ll be starting out with the Son of the Black Mass series of films starring Raizo Ichikawa, often called “the James Dean of Japan.”

In addition to the twelve Ichikawa movies I will also cover the two entries in the series made after Raizo’s untimely death from cancer. After that, to be a fully comprehensive look, I will also examine the original novels as well as the three Son of the Black Mass movies made in the 1950’s, even though they did not have the cinematic impact of the films starring Raizo Ichikawa.

Raizo Ichikawa headshotThe odd title of the movie series comes from the fact that the title character, former Samurai turned Ronin Kyoshiro Nemuri, is the child of a Japanese woman and the crazed Portugese Christian missionary who raped her. The insane missionary was dabbling in Satanism and Nemuri was conceived during a Black Mass ritual, hence the series title. The deadly swordsman inherited his hated father’s red hair and when a heavy rain washed out the black dye Nemuri was disguising it with, his exposure as a half-breed led to his shunning and his fallen status. Continue reading

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SAMURAI FILMS: FULL CIRCLE KILLING (1964)

Full Moon Killing aBalladeer’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).   Continue reading

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THE SON OF THE BLACK MASS FILMS: SWORD OF ADVENTURE (1964)

Sword of Adventure 2Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the Son of the Black Mass 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.   Continue reading

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