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Sleepy Eyes of Death: Castle Menagerie More at IMDbPro »Nemuri Kyôshirô: Akujo-gari (original title)

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"You killed your shadow"

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
5 April 2011

So I finally arrive at the final entry in the Nemuri Kyoshiro saga. I spread the films over a period of two years and enjoyed most, to varying degrees, and this last one is one of the best. Nemuri this time has to face an impostor, wreaking havoc in his name, and a devious concubine of the Shogun weaving a scheme of succession to the throne.

The first scene is a comic-book stunner. Nemuri (or is he?) performing his Full Moon Cut ritual as a frightened opponent advances over to him, Kazuo Ikehiro giving us a long shot panorama of the fight in slow-motion. A competent genre hand, the director acquits himself rather well in the rest of the film.

Usually there's not much to these films, except for the occasional stylistic delight. Here it's in the form of a dreamlike encounter, where Nemuris is met with strange apparitions clad in black and white, and is ushered into a Shinto temple where a weird ritual awaits him. Demonic masks hang in the walls, which are later animated as Iga ninjas lunging at him with swords and fiery shuriykens.

The plot this time is not as convoluted as we may expect, usually one of the stumbling blocks of the Nemuri films. The other thing that makes these films work is Raizo Ichikawa. In the first films his broodingness didn't convince, he was young and looked effeminate in make-up, but here he carves his own space in the screen. A tragic loss for Japanese cinema, later that year.

Nemuri Kyoshiro did what it could for chambara, its main contribution the villainous protagonist and bleak vision of a hellish world where life matters little. Lone Wolf and Cub would pick the mantle from here for the last bloody hurrah.

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