My friends over at Animeigo were kind enough to send me a copy of their latest Sleepy Eyes of Death box, the second in what will be a trilogy of quadrilogies (there are twelve films in all, featuring the great Raizo Ichikawa). It's been a long time coming, and it truly warms the heart of an old samurai film fan like me to see these fine films in disk form at last. (Animeigo had previously released the first six films on VHS back in the '90s.) This is one of the all-time best samurai film series ever made, one that should be on the shelf of every true fan of the genre.
I won't go into plot synopses here -- suffice to say you'll find the usual array of corrupt clan officials, deadly temptresses, machinating merchants, vengeance-seeking samurai, secret Christians, pirates, ninja, the sadistic Princess Kiku from film #4 and at least one cherubic child. What really makes these films so enjoyable is central character Nemuri Kyoshiro, that supremely cynical, red-headed ronin, played to bitter, smirking, full-moon slicing perfection by Ichikawa.
If you're a fan of Zatoichi, you'll see plenty of familiar faces, as both film series were released by Daiei Studios during the same period, featuring the same contract players and made by a rotating stable of excellent house directors including Kenji Misumi, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kazuo Ikehiro, Akira Inoue and Kazuo Mori. Actors appearing in the films of this box include personal favorites Shigeru Amachi, Tamao Nakamura, Ryutaro Gomi and, of course, the great character actor Saburo Date.
Times are tough right now for specialty outfits like Animeigo, and god forbid they're unable to release the final batch of Sleepy Eyes of Death films -- I urge all my friends and fellow fans out there to support Animeigo by purchasing these excellent film sets. They really are must-haves for anyone into this most magnificent of film genres. Oh, and if you haven't already, buy my books!
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