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Review Number 175! I am glad we made it. What are we looking at for this momentous occasion? My favorite Chambara actor Ichikawa Raizo in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (1964).

Ichikawa Raizo plays Nemuri Kyoshiro in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (Daiei, 1964) the second in the series based on an “antihero” who was known in the west as The Full Moon Swordsman named after his hypnotic sword style, or the Son of the Black Mass series because of Kyoshiro’s toxic origins, which, in the early episodes, are not revealed.

Nemuri Kyoshiro was a ronin by choice with such great skill that if he wanted to he could serve any lord he pleased.  With a head of reddish-hued hair due to his mixed lineage, he was the son of noblewoman who was raped by a European Satanist on a night of a black mass.

Kyoshiro has both good and evil streaks in him.  If he thinks you are an innocent, good person he can be your champion and a sentimental lover, he also is a killer and a rapist to the vile or vain.  Kyoshiro is a self-styled villain though many want him to be a hero.  If it will keep him from being bored will he live up to heroic expectations.

The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro is the number 2 in a series of 12 movies from 1963-1969.  The film starts with Kyoshiro pursuing a female pickpocket and undresses her with his sword.  Stripping women with his sword becomes a bit of a trademark as he does in several films sometimes raping them as well.  Kyoshiro is quite the judgmental chap and when he decides you are a bad woman he’s apt to humiliate you sexually and when he decides you’re a bad alpha male he’ll kill you.  He is a true iconoclast, whatever society most values, he despises.

In this film, a little orphaned son of a samurai makes a living pushing old people up a long set of outdoor stairs for pocket change.  The boy’s father once owned a dojo, but was killed by a challenger who then took control of the school.  The slain samurai was one of Kyoshiro’s instructors and he extracts his revenge in the name of his former sensei and the innocent hardworking child.

As the movie develops, we learn that Akaza Gunbei wants to kill an old financial commissioner who is a champion of the people not rich.  The commissioner befriends Kyoshiro when he starts discussing the problems in Edo caused by the mass unemployment of samurai who are wreaking havoc throughout the city.  The commissioner is wounded by a surprise ronin attack, but Kyoshiro foils the assassination attempt.  Instead of anger, the commissioner feels sorrow for his attacker.  After Kyoshiro saves the commissioner, he stays within close proximity of him as protection that annoys the old man.

A wandering fortune-teller, Uneme, is a spy for one Princess Takahime.  Takahime has secretly ordered the assassination of the commissioner because as the chief financial officer he has been forcing the shogunate to cut back on expenses in particular reducing the Princess’s substantial allowance.

Since Kyoshiro is getting in the way of the Princess’s intentions, he is drugged by the fortune-teller and when he awakens, he is in the presence of Takahime.  She is eager “to have my way with you.”  Having none of it, Kyoshiro insults her by calling her “Princess Pig,” denigrating her position since she’s really only one of fifty bastards of the shogun.  Kyoshiro kills one of her lovers and escapes once more to continue protecting the commissioner.

Nemuri prefers women who are virginal of spirit, not necessarily literally virgins, who offer themselves reluctantly (perhaps as payment for helping someone they love).  He also likes prostitutes who have no remaining illusions, for they are at least honest in their hearts.  Yet in this film Nemuri Kyoshiro contrary to his later portrayals, is capable of a strictly platonic relationship with an innocent noodle-stand girl.  He is just not a man generally capable of liking women for more than physical pleasures.  Those who are too pure he robs of their illusions; those of infamy he gladly kills, sometimes, as in Kyoshiro Nemuri at Bay (Kyoshiro Nemurai Joyoken, 1964), killing villainous women who are unarmed or otherwise defenseless.

Eventually five ronin meet on a foggy evening to plan Kyoshiro’s demise.  One is shuriken artist, another one a spearman and on and on.  After leaving the unwanted company of the Princess, Kyoshiro encounters the spearman who foolishly believes he can defeat Kyoshiro’s Full Moon Cut style by attacking when the circling sword passes in front of Kyoshiro’s own eyes.

Kyoshiro claims that when he starts the full moon sweep of his blade, death is assured for his opponent, so another one of the five attempts to attack before Kyoshiro can begin the Full Moon Cut circle.  These guys start dropping like flies at this point.

The last of the five waits until the circle is entirely traced hoping to penetrate the stance at the end of the circle.  Even though the winner of the duels is a forgone conclusion, the many assault variations add a definite pizzazz to an otherwise elegant action.

Kyoshiro is not portrayed as invulnerable.  The evil Princess Taka sets up an exhibition duel between Kyoshiro and Lord Yagyu.  She has had the duel rigged, but Kyoshiro detects the trick causing an unexpected outcome.  Lord Yagyu was also duped and reports the Princess treachery to the shogun, resulting in her exile.  The standoff is suggestive of Miyamoto Musashi, who in life and in film versions of his life was never pitted against the Yagyu sword, though he almost had the chance.

The Nemuri Kyoshiro series are some of my favorite chambara films.  Perhaps because I am a big Ichikawa Raizo fan (who died at 39 from rectal cancer) his movies have a special appeal to me.  The Kyoshiro series though is unique in the sense that the protagonist is just as evil as he is good.  Of course I don’t condone raping et cetera so don’t get on a high horse yet.  That said, his evil lineage, iconoclastic nature and vast skills as a fighter makes Nemuri Kyoshiro one of the most distinctive and complex characters to ever appear in this genre.  I highly recommend the series and unlike all the bitching resulting from the Kill Bill review and comments, there is no blood and gore in the film to make some people squeamish—you know who you are.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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A Certain Killer (1967) Starring Ichikawa Raizo

Since I am STILL waiting for Bonnie to do her review here is a little known movie starring Ichikawa Raizo, A Certain Killer (1967).

A Certain Killer is a dark film in the “Le Samourai” vein, with Ichikawa Raizo playing a former kamikaze, now a restaurant chef and owner, who is slowly revealed to be working on the side as a cold, perfectionist hit man for two yakuza clans.  The main character (Raizo) is from the WW2 generation and has seen his dreams die in post-war Japan.  The movie opens with Raizo getting off a plane and hopping into a cab that takes him to the middle of what looks like an abandoned industrial field.  After looking around for a few minutes he begins to walk until he spots an obviously run down inn with rooms to rent.  Raizo (now wearing an eye-patch) rents the dirty, empty room from a nearly deaf lady and sits down to read the paper.  At this point the film begins to flash back to various scenes that lead up to his stay in the room.

First we Raizo eating along in a noodle shop while a young harlot is trying to sell her body in exchange for a bowl of noodles.  The cook wants nothing to do with her so when Raizo gets up to pay the bill he puts her meal on his check because he “does not want to see a woman sell her body that cheaply.”  While he is paying, the harlot sees the amount of cash he carries and begins to follow, nag and sell him out to her pimp.  He dispatches with the pimp but she continues to follow him to his restaurant where she chases off a nice young hard working Japanese girl by pretending to sleep with Raizo.

Then we get our first taste of his killing abilities.  He is hired to kills a Yakuza-boss who is constantly surrounded by 4 competent bodyguards.  Raizo manages to use a razor sharp needle to cut the obi of his target’s wife and when the bodyguards go to help her he inserts the tatami-needle at the base of his victim’s skull, killing him without a sound.  Raizo is paid twenty million yen for the job (in today’s currency about 2.1 million dollars) by the rival clan.

The harlot who will not leave him alone ends up sleeping with one of the clan’s henchmen that he just did the killing for.  He tells her about the twenty million yen and in their greed, they devise a plan to use Raizo to steal a drug shipment that the henchman knows about as well as to take his twenty million yen.

At this point we are pretty much caught up as Raizo looks out the window and we see the harlot running through the rain to get to the inn and meet up with Raizo.  While running, the harlot picks up the henchman and they both enter the room to wait.  Raizo the perfectionist scolds them for coming in together and makes them take the dinner garbage out separately so that no one will know that three people have been there.  Raizo gives the henchman a gun and they prepare for the heist.

At 3:00 am Raizo wakes up the harlot and the henchman and they set off to the place where the drug deal is going to take place.  Meanwhile the henchman has already dug Raizo’s grave in a garbage pit.  After they snatch the drugs, the henchman and the harlot make their move and try to shoot Raizo.  The gun is empty and Raizo asks if they think he is a fool knowing they would pull a stunt because when he was working as the junior on several jobs he thought of the same thing but never acted on it.  When they go outside to leave, they are confronted by the henchman’s clan, and the henchman is told that he now has a big problem because he is doing deals behind his boss’ back.

Our three robbers get into a good fight with their opponents but win out.  However, during the fight, some of the drug canisters are kicked into the stream and you sort of lose track of the rest.  Once they defeat the yakuza-clan the henchman is so impressed with Raizo that he wants to be his pupil.  Raizo declines and when pressed for an explanation, states “he doesn’t like a man who can’t tell the job from the romance,” whereupon he unzips his bag and pull out four canisters of the drugs, tells the henchman to split them with the harlot and then walks off.  The henchman, still standing there, is asked by the harlot if she can go with him and the answer is no because “women don’t know the difference between the job and the romance” — and he proceeds to walk away without the drugs as well.  The harlot then exclaims that she does not need him because she is going to find a new partner and makes lots of money anyway walking off—also leaving the drugs (it looks like she didn’t see them in plain sight).=320

Raizo gives a memorable performance in a role outside of his usual traditional historical film – he can ordinarily be found as a wandering ronin/antihero in (for instance) the Sleepy Eyes of Death series or the Shinobe No Mono movies (he was in 7 out of 8 of them) playing the famous ninja Goemon Ishikawa.  This story was good and based on a hard-boiled crime novel, “The Night Before,” by Fujiwara Shinji.  With little, but pointed, dialogue, sparing use of color, and an interesting penchant for objective longshot, A Certain Killer is an important rediscovery by one of Japanese cinema’s “kings of the Bs,” Kazuo Mori (1911-1989), who inspired Nagisa Oshima with the inherent rebellion of his daring constructions. Oshima said, “I was shocked to discover that the rage and hatred the world inspired in me at the time could be expressed so beautifully and powerfully by the cinema.”

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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