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.