“Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure” – A.J. Hakari

Swords are for killing. Nothing less, nothing more.

With this attitude, it’s no wonder Nemuri Kyoshiro (Raizo Ichikawa) doesn’t send out too many Christmas cards. As distrustful of his fellow man as they are of him, sword for hire Kyoshiro has left a cynical swath in our concept of the noble samurai. There is no honor where this guy’s concerned, and if the first Sleepy Eyes of Death picture wasn’t evidence enough, along comes a follow-up to hammer it home just a bit more. Granted, Sword of Adventure does feature a protagonist who’s less “anti” and more “hero.” But ice water still flows through Kyoshiro’s veins, allowing him yet again to be one of the meanest mothers to ever bust out a blade.

Seldom are nations spared the ravages of economic hardship, least of all feudal Japan. As the Shogunate indulges in every opulent luxury, hard-working villagers are still taxed six ways to Sunday. Convinced this will lead to Japan’s ruin, finance commissioner Asahina (Yoshi Kato) vows to put a permanent end to such fiscal frivolity. Naturally, those in the upper class are mighty pissed, but Asahina soon finds a particularly pessimistic guardian angel in his court. Less concerned with saving Asahina than with just stirring up trouble, Kyoshiro nevertheless takes delight in carving up all who dare to attack the geezer. But Kyoshiro makes a few foes of his own, especially a band of ruthless ronin determined to best our boy’s infamous Full-Moon Cut at all costs.

First impressions seem to indicate that Kyoshiro has cooled his jets since we saw him in The Chinese Jade. Hell, one of his first orders of business is helping a little boy take back his father’s swordfighting academy from the dastardly samurai who stole it. But make no mistake, Kyoshiro’s still a jackass, just more playfully so. He’s only playing bodyguard to Asahina because it pisses off the old man, who’d rather Kyoshiro mind his own damned business. Sword of Adventure aims to counter Kyoshiro with a force of unflinching good, and it’s because his selfishness still breeds heroism that he’s all the more interesting of a character. I’d dare to say he even shows a little vulnerability, but it’s definitely short-lived. Despite his do-goodery, Kyoshiro still looks out for number one, sustaining the anarchic spirit the series set forth with.

Pound for pound, though, Sword of Adventure is a “nicer” movie than its predecessor. In The Chinese Jade, there’s virtually no one to like; here, you’ve got crotchety old dudes, plucky youngsters, and lovely noodle shop maidens batting eyes at our bastard of a hero. There’s not as much of an edge present, and I came to miss the first picture’s noirish story. But when it comes to feigning nobility, few are as adept as Raizo Ichikawa, effortlessly convincing us Kyoshiro is as weary of the world as he claims. The supporting cast is in swell shape too, bolstered by Kato as the stubborn Asahina and Shiho Fujimura as the enigmatic fortune teller Uneme. The action is a little on the sparse side, but when swords are drawn, Kenji Misumi’s concise directing helps you savor the suspense of each strike made.

A less aggressive film than The Chinese Jade, Sword of Adventure’s style is likely to put viewers more so at ease. I don’t doubt that future Sleepy Eyes installments will feature a leaner and meaner Kyoshiro, but this goes easy on the bleakness without compromising the point of the series. Smooth, efficient, and looking like a million, Sword of Adventure cuts in a way only the coolest samurai pictures can.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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