Director: Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Shigeru Amachi, Shiho Fujimura, Kentaro Kudo, Ryuzo Shimada, Yasushi Nagata, Tatsuo Endo, Koichi Uenoyama, Ryosuke Kagawa, Koichi Mizuhara
After the surprisingly successful quality of the previous entry, it was hard not to jump into Sleepy Eyes of Death 8: Sword of Villainy with some high expectations. Not that this series has always been the most consistent with quality overall, but the seventh entry managed to produce a well-executed film with some lofty and off beat gimmicks and this eighth entry was bringing back one of Japan’s finest genre directors to helm it, Kenji Misumi. As Sword of Villainy plays out, it’s almost the polar opposite in style to Mask of the Princess. This film is dense, playing out at times like a socio-political drama more than a gimmickier chanbara film, and it runs the gauntlet in a more artsy, theatrical, and vague manner. It’s no wonder that many fans have mixed feelings on the film. Even when the narrative flow feels flawed or pushes too far in one direction, the film is still carried through by its phenomenal cast and another brilliant round of direction from Misumi. Just make sure that you keep open to what it has to offer.
|Children say the darnedest things.|
Beyond that, Sword of Villainy throws in the iconic character into the middle of a socio-political thriller concept. Like many of the previous entries, Kyoshiro is somewhat dragged into a scheme by some terrorists to take down the local government which is using a new kind of oil to push their own agendas, no matter how many people they hurt. What makes this film different from the others is that the film has no desire to spell it out for the audience. It’s heavily rooted in political systems and it weaves through a variety of characters in unfurling its narrative, moving at a pace that does not slow for its audience to digest the twists and turns as it goes. The short run time is a problem in this regard as Sword of Villainy doesn’t dive into some of the key elements of its script, like some of the more interesting themes and secondary characters that build up the narrative. It’s a small issue, but one that should be addressed nonetheless.
|Full moon cut in a the moonlight.|
All in all, Sleepy Eyes of Death 8: Sword of Villainy may not quite reach the fantastic blend of styles that the seventh entry utilized, but it comes damn close. With its dense script and meticulously maneuvering that powers through its socio-political thriller concept, it isn’t out of the realm of understanding that this film gets a mixed reaction from fans. Thanks to a more layered approach to the anti-hero, some brilliant direction from Misumi, and a powerfully developed villain, Sword of Villainy is one of the highlights of the diversity that this series can have even within its established formulas.