Nemuri Kyoshiro: The Sleepy Eyes of Death!

Nemuri Kyoshiro: The Sleepy Eyes of Death!

A short overview of the Nemuri Kyoshiro film series.

Nemuri Kyoshiro is a wanderer trying to figure out his origins. Son of a black mass, he has an androgynous face, and red hair, which isn’t common for a Japanese ronin… And of course, he knows how to be respected, and feared by everyone: he’s a talented swordsman, reknown for his famous deadly technique, the Full Moon Cut. But most of all, he’s a cold and cynical man, ready to kill without any problems!

Around him, people aren’t better. Moral values are outdated, and everybody is obsessed with power and cruelty. No one can be trusted, even women. Because beauty is the most deadly trick! That’s what we can called a nihilistic era!

But as a character, Nemuri Kyoshiro will never be really developed. His past is used in 2/3 movies and then it’s gone for ever! The same goes for his cynical behavior! In fact each movies give a new face to Nemuri Kyoshiro: in the 5th episode, he’s a Yojimbo-like (remember Kurosawa’s film), in the 3th he’s helping poor people… But he’s not Nemuri Kyoshiro! It seems like nobody knew what to do with this character. If it’s an interesting process to watch, it’s also really frustrating.

N°4 – Sword of seduction: Kyoshiro faces his past!
N°7 – Mask of the princess: A Visually Astounding piece of work!
N°10 – Hell is a Woman: Kyoshiro, between belief and opportunism!

Nemuri Kyoshiro was a great idea, done at the wrong time?

16 thoughts on “Nemuri Kyoshiro: The Sleepy Eyes of Death!”

  1. In all fairness, attention should be given to the other actors who protrayed Nemuri, such as Matsukata Hiroki, Tsuruta Koji, Tamura Masakazu, and Kataoka Takao.

    Even though the Kataoka version was a television-series, I still consider it the best. In the Ichikawa Raizo portrayal, Nemuri is shown as much too ruthless for me, even wicked. But in the Kataoka version, he is compassionate, an excellent example of which can be seen in the episode where he helps out his elderly friend, Takebe Senjuro. I don’t know whether Senjuro appeared in any of the Raizo films or not, but he had already been seen in the Tamura Masakazu version.

    In the Senjuro episode, Nemuri (actor Kataoka Takao) tries to prevent the old man’s death from self-inflicted harakiri. The Shogun had given a Sword as a gift to Senjuro, but this Sword is then stolen. The idea is that when the Shogun finds out that Senjuro has lost the gift that the Shogun had given to him, then Senjuro will be forced to commit harakiri. That way, the villain can “murder” Senjuro without dirtying his own hands.

    What I find particularly illuminating in one of the Kataoka episodes as far as delving into Nemuri’s inner-character is his relationship with his Sword. In one scene, he states that his Sword is inhabited by a FEmale spirit.

    What exactly is this FEmale spirit was Not identified. But the fact that it is Female apparently affects Nemuri’s inner character changing into the man who is different from the Raizo version.

    That Female spirit could be an elemental spirit, one of many which can be found in Japan’s indigenous religion of Shintoism.

    Another possibility is that it’s the spirit of Nemuri’s dearly departed Mother. His deep reverence for his departed Mother had been already shown and clearly established already in the Raizo version where Nemuri (actor Raizo) periodically visits his Mother’s grave. That reverence was carried over in even the Tamura Masakazu films where Nemuri (actor Tamura) is seen paying respect at his Mother’s grave. Taking that into account, therefore, the Female spirit inhabiting Nemuri’s Sword could be that of his Mother.

    Still another possibility is that the Female spirit occupying his Sword could be the spirit of one of his Female victims, one of those slain in the Raizo version. Remember, in the Raizo version, Nemuri is shown as particularly ruthless, and that ruthlessness extended to Female victims. It could be speculated that one of those Female victims has now become a disembodied spirit who inhabits Nemuri’s Sword to the effect that She has made Nemuri feel remorseful for his previous ruthlessness.

    All of my speculation is in keeping with the Japanese religion of Shintoism, a religion of animism which worships spirits that occupy inanimate objects. In the case of Nemuri, it is of course his Sword. It’s food for thought which, as I said, was initially prompted by the statement made by Nemuri in the Kataoka Takao television-version.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me that a television version of Nemuri Kyoshiro would be kindly and compassionate. But that’s not the “real” Nemuri Kyoshiro. The Daiei films starring Raizo Ichikawa most accurately reflect the cyncial, red-headed ronin character of the original novels by Renzaburo Shibata. As for his being “ruthless” or “wicked,” I disagree. Granted, he has a sardonic nature, and is utterly unsentimental, but if you examine his behavior in the films, he tends to protect the innocent and hack up the bad guys like any other samurai hero. As he says, “Others always force me to slay.”

  3. Well, Patrick, you’re certainly correct that the Raizo version is the most faithful to the characterization as written by Shibata. I won’t argue with that at all. But as far as an Analysis of the character, we Disgree, but of course in a friendly way. Maybe Nemuri can be seen as Amoral…Amoral being Neither good nor evil.

    By the way, Patrick, I enjoyed your book, “Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves,” and I highly recommend it to anybody who’s into chambara. I was wondering that since you’ve already published a book on chambara in the cinema, why not also write a book on chambara television-series? After all, there have been numerous, excellent television-serials, such as Kage No Gundan (Sonny Chiba), many versions of Miyamoto Musashi, many of Yagyu Jubei, to name just a few. So since you already published a book on the cinema, why not one on television too? I would certainly buy your book, just as I did with your previous one. How about it, Patrick?

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves. I’ve got a second volume on samurai film coming out this Summer that you should enjoy. More here:

    In the new book, I discuss one television production, Kihachi Okamoto’s Taikoki (1987, TBS). However, I have avoided discussing TV productions for several reasons. For one thing, I like what I write about to be readily accessible to the public. Many of the films in my books are available from vendors like Criterion, Tartan, Image, Media Blasters, etc., whereas Japanese television dramas require more effort to obtain and are usually rather more expensive. Television dramas also demand a greater degree of devotion from their fans due to their episodic nature, historicity and, as mentioned, the cost involved; a movie only takes a couple of hours out of someone’s day. As a result, people who enjoy Japanese period TV dramas represent a small subset of people who like samurai films, so I would be reducing my already-small reader base by devoting a volume solely to TV. And finally, I just happen to be more interested in film productions than television productions. Film culture is different than television culture, and while I respect the fine work done for Japanese TV, I find myself more drawn to the work of the great auteurs and stars of the films of the post-war period through the 70s. There are still so many films I have yet to experience from directors like Okamoto, Kobayashi, Shinoda, Inagaki, Oshima, Misumi, Mizoguchi, Ikehiro, so many films starring Katsu, Raizo, Nakadai and all the rest — this is where my primary interest lies.

    I hope I don’t sound elitist — it’s really just a matter of personal preference. As a writer, I’m obliged to write about those things for which I feel passionately. If you don’t feel it, don’t fake it, that’s my motto.

    As far as I know, there isn’t currently a book in English wholly devoted to jidai-geki on TV. That’s what you call a niche, and it’s a good way to secure a book contract. Why not give it a try?

  5. On Nemuri’s DVD-box, the logo says “Son of the Black Mass.” That word “Black Mass” is a Satanic ceremony. Yet in the stories, Nemuri’s Father is referred to as a Christian. How do we account for that discrepancy?

  6. His father was an apostate Catholic priest who performed satanic rituals. One such ritual involved pouring a chalice of blood over a woman and then defiling her. The fruit of this unholy union was our boy, Nemuri Kyoshiro! In the ninth installment of the series, The Trail of Traps, we finally get to see a reenactment of this black mass ritual.

  7. Thank you, Patrick. In his own seemingly perverted way, author Shibata Renzaburo has taken a scathing attack against Catholicism. Perverted but brilliant. And he even far PRE-dates the same tack taken by author Dan Brown in his book which was adapted to Tom Hanks’ movie “Angels and Demons.” In Brown’s movie adaptation, we see how the group, the Illuminati was formed in retaliatory response to the oppression by Catholicism. The most well-known example is how Galileo was persecuted by the Catholics because he opposed against the Church’s dogmatic belief that the Sun orbited the Earth when, in fact, science has proven it’s the opposite way.
    Patrick, thanks to your information, it now confirms a theory propounded by many Nemuri fans that author Shibata conveyed the Illuminati theory. Just as in Dan Brown’s movie “Angels and Demons,” Shibata shows Nemuri as a proponent of Illuminati.
    The scene from film #9 of the Apostate Father using that chalice and performing defilement is apparently author Shibata’s way of expressing satire and sarcasm.

    Seen in that light, the character of Nemuri can be theoretically regarded as a character of Illuminati. My hat’s off to author Shibata Renzaburo that his underlying satire far PRE-dates the ideas found in Dan Brown’s movie “Angels and Demons.”

  8. Don’t worry, Patrick. Your disclaimer is duly acknowledged. All I submitted was a theory propounded by a number of chambara fans.

  9. Even though I think a mass-entertainment series dealing with Christianism could bear such a message, I haven’t read anything but hypothesis.

    Knowing Nemuri Kyoshiro has a terrible character development, everything related to his past isn’t used properly, with scriptwriters having no idea what they should do with Kyoshiro (he’s something different in almost each episodes)… There are HUGE holes here. Too bad.

  10. At first glance,Nemuri seems to have the terrible character development that Michael suggests. Terrible at first glance, but Nemuri is more than meets the eye. Discrepancies which are seen at first glance can be cleared up upon closer scrutiny.

    For most fans, the most glaring discrepancy is Nemuri’s mon(kimono crest) which is a cluster of Christian crosses. Again here, let’s look from the vantage point of the ILLUMINATI. Since it is already established that Catholicism is “satanic,” Nemuri would consider himself to be comparatively a TRUE Christian. Thereby,Nemuri’s kimono-crest is justified.

  11. Christian symbols just look like an easy way to put some spicy sex/blood elements into the plot, they look nothing like pure gimmick imho…1964 was the year majors were trying to catch up the pink-eiga trend. Were the scripters really interested in the christian background, they would have set the plot revolving around Amukasa Shiro/ Shimabara rebelion.

  12. What I strongly Disagree with is this column’s introduction in which actor Raizo is described as androgynous. Instead,that description should be more aptly applied to actor Hasegawa Kazuo as he was known for Kabuki roles as an Onna-gata(Female impersonator). And that onna-gata role was transferred from the Kabuki stage into the theatrical cinema when Hasegawa portrayed an Onna-gata in the classic “Yukinojo Henge.”

  13. I have just started the process of subtitling the Nemuri Kyoshiro TV series starring Kataoka Takao. For those persons interested in seeing this series, please keep an eye on our Coming Soon page at
    While portrayal of the Nemuri character is not as cold as the Daiei Films versions, the series is far superior to the dreadful made for television movies that Tamura Masazaku starred in.
    Shibata Renzaburo wrote quite a number of stories with one overlaying theme of father/son issues, either by the father being unknown or manifesting a terrible character flaw. Some of the other movies that were based on his writings include: Destiny’s Son, Sword Devil, Duel At Fort Ezo, and The Forbidden Castle.

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