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Sleepy Eyes of Death: Collector's Set, Vol. 1 - international DVD / foreign language DVD / action adventure DVD / martial arts DVD review
SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH: COLLECTOR'S SET, VOL. 1 Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Featuring: Raiz˘ Ichikawa, Tamao Nakamura
Directors: Tokuzo Tanaka, Kenji Misumi, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kazuo Ikehiro   Distributor: Animeigo
DVD release: 14 July 2009   Runtime: 338 minutes
(4 discs)
Format: Box set, Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Mono - Japanese), Subtitles (English), The Chinese Jade (Nemuri Kyoshiro 1: Sappocho), Sword of Adventure (Nemuri Kyoshiro 2: Sh˘bu), Circle of Killing (Nemuri Kyoshiro 3: Engetsugiri), Sword of Seduction (Nemuri Kyoshiro 4: Joyoken), Audio commentary (film scholar Ric Meyers and author/martial arts expert Jeff Rovin), Collector's booklet, Image galleries, Interactive maps, Program notes, Cast & crew bios, Trailers

Fans of the samurai film genre will be pleased to learn of Animeigo's latest release. Sleepy Eyes of Death: Collector's Set, Vol. 1 covers the first four episodes of the 12-part series with many names (depending on the distributor) - Son of the Black Mass, Sleepy Eye Kyoshiro, or The Full-Moon Killer. Previous releases have been incomplete and limited to Laserdisc and VHS.

Now fans of the series can collect the entire series on a DVD. Restored and packed with plenty of extras, the first volume of the collector's set doesn't disappoint. The Chinese Jade introduces Nemuri Kyoshiro. He follows his own path and helps out when he wishes as he wanders the land. A one-man A-Team, he finds himself drawn into various plots and conspiracies involving all levels of Japanese society. As one would expect, those who have honest intentions are saved; those who try to use him as a tool for their own ends are quickly discovered and dispatched.

Unfortunately, many of the other characters we meet are somewhat forgettable, and the whole of the series is carried on the charisma of its lead actor. Raizo Ichikawa stars as the title character and was considered by many to be the Japanese counterpart to James Dean. Until his early death in 1969, he was a star of the cinema, and this series is his best-known work. His athleticism and stage presence stand out - it's easy to imagine this series being lost in the hands of a lesser actor.

Delivered in widescreen, these four films average out to a brisk 80 minutes each. Some people may find the lack of an English vocal track to be a strike against this release. However, I prefer the Japanese audio / English subtitle combo. It takes a bit of getting used to but delivers a better viewing experience as it avoids the lip sync issues that plague even the best English dubs.

Extra features include quite a few disc extras such as interactive maps and historical notes. A very informative booklet details the background of the series and the timeframe it represents. It also contains a detailed biography of its star and the author of the novels on which these films are based. Detailed synopses of two of the four episodes on this disk round out this handy reference.

Fans of Seven Samurai and 47 Ronin should definately check this series out. With its excellent swordplay and cinematography, it makes a excellent addition to any samurai fan's collection.
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reviewed by Ryan Strampe
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