Decided to continue my Nemuri Kyoshiro binge by revisiting Sleepy Eyes of Death 9: A Trail of Traps. I first watched this installment years ago; despite its near universal acclaim amongst samurai cinema enthusiasts, my own response was rather… lukewarm (hence why it’s taken me so long to get around to the rest of the series), though I’d be hard pressed to recall exactly why before tonight.
If nothing else, I’ve refreshed my memory of what underwhelmed me. The setup is simple: Kyoshiro must prevent a cult of devil-worshipping Christians from stealing a valuable statuette of the Virgin Mary as it is transported from Edo to Tokyo. Once the road trip begins in earnest, the plot settles into an episodic formula: our hero wanders into an obvious ambush, craftily manipulates the situation to his advantage, and continues on his merry way, leaving a pile of corpses in his wake. It’s straightforward and a bit repetitive, but perfectly serviceable as far a chanbara scenarios go; heck, Lone Wolf and Cub did this sort of thing all the time.
And then, without warning, Kyoshiro stumbles upon a completely unrelated melodrama involving a damsel in distress, a lovestruck pimp, a yakuza gambling house, and a set of probability-defying loaded dice. It’s a narrative non-sequitur packed with enough richly detailed character conflict to fill its own movie, and it stands out like a sore thumb. Additionally, the climax is far too busy, bombarding the viewer with three or four shocking revelations when maybe one or two would have sufficed. These flaws don’t cripple Trail of Traps, but they are an undeniable blemish on an otherwise enjoyable action flick.
[Originally written April 24, 2017.]