If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In a nutshell: The year is 1597, the place is feudal Japan. A self-proclaimed master thief named Goemon (played by Yôsuke Eguchi) has become infamous for terrorizing the Japanese nobility by stealing from them and giving to the poor. Goemon's carefree lifestyle is threatened when he steals a box that is more valuable to the Emperor's vassals than he had originally thought. In an attempt to find the secret behind the coveted box, Goemon gets dragged into a struggle that may hold Japan's future in the balance.
Thoughts: The movie was directed by Kazuaki Kiriya, who had previously directed a movie adaptation of Casshern (an old manga/anime series.) I wasn't a fan of Casshern, but if Goemon is any indication of what Kazuaki Kiriya's future movies may be like, I can say honestly say that I'm excited to see what's next for the Japanese director. Before I go any further let me get something out of the way; this movie is basically a live action anime. What I mean by this is that the movie plays by all the rules of the anime genre; certain people are able to jump twenty feet in the air easily, possess superhuman reflexes and strength. One man may very well be able to take on hundreds in this movie (but don't worry, there aren't people with blue hair and stuff, although there is someone that has spiky, blonde hair. How he got blonde dye and gel in feudal Japan is beyond me.) If you can accept these things the movie is actually pretty awesome.
Goemon is a big ensemble piece (at least that's what the trailer implies.) It is no surprise then that the movie is filled with so many different characters that in their own way are essential to the plot. I would almost have to criticize the movie for this, but the movie manages to successfully juggle these characters and keep the plot from becoming the tangled mess that Casshern was (admit it, you know it was.) The plot of the movie get's very interesting, with a lot of genuine twists and turns. There is a lot of political intrigue involved in this movie -- backstabbing and assassinating. The movie is actually a lot more story-driven than it first let's on.
Speaking of characters, do you remember when I said this movie was basically a live-action anime? Well, one of my complaints when I started to watch this movie was that the main protagonist, Goemon, and his partner Sasuke, where pretty much taken right out of the anime book of clichés.
Meet Goemon, the typical carefree, laid back hero and Sasuke, your typical wacky and cowardly sidekick
As clichéd as the character's seem at the beginning, they get a lot of depth as the story goes on. One particular aspect of the story that I really enjoyed was that it actually takes Goemon's anime-ish carefree "I smirk at every obstacle in my way" attitude and explores the real consequences behind it. Much like Samuel L. Jackson said to that Darth Vader kid in Jumper: one can't live life just doing what you want without consequences. There are always consequences. Throughout the movie, Goemon learns that the freedom he cherishes so much comes with huge consequences, not just to him but to everyone he knows. Goemon's partner, Sasuke also goes through a drastic change by the end of the movie and became my favorite character in the film. I won't say much else in order not spoil the movie, but both of these characters end up very different from who they were at the beginning of the movie.
Visually the movie is gorgeous. The director actually has a very Zack Snyder-esque style of filming; same type of lighting as well as creating a mostly CGI environment for his actors to work in. That isn't to say that every piece of environment in the movie is CGI, there are actually a few sets that are elaborate and beautiful. It seems they've spent a large fraction of their alleged $10 million budget on these sets as well as their costumes, which are wonderful to look at. You'll also be happy to know that no matter how similar the style is from Zack Snyder's, this director withholds from using the slow-mo-speed-up during fight scenes. Something that I can appreciate, a lot.
The fight sequences are cool, again if you are used to the way anime fight scenes go. The way they use CGI in this movie to enhance the fight scenes is actually great. I dare say they've found a way to blend in the actors with their CG selves even better than most movies over here in the US. Maybe it's because the movie never slows down to show you the nifty CGI, something about that constant movement makes it look more real to me. That'd being said, the CGI environment can look pretty fake at times. It's pretty jarring sometimes. Admittedly that is mostly at the beginning of the movie. I suppose as you get more wrapped inside this world you stop noticing these things (much like you stop noticing things in 300.) All in all, it's still pretty damn impressive considering they had $10 million to work with.
Also, as interesting as the plot becomes (and boy does it get good), I still can't help but feel like it jumps around too much. The movie starts out being about something and by the end it turns to something else. It almost feels like it's ending about three times. That doesn't mean that the story doesn't flow well, because it does. I suppose I'm not used to the way Japanese movies are paced.
Final Thoughts: Okay, I'll keep this short since I've rambled on too much. If you are a fan of anime (like these ) you are most likely going to love this movie. If you liked Casshern then you are going to freaking love this movie (it's a lot better. Yes, I'm serious.) For the other folks...okay, let's do something. Let's use the trailer as a barometer. Go on, go watch it. I'll wait. Okay, done? Good. If trailer made you turn your nose at it then sadly the movie isn't for you. But If the trailer made you curious about the movie then take everything I told you about it and make a decision. The movie might surprise you.
Sorry if it felt like I was listing a bunch of prerequisites, but this is a movie that you are either going to like or you are not. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
With this parting image I want to thank you for reading this looong review (I'll work on keeping them shorter from now on. Promise.)
Yes, those are actual concubines dancing on mini-kimonos. Call me a dog but that's reason enough for me to watch the movie
PS: For those of you who are wondering where you can get this movie: Try Ebay, they have the DVD with English and Spanish subtitles. I've already ordered my copy from there.
PS of the PS: If you haven't checked my review of Salt. You can find it here (what? I know you didn't read it.)