Posts Tagged ‘Kenichi Matsuyama’



JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Yoichi Sai  Written by: Kankuro Kudo  Manga: Shirato Sanpei Produced by: Akira Morishige, Yui Tamae  Cinematography by: Tomoo Ezaki, Junichi Fujisawa  Editing: Isao Kawase  Music: Taro Iwashiro Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Koyuki, Hideaki Ito, Kaoru Kobayashi, Suzuka Ohgo, Ekin Cheng, Yuta Kanai, Sei Ashina, Anna Tsuchiya

KAMUI GAIDEN, based on the LEGEND OF KAMUI manga published in the 60’s, has little in common with most of the contemporary manga adaptations out of Japan, largely thanks to the original series: set in feudal Japan, KAMUI tells the story of Kamui, a young, low-born ninja who tries to flee his clan seeking freedom, resisting to follow the destined path. Very soon he is branded a traitor and the other ninjas are trying to hunt him down to make sure their secrets are safe and stay within the family. Kamui, determined to lead a life free from rules, hierarchies and orders very soon discovers that even freedom has a price – and the question is if he’s willing to pay it.

If it wasn’t for some gimmicky effects you couldn’t tell that KAMUI is based on a manga. Usually that’s a good thing and for half of its running time KAMUI is a real treat, lavish, elegant, beautifully filmed and choreographed, just like a dream. Then, the initial fascination starts to wear off and a lot of flaws get in its way.

First of all, Kamui has no personality whatsoever. He is a cold killer with no ties to anyone, no emotions, no remorse, driven by revenge and his will to stay independent. The bit of character development we can see later when he starts to have feelings for a girl and gets closer to some of the fishermen is not enough to speak of real character development. There’s no fire burning, just some twigs smoldering. There are no big emotions hidden underneath the surface and there’s very little conflict within him.

Secondly the story doesn’t go anywhere: it’s like playing catch for two hours, and we already know who’s going to win. Sure, some of its more intimate moments and dialogues are moving, some sequences and plot twists are interesting, but overall KAMUI is mostly beating around the bush. So we stop caring after a while and enjoy the visual bonbons.

Last but not least KAMUI has entirely lost the manga’s subtext: originally reflecting Shirato Sanpei’s leftist convictions KAMUI dealt with ideas like breaking away from the fate assigned by the elite, oppression and the rule of the upper class. Bearing in mind that KAMUI was most popular in the mid 60’s one can easily understand that it is not about individualism (the way it would be interpreted today), but about paradigm change.

Every work of art is influenced by its zeitgeist, and THE LEGEND OF KAMUI was no exception. Watching KAMUI today shows that the movie lacks relevance and as this is the 21st century has no more use for the ideals of the original. Consequently, all that’s left is the story of a loner, a killing machine in pursuit of something intangible, a story of shinobi, ronin, destiny and betrayal.

In its best moments KAMUI is captivating eye-candy, a poem of blood and death; what it fundamentally lacks is a reason to fight for. And so we see our hero battling hordes of enemies, but without love or affection Kamui could as well be dead. Maybe he will be. The ending is as pointless as the two hours preceding it. Quickly KAMUI is gone with the wind.




JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Toya Sato  Manga by: Noboyuki Fukumoto Written by: Mika Omori Cinematography: Katsumi Yanagijima Music: Yugo Kanno Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Teruyuki Kagawa, Taro Yamanoto, Yuki Amami, Ken Mitsuishi, Kei Sato, Suzuki Matsuo

Another manga-turns-video game-turns-movie movie, this time based on Noboyuki Fukumoto’s bestseller: KAIJI is the perfect film for gambling-obsessed Japan and turns out to have just the right mixture of zero-to-hero story, fan boy appeal and dark drama to fascinate a large crowd of moviegoers.

Loser Kaiji has to repay a dept and in lack of cash is offered the only way out: to board a cruise ship and take part in the ultimate gambling night that may see him cleared of all dept or spending the rest of his life as slave. Kaiji, whose life sucks anyhow decides to dare all and joins the cruise, not knowing what terrifying rollercoaster ride lies ahead.

Without giving away too much of the twists and turns of KAIJI I can say that the film is quite clever in leading the audience step by step into the next trap by primarily following Kaiji and only scarcely offering some hints about what’s actually going on here. The movie keeps the momentum from beginning to end and despite changes of mood and tone throughout is a gripping tale of winners and losers and the morale that makes even loser winners.

At times KAIJI is leaning too much towards some Nike-Darwinism: winning is everything, participating is nothing. You don’t win silver, you lose gold. But then KAIJI discovers the deeper meaning of winning and presents are more intellectual perspective on its subject. KAIJI nevertheless reflects the Japanese pursuit of success, a way of life that is characterized by hardship and drawbacks, but most of all by a glorious happy end where the winner takes it all. KAIJI, just as gambling, fits the Japanese mentality very well.

KAIJI THE MOVIE would have benefited from spending more time on the character and past of Kaiji though: it is not entirely clear why Kaiji does what he does, the manga was clearly sharper and made Kaiji’s path more plausible. If the movie has a key weakness then that’s the character development of the hero, most of all his indulgence of his own little tricks, more and more he turns into an arrogant jerk, luckily his opponents are worse so we rather stick with him – despite Fujiwara’s overacting.

What makes KAIJI worth watching all issues aside is the way we are dragged through the shit just like the hero without knowing what’s going to happen next, a pretty dark side that is a more commercial variation of BATTLE ROYALE and the sub-genre of rich-people-pay-to-see-you-dying, the fragment of an epic story that creates a parallel universe underground, and one of the greatest fuck yous in a long time (Teruyuki Kagawa is hilarious repeating Kitano’s role as MC and villain).

KAIJI is satisfying diverse expectations of a diverse audience without kissing ass, and it’s probably therapeutic for those gambling away all their money in a pachinko parlor. KAIJI may not be the best of all manga adaptations, nor the best film of its kind, but it’s creative and surprisingly sinister entertainment that well deserves two hours of our time.