Japanese classic samurai film by Akira Kurosawa
DORORO is another manga-based (Japanese comic book) film from the proclaimed "King of Manga"; Osamu Tezuka (Astroboy). I haven't read the comic so all I can do is comment on how well the film is made and its entertainment value. "Dororo" is a bizarre blend of Fantasy-horror, Jidai Geki-samurai swordplay and sub-par CGI effects. Director Koichi Chigira seems to have a rather uneven execution, the film may sometimes feel very macabre then it becomes a little silly. Just to toss out a warning, the film may not be for everyone and may require an acquired taste.
Plot synopsis loosely derived from the region-3 dvd back cover:
Period Dynastic year 3048.
A vast territory stretching to the far East lies scorched, mired in decades of civil warfare. The warlord Kagemitsu Daigo (Kiichi Nakai), is weary of the war between the clans and determined to end the anarchy and unify the land. In need of power, he turns to the demon underworld for aid. A deal is made but the price is a son, born to him without eyes, ears, mouth or any limbs, all of which are parceled out to 48 different demons that inhabit the land. Kagemitsu orders this abomination destroyed. But his wife, Yuri (Meiko Harada) decides to spare the infant, sending him down the river in a basket, subject to the hand of fate.
Story of Moses, not quite; the film's premise is actually very interesting. The infant is actually missing 48 body parts, saved by a mystical inventor called Jukai (Yoshio Harada), he grows up to be become a teenager named Hyakkiman (Satoshi Tsumabuki). Endowed with special prosthetics, including arms with samurai swords, one of which is a mystical blade that is forged to kill demons. Hyakkiman begins his travels to locate the demons that have his missing body parts, with each one he slays, he recovers a part of himself and ejects the synthetic part. He doesn't have a heart so impaling him through the chest is useless. The setback to all of this is that when he recovers his natural body parts, he also slowly becomes more vulnerable. His prosthetics is made from already dead infants, a bit macabre, don't you think?
Along his travels, he encounters a tomboyish girl (Kou Shibasaki, Battle Royale) who he begins to call "Dororo". I know, I wondered myself how come the film's title is after his sidekick; not to worry, it'll be explained in the film. The orphaned girl decides to tag along in his travels and aid him in recovering his body parts. Their meeting seemed too convenient at first, but thankfully, the plot manages to tie them together along with the links between all the major characters. Also, what I really found interesting is the ironic fact that the demons feared that Kagemitsu's son may become their downfall and because of the deal with Hyakkiman's father, the price they asked may have sealed their fates?
While the film's premise is original enough and it did arouse my curiosity, unfortunately, "Dororo" is a mixed bag. I suppose, perhaps if I've read the Japanese comic I may say that it was faithful to its roots. However, the film's execution is a little flawed. Director Koichi Chigira sometimes lead the proceedings to an overlong pace and to help it out, he tries to incorporate the occasional unintentional laugh. These "fillers" seem a little out of place in my opinion, the occasional cheesiness present in the film makes its tone a little uneven to be taken seriously. The film's saving grace may well be served with Hyakkiman's emotional encounter with his father and mother and of course the occasional blood and some gore.
The action sequences by Chinese veteran Ching Siu Tang is exaggerated and "manga-inspired". Hyakkiman's encounters with different CGI demons stumbles at times, it was obvious that some of them were men in rubber suits. (Shades of Ultra-Man?) This results in the action sequences becoming a bit cheesy, and with the film's themes of the macabre, it becomes a bit inconsistent with its other elements. Jokai's workshop is filled with the body parts of already dead children and the very idea that Hyakkiman's prosthetics are made from dead kids should feel very creepy; coupled with the fact that these demonic opponents supposedly feeds on infants, "Dororo" should be a lot more horrific than campy. With all these elements in play, maybe this film was originally intended to be an anime series than a live-action film. Still, the energetic acrobatic fights can be entertaining, while the set designs and costumes look appropriate for this type of film.
The film is a fun watch as long as one remembers what he is watching, while ignoring the occasional dull moments. The viewer also needs to consider the film's source material. Also, Hyakkiman doesn't recover all 48 body parts, so there is a strong chance for Dororo 2 and 3. I felt a certain curiosity whenever Hyakkiman kills a demon and I wonder which body part would grow back. I really liked the film's premise about a young warrior looking to recover his lost body parts that a sequel or two would definitely make sense. It'll be fun when Hyakkiman recovers his brain or something else-- you know what I'm thinking?
Recommended Timidly to fans of J-cinema and a good rental for everybody else. The film requires an "acquired taste". [3 ½ Stars]
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