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Kamui Gaiden (Japanese film 2009)

A Japanese Swordplay-Fantasy Film directed by Yoichi Sai

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Can A Lone Ninja-Assassin Ever Find Peace In A Harsh World?

  • Jan 17, 2011
Rating:
+3
Korean-Japanese born, critically acclaimed director Yoichi Sai had impressed me with his ultra-violent films such as “Blood and Bones” and “Soo”; he even made an endearing story about a dog called “Quill”. Once I saw his name associated with the film “Kamui Gaiden”, I immediately picked up a copy of the dvd. The film stars Japanese heartthrob Kenichi Matsuyama (Detroit Metal City) and Koyuki (The Last Samurai) in the lead roles.

The origins of the character came from the manga (Japanese comic) written by Sanpei Shirato. During 1964 to 1971, the manga was published in the monthly magazine called Gairo. Back in 1987, “The Legend of Kamui” became one of the first manga titles to be published in the U.S. under Viz Comics. The first series had quite a few leftist views by Shirato, but nonetheless, the manga had inspired several other interpretations and continuations in the 60’s and the 80’s. It even spawned an anime series called “Kamui The Ninja” (1969) and now in 2009 “Kamui Gaiden”.

          

         

Brought up in the ninja clan of assassins called “Shinobi”, young peasant-born Kamui learned at a very early age what happens to those who abandon the teachings of Shinobi as he witnesses the fate of a female ninsukin named Sugaru (Koyuki). Kamui realizes that there is no way out for Shinobi clansmen as the ninja group kills their own warriors rather than allow them to live a peaceful life. Through the years, Kamui had mastered several deadly ninja techniques that made him one of the clan’s best assassins, but as life as an assassin slowly wears him down, he decides to turn his back on his master and try to live a life as a ninsukin (a ninja with no master). Kamui seems content on a life on the run, until he meets a man named Hanbei (Kaoru Kobayashi) who had cut off the right hoof off a lord’s steed. Kamui discovers that the woman he had fought as a child had survived and is now living as Hanbei’s wife, Oshika. Fearing that Kamui would reveal her location to the Shinobi, the two engage in battle until Kamui convinces her that he had abandoned the life of an assassin and now they are both ninsukin. Kamui seems content to live the rest of his life in this island of fishermen, as he begins to form a bond with Sayaka (Suzuka Ohgo). But soon he learns that life as a former assassin cannot easily be forgotten by him and his pursuers.

        


Being Korean and born on Japan, Sai seems to exercise a certain style to his portrayal of Shinobi; he seems quite influenced by what he knows by what he has read in the media and perhaps by what he has seen in the anime. The film is based on an extended manga and as such, Sai seemed obligated to cover as much from the source material as much as possible. It works to some degree as I am sure that fans of the source material may be elated to the appearances of characters from the manga; but in doing so, Sai‘s film appears very episodic, there were times that the screenplay felt rather disjointed and some areas never fully fleshed out. The film relies heavily on the idea that whoever saw this film would’ve read the manga and we all know that this isn’t the case most of the time; most especially in the Western world.

            

            

Aside from Sugaru and Hanbei, most of the supporting characters such as Fudo suffers from lack of development. There is a blooming love between Kamui and Sayaka but the references to the scallop shell didn’t seem finely tuned to the script and as cool as the Watari shark hunters were, they seemed to have just arrived without probable cause and we were left guessing how or if they were summoned to Saki island. Fudo is one bad ass character, but the viewer was left to simply buy into it as he slashes sharks in half. My one biggest disappointment would be that Kamui’s past wasn’t given enough detail to build an emotional attachment. Through flashbacks and voiceovers, we see that he was under the lowest peasant caste and was born a “hinin”. “Hinin” is the lowest class of citizens and most weren’t allowed to even marry or do business with. (This is actually a very taboo topic to this day among Japanese citizens for the past 150 years. It was only during the Meiji restoration that they were granted titles as ordinary citizens.) I understand the film’s reluctance to expose this part but it would have built on the device as to why Kamui was so grateful to be accepted into a family.

As for the last criticism I have for the film, I thought his time in the Shinobi needed more details. We know he is so incredibly skilled, but I would like to have had more background as to what made him turn his back, was it his victims that count more than a hundred or was it something else? His childhood friend Mikumo (Sei Ashina) was revealed for a moment, their relationship shown in flashbacks but I didn’t feel the tragedy between the struggling former friends. I felt that the film merely touched upon the Kamui story and it was a mere imprint to the supposed compelling nature of the manga.

       

      

The film does have some good fight sequences, it actually picks up during a skirmish as Kamui engages his pursuers and it ends with a duel with one of Shinobi’s best hunters. Some CGI were used to enhance the aerial fights and to enhance the blows, but as with Sai’s other works, the ground battles stayed quite realistic. They were simple and yet they had enough visceral impact to generate intensity and suspense. As with most Japanese movies, the film has a fair amount of blood splatter but it was curious that it had no arterial sprays. Sai seemed to have used a restrained form of ninja showdown as perhaps he wanted to maintain a piece of human limitations to their special skills. I liked the fights and I thought they had the Yoichi Sai signature but there were times that I felt they were too far in-between.

The costumes in the film and set designs were very good, they reflect the style and culture of this period. The film is filled with landscape shots and colors that lean towards earth colors as with most jidai geki films. There were underwater shots that looked very cool, (the fight between Sugaru and Kamui was nice) though some night time shots felt rather oversaturated. My one gripe is that the animal CGI effects go from good to looking very fake (as with the deer and some shark effects). They were better than those seen in cheap SY FY channel productions but they were uneven as they threaten to cheapen the tone and mood of the film.

“Kamui Gaiden” has all the elements of a film about assassins looking for a fresh start and how sometimes our past can play a hand for a dreadful present and a hopeless future. Violence gives the soul dissonance and peace gives it harmony.  Is it a bad movie? No, it isn’t, but I have to say one has to have some knowledge of Japanese history, the anime and/or the manga in order to appreciate this to the fullest (as I did). The film has a good start and a final act that defines Kamui, but it feels too long in between and the middle parts can feel really episodic as it appears to dispense and introduce characters and plot elements on a whim. It does provide come good entertainment and it had enough cool scenes to keep it from the bowels of mediocrity, but viewers will be bothered by its odd pacing and the way the story is structured. I am not sure, Yoichi Sai seemed to have overreached a little too far this time, as the film lacked a little focus.

Timid Recommendation for fans of Japanese Cinema, RENTAL for everyone else
[3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]





 
Can A Lone Ninja-Assassin Ever Find Peace In A Harsh World? Can A Lone Ninja-Assassin Ever Find Peace In A Harsh World? Can A Lone Ninja-Assassin Ever Find Peace In A Harsh World?

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January 17, 2011
Excellent review WP as always, sorry I have been on the site the past couple of days, had to go out of town. I will be dropping some new reviews tonight.
January 17, 2011
No problem, man. We just got a little concerned that you weren't around here. Give me a holler when you drop those reviews, I also have a few I need to post before I go MIA.
January 23, 2011
by the way, I am not going MIA anymore. I have enough reviews saved under drafts to make me appear busy while I tackle that 9.0 hour film review.
 
January 17, 2011
Awesome job. While a 3 isn't bad, I was really hoping that this was going to be a must-see masterpiece. The trailers I saw made it look spectacular...
January 17, 2011
Yeah, I was a tad disappointed as well. Sai had some awesome movies, I think you will particularly enjoy BLOOD AND BONES especially since it has Takeshi Kitano. Soo was ultra-violent. This wasn't bad but it just missed out of so many opportunities, they should have focused more on his origins and his time with Hanbei; it tried to cover too many subplots and it felt too episodic after the first half.
January 17, 2011
Bummer. Is that reboot of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series still happening? I haven't heard anything for over a year...
January 17, 2011
Hm...I don't think so as of now. I actually hope not. I hope they can get more manga adapatations going as in the terrific DEATH NOTE and the awesome AZUMI. I would die if they did one on BLACK LAGOON and SOUL TAKER.
January 17, 2011
I just miss seeing decent samurai films. They just don't make them like they used to... between "Yojimbo" and "Lone Wolf and Cub"... We need more rogue samurai.
January 17, 2011
Then you need to see Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy...TWILIGHT SAMURAI, HIDDEN BLADE and LOVE AND HONOR. Which reminds me, I have a classic samurai-horror movie review I need to clean up and post.
January 17, 2011
Weren't there also rumors for a while of an American "Usagi Yojimbo" anime series?
January 17, 2011
what do you mean "American"? I know Americans are making a remake of 7 samurai, but I know there is a forthcoming anime series on YOJIMBO and even SUPERNATURAL by Japan..
January 17, 2011
There're are also Iron Man and Wolverine ANIME series in Japan but nope, they won't show them here yet.
January 17, 2011
A while back, there were rumors of doing a serious anime series based on "Usagi Yojimbo" that would be written and produced in America using Japanese animators. It was back in about 2007 or 2008, but I never heard anything more about it.
January 17, 2011
perhaps the project was canned. You should see the anime SAMURAI 7; reminds me, I need to see that one again....by the way, you see SPARTACUS BLOOD AND SAND as part of your goals in your fantasy community? thinking of reviewing it...
January 17, 2011
and don't worry, I am about to draft review part one on you know what...
January 17, 2011
Nope, I ended up not bothering with "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" once I found out that the show most likely won't continue.
January 17, 2011
actually SEASON 2 is beginning by the end of the month in STARZ, called "Gods" of something..
January 17, 2011
That's just a prequel miniseries called "Gods of the Arena", but it's not actually about Spartacus. You know that Andy Whitfield, who plays Spartacus, has non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, right? It looked like he was getting better and he'd signed on for season two, but then his health got worse. So season two isn't likely... unless they replace him with another actor.
January 17, 2011
maybe they did. Because it is definitely on for January 27
January 17, 2011
The prequel series is, yes, but it's not actually season two.
January 18, 2011
Hey, remember you asked me about my favorite fantasy anime movies? I just reviewed one of them right here.
 
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I pre-ordered this because I loved Sai's work with Blood and Bones and SOO. Full review coming real soon.      Update: Please read the full review right here: http://lunch.com/t/62o9
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The timeless legend of the lone, outcast ninja is brought to life in Kamui Gaiden, a vibrant film directed by acclaimed Japanese Academy Award winner Yoichi Sai.

Kamui trusts no one. He was cruelly shunned by his people as a child. Now a solitary warrior, he wanders Japan, surviving on lethal skill and instinct to evade countless violent attacks from the ninja clan he left behind. A turn of luck brings a band of fugitive ninjas who offer Kamui a new life amongst them as a pirate, killing sharks for suffering fishing villages. While the tempting promise of respect and protection leaves him conflicted, the merciless members of his former clan are closing in, and his deadliest foe is poised to strike. The battle is never over for Kamui, the ninja who stands alone.



KAMUI is a Ninja on the run from the world of Ninja bound by rules in search of true freedom. However, he is burdened with the fate, where it is not allowed to take the secret of their powers outside of the tribe -- if you are born as Ninja, you must die as Ninja. This brings him to constantly fight for his life against other Ninjas who trie to kill him and hide the secrets within. He does not trust, and he does not love. Showing weakness leads to immediate death. An incident brings him to an old fisherman's village, where he finally starts to feel trust and affection towards other people. However, his pursuers where just minutes away from setting up a huge trap on ...
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Genre: Action, Adventure
MPAA Rating: Unrated

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