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Japan 2007

Fantasy, Drama, Horror

Akihiko Shiota

Satoshi Tsumabuki
Kou Shibasaki
Kiichi Nakai
Yoshio Harada
Mieko Harada
Kumiko Aso
Satoshi Hakuzen
Anna Tsuchiya
Hitori Gekidan

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Story: Hyakkimaru (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a demon hunter with a tragic past. His father Kagemitsu Daigo (Kiichi Nakai) offered 48 demons each a part of his at time still unborn son in exchange for extraordinary power. After his birth Hyakkimaru's mother couldn't kill the little baby without limbs and several organs missing, so she abandoned it instead. The sorcerer and alchemist Jukai (Yoshio Harada) found the baby and gave it artificial limbs and organs. When he is grown up, and being equipped with a special blade, Hyakkimaru goes on a hunt for the demons that have his body parts and reclaims them by destroying their owners.
On his journey Hyakkimaru meets tomboy Dororo (Kou Shibasaki), a thief, who has an interest in his blade, since she wants to use it to bring to justice the ruler and warlord Kagemitsu, who is responsible for her parents' death. While Hyakkimaru ist searching for his body parts, destiny brings him closer and closer to his father, whose identity he doesn't know, yet. Eventually, he finds out the truth about his past and has to face his father on the battlefield.

Review: "Dororo" truely is a movie you got to have a certain interest in to watch. The live anime adaption of the comic of Osamu Tezuka is filled with off-beat and interesting ideas, yet doesn't manage to bring all these ideas together in a consistent script, which leads to a mixed bag in the end, where at times we sit at the edge of our seat and at others have to fight boredom. Therefore, this movie will only be worthwhile for those who are willing to cope with unintentional laughter and a general quality disunity. What saves "Dororo" from completely being fatiguing are some unexpectedly well working emotional moments, which remain predictable at all times, yet manage to be more affecting than you might expect. Sadly, this doesn't mean that the film works on a deep emotional level, it's rather that it remains simply perfunctorily here as everywhere else, too.

At first, we get a long introduction, which actually consists of numerous introductions. Here the movie already feels as if seperated into pieces. However, after many flashbacks and explanations the demon hunter Hyakkimaru and the thief Dororo run into each other. From that point on, the two share the same road, traveling through the land and looking for demons that took posession of Hyakkumaru's body parts. This is where the movie starts to make the most fun, even though we undoubtfully are presented with several episodes instead of one single tale. At least we get some nice monsters and sad little stories, which leave no doubt that they are coming from a manga source. Unfortunately, this also means that we are sometimes slightly alienated by all the fantasy creatures, but for most part the blame can be put on the special effects, which aren't a hundred percent convincing. Nevertheless, the film indirectly points to the fact that you have to let your imagination run free from the very beginning, which already starts with the artificial limbs and organs that Jukai breeds for his adopted son.

Let's get back to the special effects, though. Here it becomes the most apparent that sometime throughout production the producers ran out of money. That's because sometimes the effects look really well done, but at other times they are awful, whereas the lizard-like monster, which clearly is nothing more than a Japanese guy in a rubber suit, takes the biscuit. Maybe stuff like this is still hip for Japanese, but more than anything else this simply provokes unintentional laughter. However, it has to be added that you actually never know what audience "Dororo" aims for, or what genre category it wants to be put in. The scene just mentioned could definitely be something for the kids, but the computer-generated blood which isn't actually used sparingly, as well as some more dark themes like child-eating monsters and body-paved battle fields, suggest that the film is maybe directed to a more mature audience after all. Then again, this is an adaption of a manga, which means that both can be true or that both aspects are linked, I should say.

After the amusing hunt for the demons and some regained body parts, the movie suddenly declines tension-wise and especially where it should have been the strongest, namely when it comes to the confrontation between Hyakkimaru and Kagemitsu. The showdown on an empty field feels somewhat like a let-down and there are not any appropriate sets either. Most likely there simply wasn't any money left.
Fortunately, we get some decent portrayals by the actors, as far as that is possible with the two-dimensional characters the actors are provided with. Satoshi Tsumabuki gives a pleasantly subtle and charismatic performance, which only becomes a bit troublesome, when he has to show some emotions. Kou Shibasaki ("Go", "Battle Royale") convinces as a girl, which is only allowed to live as such, when she has found the right man by her side. Until then she is cursed to roam the country as a boy, playing the comic part of the duo every now and then. Still, her character remains quite shallow. However, there are some character actors to be found in the supporting roles, e.g. Kiichi Nakai or Yoshio Harada.

"Dororo" begs for at least one sequel (in fact there will be two in the future), and there is quite a lot you can do with the characters, too. What director Akihiko Shiota delivers here is actually nothing more than popcorn cinema, that can be entertaining over long periods, even though it's a guilty pleasure. You surely can't call this quality cinema, which is even the more surprising since Akihiko walked a completely different path in his debut work "Moonlight Whispers". Besides, the to and fro concerning the production values it's also questionable why the movie couldn't be cut down a little bit with its 140 minutes running time. At least there are some nice landscape shots, as well as some good fights choreographed by Hong Kong's Ching Siu-Tung ("Hero", "A Chinese Ghost Story"). When all is said and done, you can just have a joyful ride for a few hours, if you don't expect too much and are a fan of fantasy.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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