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Original Title:

Japan 2009

Action, Fantasy

Kazuaki Kiriya

Yosuke Eguchi
Takao Osawa
Hashinosuke Nakamura
Ryoko Hirosue
Jun Kaname
Masato Ibu
Mikijiro Hira
Tetsuji Tamayama
Eiji Okuda
Susumu Terajima
Choi Hong Man
Kazuaki Kiriya

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Story: It's the year 1582. Japan's ruler Nobunaga has been betrayed by one of his men, Akechi, and eventually is assassinated. The right hand of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi (Eiji Okuda), takes the place of the country's new ruler, yet is driven by an enormous thirst for power which will soon make him start a new war. Goemon (Yosuke Eguchi), who is a thief loved by the people, because he steals from the rich and gives the poor, suddenly finds himself in the midst of political intrigues that are being shaped at Hideyoshi's court when he gets "Pandora's Box" into his hands. In this box lies a state secret that eventually forces Goemon to face his past again. One of the parties that are also after the box has hired the shinobi Saizo (Takao Osawa) with whom Goemon seems to share a close bond. While Goemon has to ask himself if he stands before his old acquaintance as a friend or enemy there are also other dangers lying in wait for him and the whole country is only inches from descending into an endlessly lasting war...

Review: Director Kazuaki Kiriya could stir up quite some excitement for certain viewers with his debut work "Casshern". The reason for that is his extraordinary visual fancifulness which he magically brought to screen through numerous CGI-effects. Therefore, "Casshern" was a movie that for most part was made in front of a bluescreen and concerning its pacing oftentimes felt like a MTV music video. Which isn't really a surprise considering that Kiriya has in fact learnt his profession there. However, it's a fact that his film was narration-wise a catastrophe which is why I couldn't manage to exceed the half hour mark.
"Goemon" once again introduces us to Kiriya's typical missteps in shape of a flawed story development and questionable editing. That the movie is actually a breathtaking rollercoaster ride for the visual senses is almost needless to be said when it comes to Kiriya, but as already mentioned there are still more than enough flaws. Fortunately, the director could wind down them a bit and so "Goemon" becomes simply an entertaining action fantasy film that is pleasing to the eyes.

Goemon is someone like the Japanese Robin Hood and therefore a guy the viewer can easily sympathize with in an instant even if he is a bit narcissistic and also likes to spend his nights with some of his "groupies". He has no interest in the political events of the country, yet also has his reasons for that. Yes, you can even go that far to note that he is an egoistical thief who in his very own way tries to help out the common people. An ambivalent character whose motives may become clearer as the film progresses, yet his character doesn't seem to be really thought through nonetheless. It's not any different when it comes to the rest of the characters, whereas Sasuke, Goemon's right hand, depicts a particular problem. His actions towards the end only seem to serve the means to artificially add to the movie's drama content. Apart from that, though, you have to give the film some credit for the fact that it tries to unfold quite a complex web of different characters of whom some are based upon historical individuals. Those who aren't familiar with Tokugawa Ieyasu, Nobunaga Oda or Hattori Hanzo maybe should look them up in a history book.

The story itself is quite multilayered and also offers some nice developments, but the weak points become apparent in the interconnection of the individual movie scenes as they aren't brought together in a coherent fashion at all. You are thrown from one set of fantastic pictures into the next and the necessity for it is at best questionable. The director obviously only cared to use as much of the space given for his numerous visual ideas. This time you can't really say that he completely neglected the story, but it nevertheless always remains obvious that his actual interest is in the pictures, making the story only a sidenote. Moreover, the director attempted to put too many elements into "Goemon". There is a lot of action, politics, drama, romance, friendship, betrayal, epic battles and a lot more so that we have to ask ourselves how the director actually intended to interlock all of this. Because naturally this can't really work out to everyone's satisfaction.

The different elements in the movie of course also generate different moods and so at the end you get the feeling that you haven't just watched one movie, but several episodes of a series. With its running time of almost 130 minutes and its breakneck-pacing you will sink into your couch completely exhausted after the credits roll. But what remains in the end? Is it a smile of contentedness or is there only a bland aftertaste when this ride is over? Well, it's not that different from a lot of Hollywood movies. Loud, colourful, actionloaden, but without real substance in its core. And this even though "Goemon" makes some things right which its american counterparts don't. The emotions hit the right notes (well, sadly not always) and the story gets a truely epic scale in the end. The well-done soundtrack also adds to the adrenaline that gets pumped through your veins throughout the numerous action sequences, but on top of the list are naturally the pictures that surely have to be considered aesthetically ambitious in the framework of such a movie.

The visuals are as already stated the most outstanding element of "Goemon". To be honest, though, I'm not really that excited about it concerning certain moments. Kiriya only seems to have had one hundredth of the money at hand that would have been necessary for his true vision to be adequately brought to screen and therefore some scenes look like being taken out of a not that great video game. At times you can almost see the bluescreen and papier-mache before you. Still, at other times some scenes work out pretty well and manage to radiate its very own magic. What I can't bear, however, is when the shinobi, among them Goemon first of all, jump several hundreds of meters and not only stretch all laws of physics, but outright break them. You simply can see that the individuals are completely created on the computer. What's nice to look at is the colour scheme and the lighting, especially the use of the moonlight which comes off specially well in some fantastic sets. When it comes to the cinematography and also some inventive camera work, even though the camera is also a bit too hectic some of the time, we get to see the real strength of the director. Even if the individual parts don't fit a 100 percent "Goemon" still remains an enchanting action fest for the senses.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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