Genre: Traditionally-based Monster Love Story
review in one breath
Well, our monstrous samurai Kibakichi is back, kicking butt and generally scaring the sushi out of everyone; Everyone, that is, except the beautiful blind girl Omatsu, whose friendship and concern soon has Kibakichi rethinking his obakemono ways. BUT hot on his (wolf) tale is the vengeance-seeking Anju and her head-over-heels admirer Sakuramaru, the most violent and frightfully skilled swordsman of the region. And then finally, the REALLY bad guys enter the picture.
If you read my review of Kibakichi, this film's sequel, you'll notice I had a little difficulty pinning that film down in terms of sequence, date and staff. I'm happy to report that I am getting closer to the truth, but as you'll see, there are still some mysterious gray areas.
First off, this film really IS the sequel, despite the confusing reference to "the second battle" in the prequel's credits. It seems alot of the confusion stems from the fact that the movie's official site considers both films a single entity, divided merely into disks 1 and 2. (Thus, for example, it blends the two films' cast into a single collection, and yet exclusively assigns the first film's director (Haraguchi Tomoo) and creative staff to the current film.)
But unlike the official site, JMDb considers Hattori Daiji the director of this sequel, with Haraguchi nowhere to be found amongst the staff. Then add to this the fact that neither IMDb nor secondary Japanese film encyclopedia (other than JMDb) reference any sequel to "Kibakichi". Even Netflix doesn't dare to guess the director... but is the only site to suggest Hattori's role as Assistant Director in the original Kibakichi. (???)
Getting. Very. Dizzy.
This much we DO know. Both films were released in 2004 within 3 months of each other. Directors Haraguchi and Hattori had worked together four years prior on a similar film entitled Sakuya Yokaiden directed by Hiraguchi with Hattori as Assistant Director. Unlike Hattori, Haraguchi has had an **amazing** spectrum of experience as a monster make-up/costume artist for several critical films including the first three Gamera films, Ishii Teruo's 1999 Jigoku, Higuchinsky's 2000 Uzumaki, and 22 other highly recognizable films (I can't resist) such a Ringu 0, Party 7, Electric Dragon 80000 V, Onmyoji 1 & 2, and Cutie Honey.
Based on the official site while ignoring JMDb, I am going to attribute this film to director Haraguchi Tomoo. (Gomen nasai, Hattori-san!)
THAT SAID (sheesh!!) these two tales are about as disparate as they could possibly be. (Maybe I should reconsider the directors? nah...) Only two of the main characters are continuous, that of Kibakichi (duh) and his female nemesis Anju. For those of you failing to see the earth-shattering prequel, both Kibakichi and Anju are from the same tribe of what I would deem Inugami, half human, half dog/wolf. In these narratives they represent the few surviving traditional obake (monsters) within the world of encroaching humanity. (See my review of Kibakichi for more sad detail.) Anju seeks vengeance upon Kibakichi, believing that he (Kiba) was responsible for the slaughter of her (and his) entire clan, leaving only the two of them as survivors.
And please note: Rather than pursuing Kibakichi for a little gratuitous doggy-style nookie under the noble cause of tribal regeneration (!!!) she is simply hell-bent on pulverizing him into dog chow. As they say in ancient Japan (and globally), a woman scorned...
Whereas the prequel consisted of an interesting tale of obake society striving to survive amidst encroaching human development, the current film isn't quite sure what to make of the last few traditional Japanese monsters.
It was obvious that in the first film, the monsters were the good guys, living in peace amongst themselves (and munching only the heads of yakuza). The entire narrative revolved around sympathy toward the darkening plight of these traditional creature at the hands of an overly violent and malicious band of humans.
This sequel, however, views the few remaining obake as evil incarnate, pursuing not only the widespread death of indiscriminate humans but also of any surviving monsters. And perhaps more radically, it elevates the human sphere HIGH above that of the obake.
Consider for example, the clear pull Kibakichi experiences toward human love and compassion through his relation with the blind Omatsu and the concerned buddhist monk. Or how about this: Is not the character Sakuramaru purely introduced as the violent dregs of murderous human reality? (Correct answer: YES.) Notice then, how this film deems him in the end. (Also note how, in place of repentance, the mere fact that he awakens from enchantment and associates Anju with his mother suffices for a moral climax...)
Just like Frankenstein's first taste of human compassion through the blind old man, here Kibakichi blushes at human emotion through the pure-hearted blind girl Omatsu.
Meanwhile female warrior Anju has run into the notorious criminal Sakuramaru, who fell in love with her the minute she BIT him with fangs drawn. (YOWZA!!). Though initially unwanted, his diligent and exuberant pursuit of her soon begins to warm her... heart. And thus together they pursue Kibakichi in the hope of finally killing him in the name of tribal vengeance.
And then... FROM OUT OF THE BLUE!! A small band of (amazingly undeveloped and wholly unbelievable) ghoulies intent on killing Kibakichi and Anju (and Sakuramaru, and everything else) sudden appear.
OHH THE SUSPENSE!!
I enjoyed the prequel based on it's traditional depiction of often kind-hearted yet spooky obake. Here, however, that entire dimension has vanished, replaced with easily the least plausible and most pathetically dressed ghoul lord I have EVER SEEN. Let's NOT even go there. The evidence speaks loudly and clearly for itself.
I'll admit I liked some of the humanity-centric aspects here, and I particularly found the Omatsu theme (and conclusion) quite moving. No doubt that's because I am a guy. I suspect the gals in the audience might similarly enjoy the Sakuramaru theme, especially in the last segments where he finally discards his ratty robes (and then HOLY COW!! That guy is BUFFED!!)
Perhaps the weakest points of this tale are the very obakemono moments upon which the narrative is apparently built. On second thought, let me say without doubt the weakest points here are indeed the monster scenes. The sudden turn toward a (human-centric) humanitarian theme actually generates some rather volatile emotional momentum. But this carefully developed momentum is ultimately sacrificed in the end, in order to bring YOU THE VIEWER more costumed monsters.
Somewhat disappointing yet cheaply available. The decision (and karma) is yours to decide.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with subtitled and dubbed versions
|Please leave a message. SaruDama is not home right now.||Okay, I'll admit, great effort went into capturing airborne body parts spraying high volume pressures of red (and blue ghoulie) blood.
GREAT, PLENTIOUS EFFORT.
|DUDE!! Think of the wasted possibilities here!!||Almost a top-notch monstrous exploration into the depth of meaningful human compassion... But in the end, all we get are:|