Archive for October 30th, 2012

Gojoe (2000)

It is a dark time in Japan. The Keike clan have been victorious over the Genji clan but each night some of their soldiers are being slaughtered by what many are calling a demon. A monk Benkei who was formerly a fearsome warrior hears of what is happening and is determined to destroy the demon. Benkei sees for himself what the demon is capable of during a night attack on the bridge at Gojoe when many Keike soldiers are killed. Benkei comes face to face with the demon but it’s not a fearsome creature after all but a powerful and skilled swordsman along with his 2 associates that are doing the killings. The swordsman is Shanao who has been chosen to lead the Genji clan into battle with the Keike clan but he wants to delay this mission (and accepting his title as Prince Yoshitsune) to have a confrontation to the death with Benkei on the bridge at Gojoe.

Director Sogo Ishii retells the legendary 12th century Japanese story of the famous duel between the monk Benkei and young Prince Yoshitsune on Gojoe Bridge. According to legend, Yoshitsune beat Benkei who then served the Prince but the version of the story served up by Ishii is different. It doesn’t matter if you’re not familiar with the legend because the story explains itself as it goes along. The story is a tried and tested formula of two protaganists linked in some way or the other who must face each other in a fight to the death. At first the movie is more of a supernatural tale as we see various Heike soldiers being beheaded in a fountain of blood by an unseen foe but this gives way to a story of political intrigue and maneouvering.

It’s a very creative and vibrant movie in terms of colour, cinematography and editing. Even though the movie is rather long at two and a quarter hours and was sometimes a bit slow, the story was so engrossing I felt the time just went by so quickly. It’s exciting, mysterious at times and has vast sword battles. The movie displays a lot of mysticism especially with the character of Benkei who is seen practicising his Buddhism through meditation and using his power to rid evil. It’s very much like another movie that came out around the same time called Onmyoji. I liked the fact that the battle between good and evil is signified by the constant motif of the blazing sun and this is demonstrated extremely well in a big fight between Shanao and his 2 followers, some bandits and Keike soldiers in a forest during an eclipse. The action scenes could have been better and I suppose it is perhaps the only thing I can really complain about the movie. There’s plenty of action and it is suitably violent but it’s all filmed in close-up with some parts obscured frequently by objects in the background. This is highlighted best when Shanao and his 2 followers are slicing and dicing their way through soldiers in some long grass. It may look great visually with all the blood being sprayed all over the place but it would have been nice to see more actual swordfighting moves being made by the characters and it is also difficult to follow at times. The confrontation between Benkei and Shanao at the climax was also a big disappointment. I was expecting a good old fashioned sword fight but it was more of seeing swords clashing against each other in the dark with sparks coming off them than anything else. Although there’s not a lot of character development in the movie, there’s quite a bit of emphasis on Benkei’s transformation from being a killer of women and children in the past to being a holy man. People question whether he has changed or not. It is only in the duel on the bridge that the real Benkei comes out to take his fury on Shanao.

With Ishii’s stylish imaginative direction and excellent performances from Daisuke Ryu as Benkei and the brilliant Tadanobu Asano as the deadly emotionless Shanao, this movie is a winner in my eyes. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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