"My only gripe is that the movie feels too short, just when it's ready to get to the real adventure. But then that's the problem with the story in general."
AKA: Samurai Dororo
Director: Akihiko Shiota
Writers: Osamu Tezuka, Masa Nakamura, Akihiko Shiota
Producer: Takashi Hirano
Cast: Ko Shibasaki, Eita, Mieko Harada, Yoshio Harada, Kiichi Nakai, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Anna Tsuchiya
Running Time: 138 min.
Plot: The story of a female warrior named Dororo, raised as a man, who meets a young samurai on a quest to recover his father's body parts, which were given to demons.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NINGEN'S REVIEW: Hyakkimaru's a ronin [wandering samurai] whose father literally sold him out,, when he was a baby. Daigo promised 48 demons one part of his body each in exchange for the power to rule Japan. Warped into a crippled lump of flesh, and dumped in a river by his mother, Hyakkimaru meets a benefactor in the form of an elderly sword-smith who gives him artificial limbs he needs to survive. When he becomes an adult, Hyakkimaru decided to reclaim his original body, by fighting against each demon which possesses each organ. When he defeats each monster, his fake appendages pop out, and his real appendages grow back in their place. A thief by the name of Dororo follows him, in hopes of nabbing the swords lodged in his arm sockets. Normally covered by his plastic(?) fore-arms, these swords are used to defend himself against the demons Hyakkimaru encounters on his journey. Unfortunately, Hyakkimaru and Dororo don't live in a peaceful time. Rather, they're smack dab in the middle of a civil war, mostly instigated by Hyakkimaru's father, but also exacerbated by other rival feudal lords.
Based on the Osamu Tezuka manga [published in the U.S.], anime, and OOP PS2 game, Dororo is a thin indictment of war, in particular, Vietnam. [At least according to a certain Pulp article from Patrick Macias] For while Hyakkimaru might be able to save himself, he can't do anything about the women and children who are either killed or turned into refugees from the power-hungry generals. Dororo is also an orphan; and she wants to learn to fight to revenge herself on Daigo. But things get more complicated, as Hyakkimaru discovers his familial connection to the warlord.
As an adaptation of a dark action-horror series, the movie tends to place more emphasis on the emotional motivations of the characters than the creatures the duo encounter. However, that's not to say that there's no action in Dororo. There's plenty of battles coupled with creepy ambience. It's just that this version of the story opts for character interaction, rather than frequent blood-baths. In fact, the ending is "happier" and more "pacificist" than in the manga. But this approach still works, because it reflects a generational shift in "diplomacy", rather than just a cop-out ending where they make up the resolution on the spot. [*cough* Watchmen *cough*]
The settings are a little too calm for Civil War-ravaged Japan, but the monsters look like they blend in perfectly with their environments. The leads playhing Hyakkimaru and Dororo also don't seem as world-weary as their animated counterparts, but they at least do a good job of letting the viewer connect with them on a personal level. And the fights don't look like low-rent Power Ranger episodes or wannabe bullet-time slow-mo scenes, either. They simply are designed to fit the fantasy world of the series. My only gripe is that the movie feels too short, just when it's ready to get to the real adventure. But then that's the problem with the story in general.
NINGEN'S RATING: 8/10