Goemon, the titular hero, begins the movie wearing an ivy patterned scarlet robe. He moves with cartoonish limber, refusing to kill where he does not need to and silhouettes himself histrionically in front of a fluorescent moon.
By the end, he dons a crimson suit of armour and slices wildly through a hoard of unwitting soldiers, none of whom posses the demi-god like strength and speed that he does. He has transformed into a vengeful and murderous beast. His very presence causes the sun to become eclipsed, the moon now a vehicle for darkness rather than light.
It is, in no small part, a direct visualisation of Goemon’s gradual but significant shift in tone and genre. What starts as a tongue in cheek high adventure of dastardly villains and maidens in distress becomes a violent anti-war epic.
The man at the helm of this intriguing monstrosity is none other than Kazuaki Kiriya, director of the sprawling live action Manga and all round cluster f**k, Casshern. And what quickly becomes obvious with Goemon is that it has inherited all the same stylistic vices and tired themes of its spiritual predecessor.
What intrigues, however, is how these same ideas work for rather than against the film.
The plot remains as labyrinthine and non-sensical as Casshern’s. A Robin Hood like figure, Goemon, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. In the process of which he accidentally triggers a chain of increasingly ridiculous events that cumulate in a free for all bid for the throne of Japan.
This allows for a number of futile assassination attempts, bloody skirmishes and dense speeches regarding the subjective nature of violence and politics. To facilitate this fantastical madness a heavy reliance to blue screen environments, as with Casshern, has been utilised. They are as primitive as ever and regularly resemble the cinematics from 1995’s classic video game Command & Conquer. But where it sometimes detracted from the action in Casshern, it adds to the bumbling insanity of Goemon, the colourful environments and frenetic action working harmoniously with the artificiality of their rendering.
What genuinely surprises, however, is that the incessant rhetoric one is faced with regarding war and attrition is so easy to swallow. There is certainly a lot on offer and one could easily gorge upon it to the point of bursting, but such stomach pains are appeased by the charm of the characters, the world and the excitement within it. To draw a tired comparison once again, what Casshern lacked was a large degree of fun in order to make its bludgeoning moral propaganda tolerable. And while a message of world peace and anti-violence should be commended, the force feeding of it should not. Goemon averts this problem with noticeable wit and style.
It is hard to dislike a movie that features a superhuman samurai cutting entire marble arches down with a Hattori Hanzo blade. It is not only spectacular but utterly stupid in equally pleasing measure.
But while Goemon is, by and large, a minor triumph for a director who is slowly realising his full potential, it is also a film that lacks any real element of danger. Most characters, or at least the ones you care about, are so ridiculously overpowered in terms of combat and agility that it is hard to imagine – even with a battalion of warriors surrounding them – that they are in anything but minor peril.
And while emotional damage is dealt regularly and copiously, even this is regularly undermined by the digital world that surrounds our heros. It is a constant and heady reminder that the actors, for all the good work they do, are indeed actors working within a universe that is entirely fictitious and without consequence.
This film marks an important stepping stone in the career of Kazuaki Kiriya and stands as a vast improvement on his previous contribution to the world of cinema. It is a wonderful piece of schlock nonsense that delivers entirely on the goods it promises.
But one cannot help but feel, for all the enjoyment it provides, that it does so from a particularly high pedestal, albeit a pretty one made entirely of CGI gold.
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