This film looks like it might have all the right elements to be a possible classic. It's based on the exploits of historical folk hero, Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese version of Robin Hood by some accounts. It has a stellar cast of well-known and capable actors. The production design and art direction are exquisite and fantastic. The official website is slick and full of content. This might be a a film I should be truly excited about. So, why the guarded and apprehensive comments?

Well, this is the second film by Kazuaki Kiriya. His first film, Casshern had me very excited. Like Goemon, it was an adaptation of a heroic figure, Tatsunoko Production's "Casshern: Robot Fighter." It, too, boasted a stellar cast and the production design and art direction were first-rate. Kiriya, a former fashion photographer and video director, knew how to package his film with glorious production stills of the cast (see above) and knew how to market the film by using the internet to release copious amounts of art work and video diaries on the official website. He was certainly going for a style no one had done in Japan before, namely, actors performing before almost all CG environments. The trailers displayed a world and action that had never been realized in Japanese genre films. I was bristling with anticipation to see it. I bought magazines that featured exclusive cast photos. I had a friend buy the souvenir program booklet sold only at theaters. When the film was released, reviews were tepid to negative, mostly laying the blame squarely on Kiriya's style which they accused of being too much like a music video. I ignored them, chalking it up to haughty cineastes who were ready to skewer someone who hadn't gone through "the system" and to permanently label him "only good for MTV."

Then I saw the film. There was certainly a story in there about the futility of war and its consequences on those who keep fighting without remembering why. Unfortunately, it was so poorly told that it would take a Dadaist to really make sense of the narrative. Kiriya's video background was a glaring flaw in an otherwise very pretty film. He almost certainly approached the story as segments, directed them that way, and then edited these "snippets" together as is. Sadly, there was no connective tissue between any of the scenes, any of the cuts, or even between the acts. It just unspooled, disjointed, minus the music to give it any rhythm like a music video.

So here we are again. It has taken Kiriya almost 5 years to complete Goemon. The trailer below looks fantastic. The visuals are again top-notch. But it's a trailer. It fits exactly into Kiriya's style. Short segments that tease content, but doesn't necessarily have to deliver any narrative consistency. It is breathtaking to watch and think about the possibilities. And yet, the specter of Casshern still lingers. Did he pull it off this time? Did he learn?

Don't get me wrong, I want very much for this film to be good. This is a style of filmmaking that I think can bring Japan's genre stories to life in a way only Japan's visualists can; the incredible style and form one can see in manga and anime can finally be realized in live-action. Afterall, it was the limits of live-action (there's a matter of the "the system" but that's another discussion) that prompted some of Japan's leading animation directors to forgo the camera and draw out their stories instead. However, it hinges on Kiriya's ability to deliver a solid film, not a video, a film. Early word is that Goemon is quite an improvement over Casshern, but considering how much there needed to be improved in the latter, I'm not sure if that bodes well for the former. Japan will find out on May 1st.

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