Gantz

3.0 out of 5 stars Dead Guys battle Aliens

Gantz

I have never read the Gantz comic, nor seen the anime, so my only exposure to this series is the live-action movies. I knew nothing of what to expect going into the film other than what I had read on the box cover.

Right from the start, “Gantz” feels like a comic adaptation rather than a movie. In several of the scenes, I didn’t know what was going on and I wondered if the director expected everyone to know the background from the comic series. It didn’t really matter though, because the film was soon head-over-heals in giant combat and I got the feeling that the “why” didn’t matter very much. This is a film that you have to shut off your logic-brain and go on pure Rule of Cool.

The concept is esoteric from the beginning: Random people are plucked from the verge of death and find themselves in a featureless room with a giant black ball in the middle. The black ball–which we learn is named Gantz–tells them that their previous lives are over and their only option now is too battle aliens in some sort of game. You get points for how you do in the alien game, and if you get to 100 points then you can chose to go back to your life, or resurrect someone who died during a previous game. Gantz also supplies you with a supersuit and somewhat functionless weapons to carry out your task with.

“Gantz” feels like a lot of different films. There are obvious hints of The Matrix. There are some touches of Death Note and even 20th Century Boys, although both of those are much better films than “Gantz.” Stylistically, it looks good but it looks like a live-action cartoon rather than a movie. The monsters were interesting, and my favorites were the Deva guardian and the thousand-armed Kannon statues. I liked the touches of Japanese mythology mixed into the Sci Fi action. But there wasn’t enough of this. The aliens seemed to be wholly unconnected and just gave the protagonists something to fight.

The cast for “Gantz” was decent, but they rotated in and out so fast it was hard to get a grasp of any single character. Lead actor Ninomiya Kazunari (Letters from Iwo Jima) wasn’t really compelling enough as Kurono Kei to carry the whole film. Matsuyama Kenichi (Kamui Gaiden) is a much stronger actor, although he was in a supporting role. I thought that was kind of a waste. Having Matsuyama front and center would have been a better choice. Yoshitaka Yuriko (NEW Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler) didn’t seem to serve much purpose other than to fill out her form fitting suit, which she did rather well.

Overall, I enjoyed “Gantz” but wasn’t blown away by it. Even as a live-action anime film it pales beside “Death Note” and “20th Century Boys.” As a film in its own right it is some mindless but forgettable fun.

The DVD is a 2-disk set with some bonus footage and some interviews. All of those are nice but not really enough of an addition to justify the second disk. They probably could just have been included on the first disk as bonus features.

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My Darling is a Foreigner

4.0 out of 5 starsThe Ups and Downs of International Marriage

MY DARLING IS A FOREIGNER – Japanese movie DVD (Region 3) (English subtitled)

I have to confess upfront about my complete bias regarding this movie: My wife is Japanese, and we both love Oguri Saori’s comic “My Darling is a Foreigner” (Japanese title “Darling wa gaikokujin.”) In fact, it took us awhile to get around to watching this movie adaptation because we were afraid they would make a mess of it. I shouldn’t have worried. First-time director Ue Kazuaki took the source material and made a sweet little love comedy.

Instead of working directly from the comic, the story starts with Saori (Inoue Mao, Kaidan) and Tony (Jonathon Sherr) on their third date. Saori is unsure of her status with Tony, and while the two of them are happy together, they struggle to fit into each other’s worlds. Tony is bilingual, and can float between Japanese and English speakers, but Saori is isolated by her language ability and cannot communicate with Tony’s friends. Saori’s parents don’t know what to make of Tony. He is fluent in the Japanese language, but not in Japanese manners and customs. Saori’s father (Kunimura Jun, K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces, Ichi the Killer) is opposed to the match, but Tony and Saori decide they love each other enough to endure the struggles and misunderstandings of a cross-culture relationship. Meanwhile, Saori is also struggling to fulfill her dream of becoming a comic writer, while Tony has to learn the expectations put on him as Saori’s boyfriend, and what his role is in Japanese society.

What I loved about “My Darling is a Foreigner” is what they got right, not only in Saori and Tony’s relationship but what it is like being a foreigner in Japan. I loved the scene in the movie theater where Tony is laughing first, and the Japanese audience laughs a few seconds later. I have lived that so often in my own life, where I am reacting to the dialog while the Japanese audience reacts to the delayed subtitles. Or Tony’s attempt to ask directions, in Japanese, and be rebuffed by a Japanese person saying he can’t speak English. Hammer. Nail. Head.

And with their relationship, my wife and I couldn’t help smiling as we recognized scenes from our own life. It is the little things in cross-cultural relationships that cause tension. We can accept the big differences, because we expect them. But the small battles; over things like how to fold laundry, or wash dishes, or make tea, or the proper way to eat certain dishes, or a million other little things that we have done one way our whole lives so we both consider that the “right way;” can really bring home the point of just how different you are from each other. I have seen some reviews for “My Darling is a Foreigner” where people don’t get this, and wonder if how you hang your laundry to dry is really such a big deal. Speaking from experience I can saw confidently: yes, it is.

The big problem with “My Darling is a Foreigner” is the acting. Not so much on the Japanese side. There are a lot of first-timers appearing here, so several veterans of Japanese film pop up in supporting roles, such as Saori’s parents and her editor at the manga publishing house. Saori’s father, in particular, takes over the movie every time he appears onscreen. Inoue Mao as Saori does a good enough job playing “spunky, cute Japanese girl” with the appropriate pouts and squeals that are almost required by Japanese law when making a movie. That’s the style. If you on’t like it, don’t watch Japanese romantic comedies.

No, the problem is with the “foreign” cast. Jonathon Sherr does a decent job as Tony, but he seems to have been selected for his Japanese bility rather than his acting ability. He doesn’t bring much chemistry or charisma to the role, and it is sometimes hard to see what a girl like Saori would see in him (The two share one of the most apathetic “finale” kisses I have ever seen in a film.), but he doesn’t do a bad job either. The real train wrecks are the idiot trio playing Tony’s “foreign friends.” I have no idea why these three were cast, as they can neither act nor speak Japanese. Nor are they good-looking. Their performances are bad enough to make you cringe, and wish they would just hurry up and get off the screen. Seriously some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Fortunately for all, their screen time is limited, but it should have been cut entirely.

But flaws aside, I really enjoyed “My Darling is a Foreigner.” Probably my favorite scene in the movie (although marred by terrible acting), was were Tony was trying to explain to his friends what he saw in Saori. Because she doesn’t speak English, they can’t see her personality. They only see her as “that Japanese girl.” But Tony, who can actually talk to her, sees it differently. “To me she isn’t Japanese. She is just…Saori.” I have had that exact conversion many times, and it is nice to see someone else who understands. I might just have to show this film to all of my friends and family, so maybe they can understand too.

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge

 
4.0 out of 5 stars More than Schoolgirl vs. Chainsaw Man

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (Sub Ocrd)

 
“Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” (A direct transliteration of Japanese title “Negatibu happi chenso ejji”) was an entirely different and better film than I was expecting. From the name and cover, I was looking forward to a cheesy Japanese chainsaw slasher flick with a healthy dose of panties. Instead, I got a sweet superhero-themed romance tinged with some grief psychology.

I should have known better when I saw that “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” is based on a manga and novel by Takimoto Tatsuhiko (Welcome to the N.H.K.). Takimoto generally deals with deeper social and psychological issues under the veneer of slick pop culture, and that is exactly what he delivers here.

High school student Yamamoto Yosuke is a self-confessed wuss. He lives in a tiny one-room school dorm with a roommate who wants to be an artist but never finishes anything he starts, and both of them live in the shadow of their friend Noto. Noto was the cool guy, the leader of their trio who even went out James Dean-style dying in a high speed motorcycle crash that left him forever young and cool. Without the spark of Noto in his life, Yosuke is slowly sinking down into depression and surrender. Suddenly, he runs into Eri, a beautiful “Pretty Soldier” who seems straight out of a comic book. In her schoolgirl uniform and doing impossible martial arts, she battles a massive, dark Chainsaw Man each night, who vanishes when Eri manages to penetrate his exposed heart with one of her knives but reappears again the next night. Yosuke decides that his purpose in life is to support Eri in her battle, and the two slowly become close together as Yosuke learns of Eri’s own grief, and uncovers the true origin and meaning of the Chainsaw Man.

So, those things I was expecting…gore, blood, panties…never show up here. (Although the lead actress Seki Megumi is without question a hottie, even when she dives into a swimming pool in full schoolgirl costume we never get a peek. She has one of that magic skirts that never flips up even when upside-down.) “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” is far from a cheap exploitation flick and actual requires some thought on the part of the viewer to penetrate the plot. Director Kitamura Takuji never tells us directly what is going on, and instead lays out the puzzle pieces for the viewer to arrange.

Although it does have some amateur moments, for a first film Kitamura did a surprisingly good job mixing the CGI enhanced martial arts action with the more staid pleasantries of Yosuke and Eri having coffee together. Pacing wise, the film spends much more time on the relationships than on the nightly battles. The teachers at school are interesting secondary characters and provide some comic relief, and there are nice moments of humor and slice-of-life reality punctuating the story.

I don’t want to make the film sound more brilliant than it is, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. This is a film not to be judged by its cover. Instead of that scene on the front, there should have been a quaint picture of Eri riding on the back of Yosuke’s bicycle to give you a better feel of what to expect. But maybe it is the surprises that “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” throws you way that makes it really worth while.

Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler

3.0 out of 5 stars The Slave beats the Emperor, because he has nothing to lose

Japan has a lot of words for their layabout population of 20-30 year olds who aren’t up to anything useful. “Freeter” is an old term left over from the Bubble Era that was basically a shortened form of “Freeloader” meaning those who chose not to work even though there were plenty of jobs available. “NEET” is a more modern term, meaning “Not in Employment, Education or Training” meaning those who have no job or goals, and just kind of drift though life aimlessly. “Parasite Single” is the latest term, talking about those who are old enough to know better (30+) but are still unmarried, jobless and ambitionless.

In “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler,” (Japanese title “Kaiji: Jinsei gyakuten gemu” or “Kaiji: The Turn-your-Life-Around Game”) all of these people get tagged with a single word: Loser.

The story begins with Kaiji (Fujiwara Tatsuya, Light Yagami from Death Note) being confronted by an attractive older woman named Endo (Amami Yuki, Inugami) who has come to collect a debt. Because Kaiji co-signed a loan years ago for a friend, he is now responsible for paying back the loan. Far beyond Kaiji’s means, Endo gives him two options. Work of the debt for the next ten years, or join some other losers on the gambling boat Espoir for a chance to win enough money to clear the debt entirely and become rich in the process.

The Espoir boat turns out to be a scam led by Okata Kazutaka (Veteran actor Sato Kei, Kwaidan) to create a debt-slave labor force to build an underground city and new society for which he will be king. Those who lose on the Espoir find their debts increased by the millions, and are soon chain-ganged underground digging in tunnels. Even down below, Okata attempts to increase their debts by offering them beer and tasty snacks to comfort them in their labor, but the purchase of which only lengthens their stay.

The only way out of the slave camps is to gamble your life in a further series of games, which lead to even deadlier consequences for those who take the challenge. But a man with nothing to lose and everything to win might just be willing to take that chance, and such a man is Kaiji.

Based on the long-running manga series “Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji” (Japanese title “Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji”) by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gamble” tackles Japan’s pressing social issue of these parasite singles in a unique and interesting way, by pitting them against each other in various contests for the entertainment of the wealthy classes. Dangling the promise of easy wealth before them, these perpetual losers are manipulated and toyed with, and only one of them is able to see how they are being used like slaves and has the audacity to attempt to break free.

To be honest, “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler” is not a very good movie. I wouldn’t call it a bad flick, but neither is it good. It falls pretty firmly into the realm of “so-so.”

The mix of social issues with action sequences, while interesting, comes off as clumsy and forced. While Director Sato Toya goes for the same allegorical feel that was so successful in Battle Royale, it just doesn’t work here. Sato is mainly a television director and probably used to having more time to build out his story. Unfortunately, attempting to squish the multi-volume story of “Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji” into a two-hour timeframe means that too much is lost or rendered into short sound bites. There is no real distillation of the core story.

There is almost no background or setting for “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler.” Is this modern Japan or some alternate reality? We don’t know. Who is the ultra-rich Okata Kazutaka, and why does he want to build an underground kingdom? Never explained. Why does Kaiji choose the exact moment of standing on a thin, electrified iron beam suspended twenty-two stories above the ground, in the rain, to deliver a monologue on changing your life? I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t have stood up there. And speaking of which, don’t any police forces notice an enormous amount of missing men between the ages of 20-30, not to mention an occasional rain of bodies from two of the tallest buildings in town?

Plot holes you could drive a fleet of buses through.

The manga has a lot more back story for these characters, and too much has been changed in the film. Okata Kazutaka in the manga is a man who has become so rich that he is endlessly bored and gets thrills from pitting the refuse of society against each other in gambling matches. Kaiji is much more cunning in the manga, being a savvy gambler who takes risks and wins, but always finds himself in the position where he needs to throw the metaphorical dice again. Endo is male in the manga, but changed to female in the movie to create some sexual tension, which is one of the few changes that I thought worked well.

Other things that worked well were the gambling matches themselves. Sato took three of the gambling matches from the first series of the comic, the “Restricted Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “The Human Derby” (here called “The Brave Man Road”) and “The E-Card,” The games are clever, and get the viewer thinking about strategies to win. Even thought the “underground kingdom” made no sense, I think it was interesting how Okata tricked the workers into believing they were responsible for their own slavery, thus ensuring no revolt. There were clever bits here and there that keeps the film from being a total loss.

A big part of the advertising is that it “Reunites the cast from “Death Note”,” and it does for a little bit. Matsuyama Kennichi (L from “Death Note”) pops in and out fairly quickly as one of Kaiji’s work-mates underground and a co-contestant on the Brave Man Road. That was one of the highlights of the film, but it isn’t like Matsuyama and Fujiwara have that much screen time together. And even then, both actors’ performances are well below par. Fujiwara in particular seems to have trouble controlling his volume, and simply over-reacts to everything or simply screams at it.

“Death Note” and later productions like “20th Century Boy” really raised the bar for manga-to-film adaptations, and “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler” just did not clear that bar.

20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope

4.0 out of 5 stars A Savior will Arise

20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope

I enjoyed the first installment of 20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End, but I wasn’t totally thrilled with it. I thought it was a well-done adaptation of one of Japan’s greatest modern manga, but the whole thing left something to be desired and I rank it below Death Note in terms of manga-adaptations.

It wasn’t until part two, “20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope,” that I was hanging on the edge of my seat and wishing desperately that I had part three to through into the DVD player and finish off the story. This second installment of the trilogy fixes most of the problems I had with the first film and really takes off running from the set-up of “Beginning of the End.”

The first film ended with the explosion of a giant bomb in Tokyo, the death of Endo Kenji (Karasawa Toshiaki, Casshern) and a few other of the club members, and the completion of the rise to power of the mysterious Friend. The “Book of Prophecy” had been fulfilled, and the heroes had lost their bid to save the world.

Part two begins fifteen years after the events of Tokyo, and Friend’s control of Japan is absolute. His propaganda machine has established Endo Kenji as a reviled terrorist and as the target of a county’s hate. In true 1984 style, Friend is everywhere and events have been re-written to suit his agenda. The only one who knows the truth of the events is Endo Kanna (newcommer Airi Taira), Kenji’s niece now all grown up going to school and working at a ramen shop when not negotiating a peace treaty between local Thai and Triad ganglords. This puts her in the path of Detective Chono (Naohito Fujiki, “Platonic Sex”), grandson of the legendary detective Cho-san, and together they uncover more about Friend’s plans, and soon realize that they can trust no one. Kanna’s quest for the truth leads her to one of Friend’s re-education camps, where one of the secrets is revealed to her, and she finds the remainder of Kenji’s group of club members, still fighting Friend.

There was a lot going on in “The Last Hope,” with new characters appearing and disappearing, yet in a way that did not muddle the main storyline. There are still the cameos by various stars, but they fit in a more logical way, such as comedian/transvestite Ken Maeda’s portrayal of Mariah, a scared transvestite hiding out with her friend Brittany (Hirofumi Araki) who has learned a terrible secret about friend. A discovery is also made of a “New Book of Prophecy” that was written, but who wrote it and what is the continuation of the story is the mystery Kanna and her fellow revolutionaries hunt for.

Airi Taira as Kanna was a real stand-out in “The Last Hope.” She handles the action, comedy and drama equally well, and is incredibly cute to boot. At some stage, she gets saddled with a sidekick Kyoko (Haruka Kinami) who plays a stereotypical whining and useless Japanese schoolgirl, the opposite of the capable Kanna. Kyoko is pure comic relief, and it must be said that she has her moments. Toyokawa Etsushi (Hula Girls), still tears the screen apart as “Otcho.” Toyokawa clearly plays the “Wolverine”-type character in the group, and when the shogun decides it is time to kick some ass and take some names then you know it is time to lean back and grab the popcorn because the screen is going to get very cool very quickly.

The only complaint I had about “The Last Hope” is also a major spoiler, so here is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know the ending. Friend’s whole plan revolves around faking his own death, then rising from the grave again as a holy figure. It’s a good plan, and everyone buys into it but…Friend’s face is covered by a mask the entire time. I couldn’t figure out why at least one world leader didn’t stand up and say “Hey! How do we know it is the real Friend that got killed, and not just some patsy in a Friend mask?” But that never happened. You really have to suspend your disbelief to make the climax of the film work.

20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End

4.0 out of 5 stars Are you my Friend?

20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End

The three-film live-action adaptation of Urasawa Naoki’s (Yawara!, Monster) “20th Century Boys” (Japanese title: “Honkaku Kagaku Boken Manga: Nijuseki Shonen” or “An Actual, Scientific Adventure Comic: 20th Century Boys”) is one of the most expensive in Japanese film history, with an overall budget of 6 billion yen and a cast of 300 people. Sometimes referred to as the Watchmen of Japanese comics, obvious care and attention was taken when adapting the series to the big screen.

This first film in the series, called “Beginning of the End” (a direct translation of the Japanese “Owari no Hajimari”) covers volumes 1-5 of the original comic series, and shows the life of a group of misfit boys (and one girl!) who had a secret club in elementary school where they played together. The children also worked on a science fiction adventure story, dubbed the “Book of Prophecy,” that foretold the destruction of the world by a super villain and the emergence of the club members as a super hero team that would unite to defeat the evil. Now, grown up and middle aged, the members of the club run into each other at a class reunion, and ask each other questions about a mysterious new religious cult that has been gaining in popularity, lead by a mysterious figure known only as “Friend.” The symbol of the cult, the eyeball inside a pointing hand, is the exact same symbol that the group used for their childhood secret club, and it seems like somehow the events written in the “Book of Prophecy” are coming true.

Like the comic book, “20the Century Boys: Beginning of the End” moves backwards and forwards in time when telling the story, starting with Endo Kenji (Karasawa Toshiaki, Casshern) as a failed rockstar who now works at a convenience store with his mother and cares for his sister’s infant child Kanna. When new members of the group appear, the story flips back to the childhood club, introducing each in tern and slowly leaking clues as to the identity of “Friend” and the events of the “Book of Prophecy.” The club members know that the “Book of Prophecy” ends with a stereotypical Giant Robot attack on Tokyo, and they all wonder just how much ability does “Friend” have to realize the story they wrote as kids.

I think calling “20th Century Boys” the “Watchmen” of Japanese comics is fitting in that neither movie lived up to the promise of the original material, but were good in their own right. If I had never read “Watchmen,” I probably would have loved the flick and those who haven’t read “20th Century Boys” stand a greater chance of loving it. Director Tsutsumi Yukihiko (Happily Ever After) didn’t take too many chances straying from the source material, and as we have seen many times when directors try to simply re-create a beloved comic on film it can lack the energy and pacing demanded by a film. The flash-back/flash-forward sequences work well to create tension in the storyline, but sometimes it also just muddles everything into confusion.

Actor Toyokawa Etsushi (Hula Girls), playing club member “Otcho, steals most of his scenes playing the lone wolf and dangerous member of the group who runs a business rescuing captive Japanese business men who are being blackmailed for their “exploits” in poorer Asian countries. Toyokawa is a great tough guy, and brings some realism to the fight scenes. Takako Tokiwa (Brave Story) playing the only female member of the club Yukiji is a little bit wasted as comic relief, and the romantic tension between her and Kenji never really feels authentic.

The whole “Cast of 300” kind of worked against “20th Century Boys,” as there are too many famous faces popping in for cameos and then disappearing. If you are not really familiar with Japanese actors this won’t be a problem, but having Takenaka Naoto (Ping Pong) pop up for a few seconds to flash his trademark grin just comes off as distracting and takes me out of the storyline. (Seriously, I love the guy but it seems like it is almost illegal to make a Japanese film without giving Takenaka Naoto at least a bit part anymore…)

The big budget, however, was well-spent. Staying true to Urasawa’s claim of an “Actual, Scientific Adventure Comic” the way they deal with the Giant Robot attack is fantastic. It is not all science, however, such as when Friend appears at the end astride Okamoto Taro’s “Tower of the Sun” from the Expo Commemoration Park in Osaka. I have to admit, this scene gave me an extra thrill as I lived in Osaka for many years and have stood before that bizarre sculpture many, many times (I even have a miniature version that I bought sitting on a shelf at home). I would always comment how the tower looked like it would come to life and do battle with Godzilla, so it was very cool to see that almost happen on film.

There has been some confusion as to what exactly happens at the end, and you have to remember that this is a three-volume series so don’t expect to get a complete story here, but all I can say is hold on and wait for the next film. Not that everything will be explained totally, but it does make more sense overall.

While I think the “20th Century Boys” comic is superior, overall I didn’t enjoy this movie adaptation as much as I enjoyed both Death Note and “Death Note II: The Last Name.” Both of those movies knew when to deviate from the comic to tell a story that worked well for film, and unfortunately that didn’t happen as much with “20th Century Boys.” While still an excellent movie, “20th Century Boys” just ever so slightly misses the mark.

Battle League Horumo

Battle League Horumo (Ws Dub Sub Ac3 Dol Ecoa)

5.0 out of 5 stars Fierce Oni Battle! Fight!

“Battle League Horumo” (“Kamogawa horumo” or “Duck River Horumo”) is just a brilliant little film. Based on the popular fantasy novel of the same name, the film combines the bizarre, outrageous antics and high energy that I love in Japanese comedy with authentic folklore and solid acting with an all-star cast.

Anyone who has spent some time in Japan has encountered some strange festival in the summer, with people in period costumes performing some millennium-old dance-ritual in order to gain the blessings of the kami spirits. “Battle League Horumo” asks the question, “What if those gods were real, but you just couldn’t see them?”

The story begins when freshmen student Akira Abe (Takayuki Yamada, known the world over as Train Man) begins his first year at the prestigious Kyoto University. Abe has been studying hard at cram school for two years, but has finally made it. He soon finds himself recruited by a club, the Azure Dragons, who protest a little too much that they are just a “normal club doing normal things.” The club president Makoto Sugawara (YoshiYoshi Arakawa from Ping Pong, Kamikaze Girls) soon reveals that there is nothing “normal” about the Azure Dragons at all. They are, in fact, a secret club that participates in a thousand-year old ritual known as Horumo, where each member controls an army of “oni” spirits that battle with other spirits in order to please the gods with the spectacle.

Abe’s finds it hard to take this seriously, and would quit the club if it were not for the presence of Kyoko Sawara (Sei Ashina, “Kamui”), a girl with a perfect nose who infatuates Abe immediately. So blinded by Sawara is Abe that he cannot see the rivalry of Alpha-male clubmate Mitsuru Ashiya (Takuya Ishida, The Samurai I Loved) or the attentions of nerd girl Fumi Kusunoki (Chiaki Kuriyama, Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill – Volume One). Finding himself sucked into the club, Abe trains in earnest with his oni army yet he fights more to impress Sawara than to please the gods, something that will lead to devastating consequences. The gods of Japan are not pleased when their pleasures are interrupted by petty mortal concerns.

Aside from the story, a big part of the draw of “Battle League Horumo” is going to be the “oni” themselves. While far from the traditional oni of Japanese folklore, these little spirits have more in common with the Mogwai from Gremlins. They are fully 3D rendered animation, done by Studio Gonzo who is well known for their CGI work on series like Last Exile and Blue Submarine, No. 6. They aren’t the most realistic computer animated characters ever, but they aren’t supposed to be and their cuteness is just right for the tone of the film. The oni battles themselves are hilarious, as the members of the clubs control the oni through a series of commands in the “oni language” combined with a sequence of gestures and hip-thrusts.

Another draw for this flick is the cast, and there are so many familiar faces and a lot of them playing against type. Chiaki Kuriyama in particular is usually positioned as a total sex symbol in tight-fitting costumes like in The Great Yokai War, but instead she is dressed in boy’s clothes with square-rimmed glasses and a big wig that makes her look like 80s sitcom actor Ouki Bondo. Takayuki Yamada is still a lovable loser like he was in “Train Man,” but he gets to be a little cooler here even though he is clearly not top dog.

Although it is billed as an Action/Comedy, the emphasis is far more on the comedy than the action. Much of the antics are typical Japanese over-the-top physical comedy, like all the boys getting naked and performing a choreographed pop routine at the shrine in order to gain the god’s favor, or when league member Koichi Takamura is forced to wear a giant samurai topknot as punishment for his cowardice in the oni battle.

The Abe/Sawara/Ashiya love triangle could have come straight from a John Hughs film, with the rich macho jerk mistreating his beautiful girlfriend, only to get comeuppance when a poor but sensitive guy steals her away. However, that isn’t quite the way things resolve here much to my surprise and delight.

All in all a fantastic film that I completely enjoyed. Highly recommended.

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