The year is 1582. Goemon is a famous Robin Hood-type thief who lives in a time where Japan has been united under a single leader for the first time. For years, the warlord Nobunaga Oda has battled in order to unite the country only to be betrayed and killed by one of his military commanders. The story opens with him doing his thing by stealing from a safe, belonging to a powerful lord, and giving to the poor during a very stylized festival. In short, an artifact recovered from the safe leads him through a series of events that put him back into confrontation with his past and Hideyoshi himself. The cinematography and epic style goes far beyond anything I have seen come out of Japan yet and I was very pleased with the creativity.
This initial scene nicely sets the rest of the plot in motion as the movie had some fantastic visuals. However, throughout Goemon, I couldn’t help but feel the eye candy was trying to distract me from the weaknesses in the script. Creating a 16th century Japan in which everything from costumes and castles to armies and weaponry have been blown up from reality to unbelievable fantasies, which is a real shame. Meanwhile, the heroes and villains are superhuman in everything from their appetites for power to the speed of their shuriken throws. This is an action movie after all so I must tell you about the exciting scenes! Goemon cuts through these guys like butter in scenes of stunning technical brilliance.
I believe this to be a fantasy adaption that should be given the same treatment as Batman or X-Men. So, the time period is shifted 500 years into the past, but allowing for the culture shift and subtitles, this light hearted movie is highly entertaining and quite memorable. The film is expressly built to grab a larger market, or to give an exotic feeling to the Japan audiences. From Decapitations, to cutting people in half vertically, and miniguns, any fan of extreme Japan films should be right at home here. One scene I particularly liked was where Japanese music is given a dance beat upgrade, accompanied by some thankfully erotic dancing, performed by a quite modern gang of sexily attired Japanese cuties. This film really covers all bases!
The underlying message of this film is quite clear. Japanese society, honor, respect and narratives prize the value of Goemon’s characteristics. This is the quality of being able to endure until death without a word of complaint. The director does a semi-sloppy job bring these virtues to life. There is clearly a deliberate loss of narration either due to lack of skill or budget. So what now? Clearly we have a problem here. There isn’t much progress in director Kazuaki Kiriya’s work. All in all, how could the Japanese rival to 300 do anything than to offer slow-motion blood sprays, massive body counts, and lots of shouting? If you liked that, you’ll love Goemon.