AKA: Goemon: The Robin Hood of Japan
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Writer: Kazuaki Kiriya, Tetsuro Takita
Cast: Yosuke Eguchi, Takao Osawa, Ryoko Hirosue, Gori, Eiji Okuda, Eiji Okuda, Kazuaki Kiriya, Jun Kaname, Masato Ibu, Hashinosuke Nakamura, Susumu Terajima, Mikijiro Hira, Tetsuji Tamayama, Choi Hong-man, Erika Tod, Ryo
Running Time: 128 min.
A revisionist take on the titular legendary Japanese thief, this Hero/300-esque follow-up from the director of the live-action Casshern emphasizes his role in Japan’s warring state era, and suggests he was an ex-ninja for historical warlord Oda Nobunaga, before setting out on his own path.
Nobunaga’s successor, Hideyoshi, is not a very popular leader, and there are already plans in affects from rival factions to take him out. Goemon’s, at first, not really aligned either way, and just plundering storehouses to give money to the poor. But when his latest heist leads to an innocent peasant getting killed, he takes the woman’s son as his charge, and literally strikes a blow against the regime.
This entangles him with a conflicted vassal by the name of Saizo whom Goemon served with under Nobunaga. Then there’s Oda’s niece, Lady ChaCha, who is being pressured to marry Hideyoshi, even though she and Goemon had a special bond which transcends the typical master and servant relationship. In addition, ChaCha and Saizo’s loyalty to Hideyoshi get further tested as the leader becomes drunk with power.
For viewers concerned about lacking prior historical knowledge of the setting, you’ll be relieved to know that Goemon plays loose with details to fit its own narrative; so you don’t have to worry about “getting” it. On the other hand, Japanophiles might be a little more irked that Kiriya, the director, doesn’t go with a traditional samurai motif, as you can see European and Chinese cinematic influences in the outfits and set designs. Those aren’t bad touches mind you, but if you’re a purist expecting something closer to Kurosawa or Yoji Yamada, you might want to just rent their stuff instead.
But if you’re looking for a modernized fantasy take of classic source material, a la Prince of Persia, then Goemon might be for you.
Goemon features vivid, sweeping landscapes and bright, elaborate costumes which just scream “exotic”. The fights are epic in scale, and very intense, particularly in close-combat. The swords and arrows really connect, and even though the execution might seem a bit “video game-y”, there’s no attempt to mess with the credibility of the action sequences.
If there are any issues with Goemon, I would say it delves a bit too much into different arguments about war and peace and society vs. anarchy. Also, ChaCha comes off a bit tacked-on, and doesn’t really add anything important to the main story. But if you can overlook those issues, then you’ll easily be dazzled by the various visual sights in Goemon.
Ningen’s Rating: FX: 9/10 Set Designs: 9/10 Action: 8/10 Story: 7/10 Overall: 7/10