Two Japanese directors, Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura, got drunk one evening, as the story goes, and ended up challenging each other: who could make the best film containing a fight to the death, with one stage, and only a single week of filming? Yukihiko Tsutsumi created 2LDK, a tale two actresses vying for the same role. Ryuhei Kitamura, best known in the US for his film Versus, made this film: Aragami: The Raging God of Battle.
Two samurai, both mortally wounded from a battle, stumble upon a temple in the mountains. Two days later one of the warriors (Takao Osawa) awakes and finds that while he's been miraculously healed, his friend has died. The resident of the temple (Masaya Kato) invites him to have a drink before leaving. As the two talk, it comes out that the samurai's host isn't really a man, he is a Tengu, a powerful demon. Named Aragami, this demon is the god of battle, and has been fighting all who enter the temple for centuries. He was born Musashi Miyamoto (a famous historical character that Hiroshi Inagaki's Samarai trilogy, among many other films and books, was based on) an unbeatable fighter. Now he is tired of battle, and wishes only to die. He can't kill himself though, he can only die by someone striking him down in battle, and he thinks this young warrior just may be the person that can put him to rest.
There's not a lot to this film, and I was surprised to discover that it starts off rather slow. The actors give their lines at a leisurely pace, and there are long pauses between sentences. This glacial pace wasn't what I was expecting from an action film at all. It really feels like the director is padding out the movie, it's only 80 minutes long, and this style really didn't fit the subject matter. Even the first battle was rather uninteresting.
Just when I was about to write the film off as being too slow and plodding, the pace picks up quite a bit, and the action ramps up several notches. While there isn't much plot to the film, just two guys trying to kill each other, when the action starts it really makes the film worth watching.
The battles were choreographed well. I was really unimpressed with the staging of the first fight, and after it was done I was ready to write the film off as being a hack job. But this was done to show how overmatched the young samurai was, and the sword play gets increasingly better as the film goes on. The climatic battle, done in the dark with the sparks from the clashing swords briefly illuminating the scene, was very effective and exciting.
With a bare bones plot, virtually no characterization, and no mystery to keep the viewers' attention, the film has to be carried by the action. Luckily this movie has some very exciting fight scenes, and those are what make this movie succeed. While it's not very deep or meaningful, Aragami is a fun movie to watch while munching on a large bowl of popcorn.