For a shinobi the greatest illusion cast is that there is any chance for them to gain freedom.
What They Say The timeless legend of the lone, outcast ninja is brought to life in Kamui Gaiden, a vibrant film directed by acclaimed Japanese Academy Award winner Yoichi Sai.
Kamui trusts no one. He was cruelly shunned by his people as a child. Now a solitary warrior, he wanders Japan, surviving on lethal skill and instinct to evade countless violent attacks from the ninja clan he left behind. A turn of luck brings a band of fugitive ninjas who offer Kamui a new life amongst them as a pirate, killing sharks for suffering fishing villages. While the tempting promise of respect and protection leaves him conflicted, the merciless members of his former clan are closing in, and his deadliest foe is poised to strike. The battle is never over for Kamui, the ninja who stands alone.
The Review! Audio: The audio tracks present on this release are a Japanese Dolby EX track and an English 5.1 track. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used. The dialogue is primarily center speaker driven while the side and rear speakers are used for effects and ambient noise. The track is very strong with no dropouts or distortions and the side speakers do a nice job filling in sound at scenes such as when a small army approaches or to hear the waves at the fishing village.
Created in 2009 the feature is presented in anamorphic 16:9 ratio. There is some grain and dot crawl present in the presentation though the detail in large though appears to be along the higher end for the DVD format. The colors are lush as well with the blues and greens being particularly vibrant in the appropriate places. The detail The video on the Extras disc is noticeably lower in resolution and with more noise present but it likely was shot on much cheaper film.
The cover has a close up of Kamui slicing through water with the droplets caught hanging in front of him. The back is a simple parchment color with the Kamui Gaiden logo are the top and gold coloring shaped like blood droplets near the top and bottom. The copy and five stills are found in-between and edges have a stylized boarder while the spine has a black and gold colored pattern. The reverse side is black with a gold flower boarder at the bottom. The feature disc’s label has a shot of a tree leaning over in a foggy forest with sun light just barely breaking through and the boarder from the back cover at the bottom. The Extras disc is black with gold lettering for the logo and the gold droplets appear there as well. This release also features a slip cover that mirrors the cover though some metallic gold ink was used for the logo. The release is packaged in a clear DVD case that has a flipper insert in it so neither disc overlaps when placed into the case.
Menus: The main menu for the feature disc has the Kamui Gaiden logo center screen with the pattern from the spine running up the screen to the right of that. Also present are the water drop effects from the cover though they are so soft they resemble snow shot with an unfocused lens. There is a somber instrumental piece that plays in the background. The Audio Selection menu and Scene Selection menu both use the parchment style approach from the back of the slipcover and have different tracks that are a bit more light and upbeat as their background sound. The Extras uses the same menu screen as the main feature but a more breeze track plays in the background. The menus are very responsive to selection changes and carrying out the implementation of choices when made.
Extras: This release features about 45 minutes of extras and to preserve the quality of the film encode the extras are found on a second disc. There is a 12 ½ minute behind the scenes feature showing the lead actors work in getting into character and training to look as authentic as possible and a 32+ minute Making Of documentary focusing on some more of the people and events that went into the making of this film.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
In 1964 Sanpei Shirato’s manga The Legend of Kamui began its 7 year run in Japan. The series would prove popular enough to produce a pair of spin off series, a 26 episode TV series and this 2009 movie. Long time manga readers will also recognize The Legend of Kamui as one of Viz’s first English translated manga. The film plays as an attempt to play to a larger audience while still giving the long time fans a film they can enjoy in the frame work of the series.
Kamui was born in 17th century Japan to the lowest caste. He fled that existence and entered the world of the Shinobi only to discover that that world was as oppressive as the one he had escaped. In the world of the Shinobi it is unforgivable to try to leave that world and any attempt is met harshly as the rest of the group of Shinobi will dedicate themselves to hunting down and exterminating those who try. As a youth Kamui helped in such a hunt of the female ninja Sugaru who falls off a cliff while fighting with all her might for her life. Fourteen years later the scene has done a 180 and the hunted will be Kamui as he has grown to resent the life of a Shinobi.
As the film flashes forward Kamui is shown confront a group that has come for him and demonstrates an amazing level of skill that allows him to dispatch his pursuers with what looks to be almost ease. This chase will have him in the same area as the Lord Gunbei Mizunoya who is hunting astride his prized horse Ichijiro. Kamui comes across a man (Hanbei) ambushing the horse as it is being washed and watches as Hanbei cuts off the horse’s right front leg which is pure white. On a whim Kamui follows Hanbei and helps save him from the Lord’s pursuers. In return the Hanbei allows Kamui on his small boat but as the weather turns severe Hanbei pushes Kamui into the ocean with only a board to cling to.
Kamui will survive and wash up on the shore in the man’s village to find himself facing what appears to be the most ideal situation of his life but also up against someone who is connected his past and wants him dead before he destroys that person’s life in the village. As Kamui faces this he also starts to begin to fall into the pace of the village. When Hanbei and the village are betrayed to the Lord’s men Kamui will risk his life to help Hanbei’s family rescue their father and return him to his quiet life by chasing after the arrested man and storming the Lord’s encampment. On the way back to the fishing village Kamui will encounter a ship of men who are also Shinobi who have escaped their villages and be offered a chance to join their ranks as there is strength in numbers.
Life is not so simple for Kamui however as his hopes for something else in his life lived in a fugitive state as an act of betrayal demonstrates just how far the Shinobi clan’s reach is and that they fear no act to claim the lives of those who attempted to flee them. Kamui will now fight with a heavy heart against an opponent who is at least his equal and may even be superior in skill. Even if Kamui somehow survives will the final effect be to leave an indelible mark on the psyche of the man?
Kamui is a tale of one man’s struggle to find freedom in a period and caste system where it simply does not exist and the toll it takes on the mind. His entire life will be a struggle as at anytime someone will be coming for his head. It is also the story of a time when most human life has no worth to those in power where pain and lose can simple arrive as part of a grander message being sent. In this environment a few will decide to use everything they have to try to reach for freedom even if it is an impossible quest. Kamui Gaiden tries to set up such a world to transport the viewer into that brutal existence. The film does an incredible job with the setting as the colors are plentiful and lush and the environments are striking.
The problems arise when the film seems to count on the audience already having sympathy for the time and familiarity with Kamui as little is done to really deepen the emotional impact at the beginning. The film also loses a bit of its place with the introduction of the shark hunting pirates/fugitives who seem to exist mostly for the purpose of showing off an impressive ship. The introduction of these characters seems to throw a tangent into the plot that could have introduced a certain character in a way that didn’t seem to be as jarring a change of pace but seems to exist because because pirates are a hot ticket-that or to show off CGI sharks that make the one in Jaws III seem decent. The CGI here is a bit hit or miss as when used to help with wire work stunts it works alright but when used for effects that wire work can’t help with the models often move in ways that make them appear inhuman-or like alien life forms in the case of the sharks.
In Summary: Kamui Gaiden is a film that is likely to find its greatest fans among those who either already have a great affinity for period fugitive Shinobi films or the earlier manga or anime. It isn’t a bad film in most respects though a few places seem a little disjointed it just is one that seems to assume that the main character is already somewhat familiar to the audience either due to the original material or because the character feels like an archetype. It is a film that will impress for its visual scenes though perhaps it will cause some eye rolling with the obvious nature of some of the CGI but overall it will likely leave most viewers feel ing the film could have been more. It is gorgeous and ambitious but seems to be lacking a bit of soul to make it really stand out and bring out all the aspects the filmmakers seem to have been striving for.
Features Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Behind the Scenes, Making Of
Review Equipment Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.
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