Friday, June 1, 2007

Dororo - どろろ

What follows is another review that I initially wrote while I was in Japan this past winter, but have freshened up for the blog. As a preface, DORORO (for those who don't keep up with Japanese blockbusters) was THE hot ticket ticket of winter 2007. Clearly taking a cue from the tried and true Hollywood style advertising carpetbombing, the promotion was all-emcompassing and the product tie-ins were overwhelming. In short, it was inevitable that I was going to go see it since I had to see what all of the hubbub was about.


Shiota Akihiko

Satoshi Tsumabuk
Shibasaki Kou

139 minutes
Format viewed: Cinema

Based on a popular 1960s manga and anime series by Tezuka Osamu, DORORO is, at it's heart, PINOCCHIO. But instead of a little boy who wants to be human, it's a guy named Hyakkimaru who, because of a deal that his dad makes with a demon in exchange for that "super seductive "power of the gods" with which he can conquer all," he gives up 48 body parts in his unborn son. When said boy is born he looks like a little Pillsbury Dough Boy sans arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose etc. His father, being evil, is disgusted by him but his mother being loving, well... loves him. The evil father wants to kill the abomination; loving mother pleads for the helpless creature's life-- so they throw him in a basket in a river, and like Moses, he floats where fate takes him.

Still taking its cues from PINOCCHIO, he ends up in the hands of Geppetto-- Jukai, actually -- but he's playing the Geppetto to Hyakkimaru's Pinocchio. Anyway, Jukai is a medieval genius apparently (looking like a Japanese 'Whistler' from the BLADE movies) and not only nurses Hyakkimaru back to full health, he somehow manufactures incredible regenerating limbs and organs from magic Play-Do® for the little Hyakkimaru. In addition -- and this is important -- Hyakkimaru has, instead of bones in his forearms, super shiny, badass gold swords. When in a pinch, he sheds his arms and SCHWING! he's fighting like an Iron Chef in a twister! These are extra handy (*ahem*) considering Hyakkimaru's destiny in life-- or aim for this film and its inevitable sequels-- is to kill 48 goblins and by doing so, he'll regenerate those missing body-parts that his dad exchanged for unmatched power.

So who's this Dororo character that this film is named for? You'd be forgiven in thinking that the film should be called HYAKKIMARU, but Dororo is played by the famous Japanese idol Shibasaki Kou who's convinced that she's a boy and a famous thief... or something. And somehow in all of this craziness, though she insists she's a boy Shinasaki Kou can't hide the fact that she's still sexy who and the whole thing makes the audience and Hyakkimaru very confused.

Dororo is apparently interested in Hyakkimaru because of his amazing (and valuable) arm-swords. In addition, she knows that her street cred will be nailed if she can steal them. Dororo has some sort of sad back story too which is the reason why she hides her femininity--but it's so by-the-numbers that you can probably guess that all she wants is a good hug and maybe some revenge for her parents murders (sequel anyone?).

That's about it for the story since basically, Hyakkimaru and Dororo travel around here and there while he kills [awesome] goblins and drops his old Play-Do® limbs and organs and grows new 'real' flesh ones (the effect they use is kind of cool: it looks like candles melting in reverse, back into shape).

Technically, the film itself doesn't look so great. As an example, the grain in the flashback sequences is so big, I thought I was watching a Roy Lichtenstein painting through a Viewmaster. Really, the film is trying desperately to have that Zhang Yimou 'HERO' look to it, but no amount of post-production color correction can save the fact that a) the film wasn't shot by Chris Doyle and b) some of the film was, in fact, just poorly lit.

Speaking of hack-jobs, the make-up is laughable. It's strange, but it feels like the SFX people didn't think about the film being projected on the big-screen. (Things that I'm sure they let slide on your average NHK jidai-geki drama, stick out like juicy red pimples!) Example: very visible wig seams and fake scars; down to where you can see the shine from where the spirit gum was applied on the skin. What gives? But that's not the most confusing thing about the film, no, for some reason about an hour into it there's a total tone shift and out of the blue there's an ULTRAMAN-style monster and fight scene. Don't get me wrong, the theater full of 10-year-old kids loved it, but it seriously was that whole low-angle, man in a suit, snap zoom, edit, edit, edit, jump through the air, thing! It's like a reel from the next theater over got mixed into this movie! And that, in fact, pretty much sums up the problems with the movie: it doesn't know what it wants to be at all: not story-wise, not visually and not effects-wise.

Oh, and it's too long.

So, what did I like about it? Well some of the monsters were pretty cool. I especially liked the giant baby creature -- a collection of cursed dead babies that have manifested as one yokai -- with screaming baby skulls pressing out of the flesh on its back. I also liked the creepy little girls that turn into giant slugs with human eyes on each section of their segmented bodies; that was cool too. But I dunno... The film could have definitely been better.

As a final note (no pun intended) the score by 安川午朗 Yasukawa Goro福岡ユタカ Fukuoka Yutaka -- (I don't know who did the score itself, I'll have to look that up) is pure Ennio Morricone. Mainly variations on the themes from the DOLLAR trilogy. Which is cool, I guess but man, while it is good music, write some new stuff guys.

どろろofficial website
Jason Gray's Blog Write-up

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