Eastern Imagination – Goemon

Despite the similarities in the pronunciation, ‘Goemon’ is not exactly related to Doraemon. Nor is it directly linked to Pokemon, but having considered both of the above, I started to wonder what the meaning of ‘mon’ is. Surely, while they are not directly linked, there is a connection in terms of language. Could it stand for monster? Does it translate into man? I am not entirely sure, though it does leave plenty for the mind to wonder about.  

Goe-man? Dorae-monster? Not particularly likely.  

That little exercise there, of considering the meaning of ‘mon’, is a little bit more brainpower than I used while watching the actual film itself. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, mind you, but I will advice you to somewhat leave your brain at the door, all the while clutching the popcorn in your hand that bit tighter. 

They go all out for Sushi Day.

‘Goemon’ tells the story of Goemon Ishikawa (Yosuke Eguchi), a man blessed with fantastic fighting skills. He is a hero to the poor, for he uses his skills a la Robin Hood to, shall we say, re-distribute the wealth of others in favour of the downtrodden. In truth, he is a ninja who gave up on his ninja-hood a long time ago, in favour of being as free as a bird. In time, he finds out about the true events leading to the death of his master, Nobunaga Oda (Hashinosuke Nakamura), who was killed at the hands of his most trusted lieutenant (called ‘vassal’ in the film), Hideyoshi Toyotomi (Eiji Okuda). Goemon also has in his possession a box that the Westerners call Pandora (no, not the ‘Avatar’ kind). It is this that another ninja, Kirigakure Saizo (Takao Osawa), is dispatched to reclaim. At the same time, he has Chacha (Ryoko Hirosue), a comely young niece of Nobunaga (aren’t they all comely, the Japanese girls), in his care, with the intention of making her his concubine.  

The story itself purports to be based on semi-true events, but I’d say it’s a fantasy mixed with plenty of martial arts action and sprinklings of legends here and there (Goemon Ishikawa, as it turns out, is a rather popular figure in Japanese legends). Throw in some Japanese civil war action, and you have a fantasy film bordering on the action and historical with reckless abandon. Is that a bad thing? I know for a fact that it is a fun thing. In fact, I may well stick my neck out, tempting the slash of a samurai sword to say that this may well be the most fun ninja film I’ve seen in a very long time. ‘Ninja Assassin’ was released last year with much fanfare, but in truth, though they had some good people behind it, ‘Goemon’ high kicks it with action that stretches the imagination.

The Japanese can be really romantic if they want to.

 And how! Every other scene here is laced with some sort of visual or CGI effect that, at times, it’s hard to tell how far from the studio lot the filmmakers strayed. One could argue that the heavy reliance on CGI is not always a good thing, for it becomes a crutch that limits. ‘Goemon’, however, is a very good example of what happens if you don’t limit yourself. Half of the things here are not doable in a real-life scenario, and so the CGI world becomes the playground that the director and writer, Kazuaki Kiriya, plays in. 

It is fast, though. At times, the actions are so fast that my eyes couldn’t quite follow the action. The fighters are all very proficient, and well-trained, and it becomes very, very…cool. Remember what you felt like when you watched ‘300’ for the first time? Remember the wow factor with all that slow-motion stuff? Well, I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level, mainly because ‘300’ went for a dramatic, theatrical ‘wow’ (think of the charging beast that fell at the warrior’s feet once he got speared in the eye). ‘Goemon’, on the other hand, seems to go more for a “Look at how far he jumped!” or a “That was so quick it’s mental!” kind of wow. Witness the first fight scene between Goemon and Saizo, as the action progresses from a back alley to a huge open field via a horseback fight through the forest and some structural damage along the way (no kidding). It’s just a pity that while the CGI quality matches that of ‘300’ at times, some of the scenes seems like they’d be more at home on a computer game. It’s nice, but not quite what you’d expect from a feature film. 

Hannibal Lector had an Asian brother.

That’s not to say that this film has only the green-screen work of its fighters to live on. I am quite impressed, for example, with the amount of work done for the costumes. Just like the CGI in the film, the film basically combined two elements with potentially limitless imagination: Japanese history and fantasy. The Japanese culture is a distinctive, one that is strongly reflected in their costumers that is rather recognisable almost everywhere. It can be very beautiful and imaginative. Fantasy also has a similar quality, and with the merging of these two genres, you could imagine (there’s that word again) the kind of wild imagery that we have on the screen. The colours are big, bold and beautiful, and it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the beauty.  

Not to dismiss the script totally, it can also be quite funny at times. Goemon, for example, tries hard to not talk about his past. It is not a subject he seems to be particularly proud of (though we do get flashbacks of it at timely intervals throughout the film), and it is reflected within the dialogue: “Master, you never talk about your history.” “I had my first time when I was 15.” “That’s not what I’m talking about!” Funny, right? Or perhaps it’s in the way you tell them. It has its moments of humour, and all the better for it.  

Ultimately, however, the script won’t be the one winning awards. For my part, I initially got a little lost between all the Ieyasus, Sasukes, Mitsunaris and what have you. It’s a similar problem that Fazil faced watching ‘Il Divo’, and it does take away a little bit of the enjoyment if you stop concentrating on the visuals and start to think “who?” It’s a part of the reason why I suggested leaving your brain at the door, but beyond that, this action-fantasy film is one of the more beautiful films that you’ll see, with beautiful costumes and non-CGI production designs (it may well score some awards come the Asian Film Awards). The sound design was quite nice (the zing of a sword being withdrawn, for example, is very distinct) while the composer probably slept with Steve Jablonsky ringing in his ears during the making ot the score.

With the blank canvas that is computer generated images, it’s easy to get out of control, but I think it’s managed well enough. Though some parts may not be to your liking (it is a little fast at times), it is a fun film well-realised by an imaginative filmmaker. 

A bit more work on the CGI wouldn’t be amiss, though. 

Fikri wants to go to sleep now…

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3 thoughts on “Eastern Imagination – Goemon

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