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Goemon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 12, 2011 by  



Unique and bold, visually exciting and action-packed… if you love ninja films, you owe it to yourself to watch this film.   “Goemon” is definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of ©2008 Goemon Film Partners. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Goemon

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2009

DURATION: 130 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9 Full Frame), Dolby TrueHD Japanese 6.1, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV 14

RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2011

Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya

Original Story Kazuaki Kiriya

Screenplay by Kazuaki Kirya and Tetsuro Takita

Producer: Takashige Ichise, Kazuaki Kiriya

Associate Producer: Yoshiya Nagasawa, Yuji Ueda

Music by Akihiko Matsumoto

Cinematography by Kazuaki Kiriya

Edited by Kazuaki Kiriya, Chisako Yokoyama

Casting by Masashi Yamaguchi

Production Design by Yuji Hayashida

Costume Design by Vaughan Alexander, Tina Kalivas

Starring:

Yosuke Eguchi as Goemon Ishikawa

Takao Ohsawa as Saizo Kirigakure

Ryoko Hirosue as Chacha Asai (Lady Chacha)

Jun Kaname as Mitsunari Ishida

Gori as Sasuke Sarutobi

Mikijiro Hira as Rikyu Sen

Masato Ibu as Ieyu Tokugawa

Tetsuji Tamayama as Matahachi

Hashinosuke Nakamura as Nobunaga Oda

Eiji Okuda as Hideyoshi Toyotomi

Choi Hong Man as Gao

Susume Terajima as Hanza Hattori

Eriko Sato as Courtesan Yoshino

Erika Toda as Courtesan Yukiri

Mayu Tsuruta as Koheita’s Mother

Ryo as Goemon’s Mother

Ema Fujisawa as Okichi

Mayumi Sada as Orin

Once a lethal ninja, Goemon put down his sword to master the art of robbing the nobility to share the stash with the less fortunate. On one such escapade, he swipes an artifact that, if opened, will unleash misfortune of a massive scale. Hunted by an infamous henchman and former ally, Goemon tears a torrential path to assassinate the king. With a conscience clouded by conspiracy, Goemon struggles to save his friends – and an entire nation – from the grips of poverty and corruption.

For many Japanese pop culture fans, filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya is known for his music videos for ex-wife Hikaru Utada, GLAY and other bands in Japan.  But for movie fans, especially in the West, Kiriya’s name will be linked to the visually exciting action film “Casshern” (2004).

And if Kiriya was to return, fans of his work would probably expect even more with today’s CG technology and sure enough, in 2007, work began for a ninja film known as “Goemon”.

And while those who are familiar with Japanese feudal history may know of Ishikawa Goemon as the legendary Japanese bandit who stole gold and valuables and gave them to the poor (the equivalent to Robin Hood of English folklore).  Goemon is also well known for being-boiled alive after failing to assassinate warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in a large iron kettle.

Needless to say, with Kiriya’s involvement, you sort of expect a new spin on the story of Goemon, as well as the feudal Japanese warlords and you get that in this film which featured 1,000 extras, 300 staff members and over 2,500 visual effects and similar to “Casshern”, Kiriya is able to capture a new world visually through visual effects on a budget.  In the case of “Goemon”, the film was created with a budget of $9 million and the film made $16 million in the Japanese box office.

Released in theaters in Japan back in 2009, “Goemon” finally receives its Blu-ray and DVD release in 2011 courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

The film begins with a ninja entering a compound owned by Akechi Mitsuhide, a general under daimyo Oda Nobunaga who was killed for betraying and killing Nobunaga.

The ninja steals all the treasure and also a mysterious box.  Meanwhile, the high-ranking samurai, Ishida Mitsunari (played by Jun Kaname) of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (played by Eiji Okuda) has arrived at the compound to confiscate all treasure belonging to Mitsuhide (played by Kazuaki Kirya).  But when they go to get the treasure, everything is gone and left in its place is the symbol left behind by the ninja, Ishikawa Goemon (played by Yosuke Eguchi).  Goemon then goes to a festival where a large crowd has assembled and throws all the money and treasure to them.  Meanwhile, he throws the mysterious box (which has nothing inside it) out to a young boy named Koheita (played by Arashi Fukasawa).

Now the forces of Hideyoshi are after Goemon and as for Ishida Mitsunari, he is looking for the mysterious box which Goemon took for some reason and has enlisted the ninja, Saizo Kirgakure (played by Takao Ohsawa) to capture the box and kill Goemon.

When Goemon gets together with Sasuke Sarutobi (played by Gori), Sasuke tells him that he is wanted, because of that mysterious box and that Saizo is now after him and requests for him to leave and so both of them can continue to have a good life and make money.  But Goemon realizes that he threw out that box to a small child and now that child may be in danger.

We see through flashbacks that Goemon was a child who’s family were savagely killed.  Right before his mother was killed, she sent him away with a caretaker and while they were running away, they ran into bandits who killed the caretaker and were going to kill the young Goemon.  But saving his life was Nobunaga Oda, a man who gave him a chance to live and also to become stronger.

Goemon manages to find the boy and the box but Saizo is on to them.  While Saizo has his chance to kill Goemon and take the box, a mysterious person comes out of nowhere to save Goemon’s life.  But while Saizo could have easily killed Goemon, he is spared for some reason.

Meanwhile, Goemon, Sasuke and young Koheita try to figure out the significance of the box and while messing around with it, Goemon and Sasuke have found a map.  As the two go on to search for this location, which may be treasure, they manage to find a scroll and when they open it, Sasuke feels he knows what this may mean…but isn’t quite sure what it is.  Meanwhile, the mysterious being that saved Goemon has showed up and wants the scroll.  Goemon allows the man, who happens to be the legendary ninja Hattori Hanzo, the head of Oda Nobunaga’s ninja squad to keep it.

During the night, as Sasuke tries to remember where he saw the symbols on the scroll came from, Goemon is gone missing.  Immediately Sasuke remembers what the symbols are for, as do Hattori Hanzo and Tokugawa Ieyasu (played by Masato Ibu) and that the map is proof that the current warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide planned the assassination of Oda Nobunaga together.

We then see Goemon at the castle of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and we learn that he knows what the scroll meant and that he knows who is responsible for Oda Nobunaga’s death… it was Hideyoshi and now he deserves to die.  Goemon assassinates Hideyoshi and while running, he ends up in a room where a woman is alone.  The woman is Lady Chacha (played by Ryoko Hirosue), who seems to know Goemon but before they can talk, someone comes in to the room and Goemon manages to hide just in time.

We find out that Hideyoshi is not dead and the man that did die was his double.  Goemon is shocked that his assassination attempt on Hideyoshi has failed and to make things worse, his bodyguard has detected him.  We see Goemon being beaten and then falling hundreds of feet to the water but out of nowhere, someone rescues him before he can drown.

The man is the ninja who was sent to kill Goemon, Saizo Kirigakure.

We learn from a flashback that when Goemon was taken in by Oda Nobunaga to become a ninja, he was trained alongside another child, Saizo.  Both Goemon and Saizo were trained from a young age to their teenage years by Hattori Hanzo and for Goemon, his main job was to protect a young Princess ChaCha from harm.

Because Goemon had to protect ChaCha, both are similar.  Both have lost their parents and both have not many friends and now both feel lonely.   But because they have each other and they are constantly at each others side, both decide to become friends.

And as he protected ChaCha from harm and protected her, Goemon made the decision to leave and flee in order to become a free man while Saizo would continue to work for Nobunaga and then later Hideyoshi.  While Goemon has become a thief, helping the poor, Saizo has a wife and a newborn child and as a ninja reporting to Lord Ishida Mitsunari, he hopes that he can be elevated in rank to become a samurai.

But the political process would soon catch up on these two ninjas as Ishida requests Saizo to assassinate the warlord Hideyoshi.  Meanwhile, Princess ChaCha who has found out about Hideyoshi’s treachery against Nobunaga, will marry Hideyoshi with the true purpose to assassinate him.  Meanwhile, Goemon who cares for ChaCha does not want her to endanger herself, so he plans to assassinate Hideyoshi as well.

But with the evil warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi being so powerful with his strong army and bodyguards, will any of three be able to accomplish their goal of assassinating him?

VIDEO:

“Goemon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  Similar to films like “300” and the most recent “Tron: Legacy”, nearly everything surrounding background was shot with a green screen, so this enabled animators to work their magic and the visual effects crew to give that vibrant look to the film.  Similar to “Casshern”, there are no punches pulled when it comes to the look of “Goemon”.  Some may feel it has a video game quality because everything looks quite lavish and fantastic.

This is a very loosely-based storyline and although the characters are from feudal Japan, in this film, the building look as if they came from a “Final Fantasy” video game.  The overall look of the film is vibrant and spectacular.  Detail is impressive and the CGI is quite impressive considering this film was shot for $9 million.  So, for all it’s worth, once again, Kazuaki Kiriya has given his fans another visually entertaining film with a strong nod to traditional Japanese culture but also fusing it with a modern, fantasy take as well.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Goemon” is presented in Dolby TrueHD Japanese 5.1 and English 5.1.  I do not watch Asian cinema in English dubs but I did listen to it a little bit and for those who prefer to watch it with English dubs, because FUNimation Entertainment is one of the most well-known companies for hiring quality voice talent, I don’t think anyone has to worry so much about the English dubbing at all.  But for the Japanese lossless soundtrack, what I preerred to listen to, the acting is wonderful and the use of surround and rear-surround audio is quite exciting.  There is a lot of action in this film, especially towards the final half of the film and one can expect to hear arrows in the air, concrete being smashed and destroyed and yes, even machine guns being fired on the ninjas. One would hope for LFE but I didn’t notice it all that much. But still, the lossless soundtrack is very well-done for this film!

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Goemon” comes with the following special features:

  • Making of Goemon – (36:12) The making of Goemon, the use of green screen, interviews with the crew and talent and a good behind-the-scenes look from the making of “Goemon” from beginning to end.
  • Making of Goemon Kiriya World – (18:18) The digital and visual effects of “Goemon”, how they were created and Kiriya’s goal of creating a new world and also how planning with storyboards was important.
  • Original Teaser – (:35) Teaser trailer for “Goemon”
  • Original Trailer – (2:18) Original theatrical trailer for “Goemon”

EXTRAS:

“Goemon” comes with a slip cover case.

This is probably the best ninja film that I have seen in a long time!

I mean it.  I’ve watched so many shinobi-related films and the first thing I expected with “Goemon” because Kazuaki Kiriya was directed the film was a lavish, vibrant world of fantasy and because of that, we are going to get a presentation that is more closer to what we have seen in video games like “Onimusha” and “Final Fantasy” where you get this fantasy world and not necessarily trying to follow the true storyline of the warlords, the civil war or its characters.

And the truth is, if you have followed Japanese pop culture, the story of Japan’s civil war, its warlords, its samurai, its ninjas have constantly had stories that were recreated for anime, manga, video game, TV and film for a very long time.  And for ninja-related themes, they have been made fantasy to supernatural type series and it’s something that Japan is known for.

Here in the West, rarely do you see this happen.  If you’re going to have storyline on the Wild West, the Civil War, you will have a loosely-based storyline that tries to maintain a sense of authenticity but in Japan, you’re going to have so many storylines on Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu and these individuals will be seen as hardcore evil characters with supernatural abilities to honorable people who ruled Japan with an iron fist.

And the reason why I bring this up is because I know many friends who have watched this film and tell me how it’s like a video game.  A lot of CG effects and crazy ninja abilities.  And the fact is, it’s true.  The look and feel of “Goemon” is something that is reminiscent of a “Final Fantasy” game, while some of its characters are reminiscent of what one would see from an “Onimusha” video game.  The characters are very cool looking, the look and feel is very dark in nature but yet you have this use of lighting from ambers to red bursting in colors throughout the film and then the moonlight blues and blacks as Goemon and Lady ChaCha watch the fireflies.

So, the look and feel of “Goemon” was beautiful to look at. Granted, some parts of the film and the use of the green screen may not achieve that perfect sense of realism but it’s OK, it works for “Goemon” and for the majority of the film, just watching “Goemon” felt like a visual treat!

As for the acting, this is where I felt quite excited about watching this film.  Yosuke Eguchi is one of my favorite actors from the 1990’s.  A pop star and a guy who has been featured in many dramas and films in Japan, usually playing the laid back brother or doctor, I never would have expected to see him in a action role like “Goemon” and he played Goemon wonderfully.  And the same goes for actor Takao Osawa, who played the character of Saizo.  Similar to Eguchi, he has been on many Japanese dramas and film and while he has played the mysterious guy in quite a few films, he also did a wonderful job playing Saizo the ninja and his character and what happens to him is quite memorable as well.

And of course, you have talents such as comedian Gori as Sasuke, singer and actress Ryoko Hirosue as Lady ChaCha, actor Masato Ibu as Tokugawa Ieyasu, needless to say this is a film that has a good amount of star talent.

It’s important to note that if you are a Japanese history scholar and are expecting to see the characters as they were in history, it’s not going to happen in this film.  In “Goemon”, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan’s second “Great Unifier” and well-respected daimyo is portrayed as the vile villain who was complicit in the murder of Oda Nobunaga.  But considering how Japanese feudal history has been loosely adapted, twisted and played for Japanese entertainment, I don’t think anyone is going to look for “Goemon” to be historically accurate.

As for the Blu-ray, the picture quality is awesome and while the lossless audio track doesn’t give us a significant punch via LFE, the 6.1 soundtrack does give us good utilization of the surround and rear-surround channels and making the film quite immersive during those action sequences.  One would hoped for more special features but you do get the same special features as its Japanese Blu-ray counterpart (note: In Japan, an ultimate Blu-ray boxset was released with even more special features but unfortunately, no English subtitles are available for that release).

In the end, “Goemon” proved to be a fascinating and exciting ninja film with a lot of action, starring an all-star cast from Japan, an ambitious and creative director who is known for giving us films with a visual flair and in the end, you get a very much different ninja film that most people are not used to seeing in a movie.

Unique and bold, visually exciting and action-packed… if you love ninja films, you owe it to yourself to watch this film.   “Goemon” is definitely recommended!






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