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Kamui Gaiden (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 13, 2011 by  



An exciting, action-packed yet sad and tragic ninja film.  Ken’ichi Matsuyama (“Death Note” films) does a great job playing the wanted ninja who has escaped from his clan and a good number of characters who definitely compliment the lone ninja.  If you have familiarity with anime, manga and video games with a  ninja storyline, “Kamui Gaiden” will definitely entertain you!

Images courtesy of © 2009 Kamui Film Partners . All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Kamui Gaiden

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2009

DURATION: 120 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition 16×9 HD Native, Dolby TrueHD Japanese 6.1, Dolby TrueHD English 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: December 28, 2011

Based on the comic by Sampei Shirato

Directed by Yoichi Sai

Screenplay by Kankuro Kudo, Yoichi Sai

Produced by Akira Morishige, Yui Tamae

Executive Producer: Nozomu Enoiki, Naoya Kinoshita

Music by Taro Iwashiro

Cinematography by Tomoo Ezaki, Junichi Fujisawa

Edited by Isao Kawase

Production Design by Tsutomu Imamura

Starring:

Ken’ichi Matsuyama as Kamui

Koyuki as Sugaru

Kaoru Kobayashi as Hanbei

Koichi Sato as Gumbei

Hideaki Ito as Fudo

Sei Ashina as Mikumo

Ekin Cheng as Dumok

Yuta Kanai as Yoshito

Suzuka Ohgo as Sayaka

Panta as Eshi

Anna Tsuchiya as Ayu

Tsutomu Yamazaki as Narrator

Cruelly shunned by his people as a child, Kamui trusts no one. Now a solitary warrior, he wanders Japan, using lethal skill and instinct to evade countless violent attacks from the ninja clan he left behind. A turn of luck introduces 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.


Considered a manga classic, “Kamui Den” (The Legend of Kamui) is a manga by mangaka Sanpei Shirato and was published in the monthly gekiga (dramatic pictures) magazine “Garo” from 1964 through 1971.  And would inspire several spinoffs such as “Kamui Gaiden” (1965-1967) and “Kamuiden Dai 2 Bu” (1982-1986) and would inspire anime TV series “Kamui the Ninja” (1969).

During the late ’80s, American comic book collectors had their taste of “The Legend of Kamui” as it was one of the first manga printed in comic-book format in English by Viz Comics.

In 2009, the spinoff “Kamui Gaiden” received a live film adaptation which was directed by Yoichi Sai (“Quill”, “Art of Revenge”, “Blood and Bones”) and co-written with Kankuro Kudo (“No More Cry”, “Zebraman” and “Ping Pong”).

The story of “Kamui Gaiden” continues the adventures of a ninja named Kamui.  Long ago, he was a lone child who was taken and raised as a ninja.  When he was a young teen, he was taken on a mission to kill a female ninja named Sugaru (played by Koyuki, “The Last Samurai”, “Blood the Last Vampire”).  Sugaru battled Kamui’s master and in the end, Sugaru was fell over a cliff and was thought dead.

His masters words were that anyone who plans on leaving their ninja clan will be pursued wherever he went as he would be considered a traitor.  Also, to try to keep their secrets within their clan, that traitor must be killed.

Fast forward years later and Kamui is now an adult.  We see Kamui (played by Ken’ichi Matsuyama, “Death Note” films) and several other ninja who have escaped the tribe and are being pursued.  Kamui manages to use his special ninja techniques to defeat his pursuers but his friends weren’t so lucky.

As he continues to run and escape, the lord of the area is out hunting with his men.  While one of the servants for the lord is taking care of a horse, a man named Hanbei (played by Kaoru Kobayashi) comes out of nowhere and cuts off the horse’s leg/foot and runs off with it.  The lord and his men now what to punish the man who did such an act and intrigued by the fearlessness (and carelessness) of Hanbei, Kamui goes to help him and to make a mockery of the lord’s men.

The two escape by boat and are off in the ocean where a violent storm has come.  Next thing you know Hanbei pushes Kamui off the boat and we see what looks like Kamui drowning in the ocean.

We see Kamui now waking up in a land and the villagers trying to rescue him.  Apparently, the rescuers on the land are Hanbei and his family.  We also learn that he has married Sugaru (the escaped ninja).

We also learn the reason why Hanbei had cut off the foot of the horse that belonged to the lord and that is because it’s hoof can be used as bait to catch more fish.  And sure enough, both Hanbei and Kamui grow closer as Hanbei shows him how to fish and his lucky bait made from the hoof can lead to them catching enough fish for the entire village.  But most of all, a friendship is developing between the two.

Kamui ends up getting closer to Hanbei’s family and feels that he has started a new life without any ninja pursuers after him.  Hanbei’s teenage daughter Sayaka (played by Suzuka Ohgo) has fallen for him, his two children love Kamui being there and Hanbei knows that wherever Kamui came from, that is where his wife Sugaru came from (as they smell the same).  But he feels that he can trust Kamui with his life.  He asks for Kamui to please not reveal Sugaru’s presence.

As for Sugaru, she wants nothing but to kill Kamui as she is paranoid that his presence in the village is to impersonate a villager in order for him to pursue and kill her.

Will Kamui be able to convince Sugaru that he’s not after her.  And what will happen to Hanbei, when one of their own villagers, a teen named Yoshito (played by Yuta Kanai) who is jealous of the attention Sayaka is giving Kamui, notices a wanted poster for Hanbei’s capture (for the death of the lord’s horse) and rats on him?

VIDEO:

“Kamui Gaiden” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  First the good news.  The good news is that one will be able to see clear details of rocks, trees, the ground, leaves, blue water and sky. There are scenes that look absolutely fantastic.  You can see the grain of the wood, you can see the details of the cloth in the clothes of people.  There are scenes with wonderful detail.

But…It appears that Yoichi Sai and cinematographers Tomoo Ezaki and Junichi Fujisawa wanted to create different moods with the different villages featured.  When referring to Kamui’s past, there is a use of blacks and darker grays.  When featuring Kamui on the run, there is more use of earth-tones and when they are in the seaside village, a brightness that makes the oceans blue waters come alive.

There is definitely nothing wrong with showcasing different colors of setting moods but there is a bit of inconsistency with the overall pallet that some viewers may feel its a bit too overused.  Also, some may notice a bit of softening on different parts of the film.  Not DNR softening but more like it was intended.  Also, some scenes may look a bit dark at times.

I didn’t notice any digital artifacting and overall, the film does showcase strong contrasting, black levels are nice and deep and also use of grain.  Overall, PQ is very good but you do notice much more of the details during the second half more than the first half of the film due to the shift of colors to a more vibrant location.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Kamui Gaiden” is presented in Dolby TrueHD Japanese 6.1 and DolbyTrue HD English 5.1.

I preferred to watch this film via its original Japanese soundtrack and the good news is that from the center and front channels, dialogue is absolutely crystal clear.  But for those expecting an active soundscape, “Kamui Gaiden” has its moments during its action sequences at the beginning film and at the end of the film but in between, it’s a film that is primarily dialogue-driven with crowd ambiance and little surround channel usage.

Some scenes do show of good surround sound usage such as a scene where Sugaru throws her metal coins towards the peasants or when the sharks start jumping from the ocean. You can hear the surround and rear surround channels being utilized.  It would have been nice to have LFE employed and feel the booms but for the most part, you get a good amount of ambiance from the surround channels.

While there are plenty of action scenes, many do take place during the opening sequence and the ending sequence and very few in between.  So, it’s not a active soundtrack but you do get crystal clear sound through the front and center channels.

As for the English dub, I’m not really into dubs for Asian films but I did watch several scenes with the English dub and while some fit certain characters, the English dub sounded a bit too modern-ish.  Especially for the family scenes, it was like listening to a normal family during the modern times, especially when Sayaka and her sibling speak.  The voice actor for Kamui and Hanbei were good though.  I’m sure it will work for some viewers but it didn’t work for me at all.

But I will say that for those who are used to English dubs while watching Asian films should know already that FUNimation Entertainment are one of the best when it comes to English dubs.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Kamui Gaiden” comes with the following special features in 480i Standard Definition, Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 with English subtitles:

  • Behind the Scenes – (12:34) Featuring the training that Ken’ichi Matsuyama had to go through before the film in order to prepare for his role as Kamui.
  • Making of – (32:35) Featuring the making of “Kamui Gaiden” back in 2008 and the challenges which took place, especially when Ken’ichi Matsuyama was injured and production had to stop.  So, we get to see the stress that crew faced at times and also when filming resumed.
  • Coming Soon – Featuring trailers for upcoming and currently released FUNimation Entertainment movies.

I’m going to come out and say it…I really enjoyed “Kamui Gaiden”.

When it comes to Japanese films, especially those that deal with supernatural type of storylines, even with ninja-based films with swordfighting, wire-work and action sequences, there are those who will compare them to Chinese and Korean cinema.

I’ve learned long ago with trendy Japanese films, especially if you grew up watching anime or reading manga, the Japanese have a way of storytelling that takes a lot of what is part of Japanese pop culture and fuse it into a modern live action-film.  The humor, the action, the special attributes of a warrior… if it can happen in an anime or manga series or a video game, expect a live-movie adaptation from a manga/anime to include those unique abilities.

And I know for some reviewers who have watched Asian cinema, they wonder why this happens so much with Japanese film.  Especially when that reviewer is so into Japanese cinema from Kurosawa, Naruse, Teshigahara, Ozu, etc.

But those post-war films of before, a lot has changed with Japanese films and there are those that can be considered as cinema and those that are trendy Japanese films.  “Kamui Gaiden” is the latter.

These are films where you are going to find popular young actors such as Ken’ichi Matsuyama (known to many for his role as “L” in the “Death Note” films) and it helps when you have a well-recognized actress such as Koyuki (known in the west for her role in “The Last Samurai”) together in a film.  Especially seeing pop/rock star Anna Tsuchiya and other talents that many Japanese are used to seeing in trendy Japanese dramas and films.

And having covered “trendy” Japanese films and dramas for over 20-years, I’ve been able to watch these films and not expect anything deep but to sit back and say “wow me!”.  Become better than the typical popcorn action flick with the usual banality that one would expect.

I’ve read those who watched the film and wonder why Japanese films tend to evoke these supernatural style of sword fighting.  Why isn’t it like a Chinese or Korean where warriors fight in battles that seem possible?

And my answer to that is, it’s based from a popular manga, which inspired spin-offs and an anime series and for those who have watched a ninja anime series, ninjas are not just seen as warriors of the night.  They tend to be given supernatural abilities and thus, we see a character like Kamui being able to pull off his special moves.  Moves that seem possible in a video game, anime series or manga and we see it in a live-action film.

I read one review who questioned Kamui’s double sword attack in which he creates two images of himself.  And the reviewer was criticizing of how stupid that move was for a sword fight?  Once again, this is not a Kurosawa film.  These stories are not going after realism.  When you look at Japanese storylines even for sports-based anime or manga series such as “Tennis no Ojisama” (Prince of Tennis) or “Eyeshield 21”, these athletes are gifted with special abilities.  And this is no different with samurai or ninja inspired manga series such as “Kamui Gaiden”.

And as mentioned before, since this is a film adaptation from a manga, you’re going to see some of these special abilities on a film but also getting to see how Japanese films have progressed in action films that require wire work and CG special effects ala blue screen.

What I enjoyed about about “Kamui Gaiden” is the storyline of the protagonist (Kamui) wanting to live a normal life away from his ninja clan and this clan will do anything to stop him and prevent anyone knowing their secrets.  And these ninja are not the nicest ninja out there.  These are vile people who have their own way of serving out justice and will do anything terrible to get their point across.

The film makes you believe that Kamui is a man that has a chance at redemption but as the film utilizes that time to show that hint of happiness that he has yearned for, the writers find a way to destroy any feeling of happiness that the viewer was expecting by the final 15-minutes at the end of the film and just showing us how Kamui’s life will always be a man who will continually be hunted.

Ken’ichi Matsuyama is able to break out of his “L” character that he will forever be known for and take on this character in which he had to be quite convincing and it helps that he underwent a lot of training preparation for this film.  There are very good action sequences but what does hurt the film at times is the use of CG via blue screen and combining it with the realistic scenes.

While in the manga, it shows Kamui along with Hanbei’s family riding a boat to the ocean and then being attacked by huge killer sharks, the problem is that these sharks are just enormous and jump high in the air to terrorize them.  Unfortunately, we have been spoiled with James Cameron’s “Avatar” to see how good CG and realistic scenes are combined but somehow for Japanese films, even today, it’s still hit or miss.

The wirework of course has been a staple of Hong Kong and Chinese action films and it takes a lot of trial and error with even stunt people getting terribly hurt to get the scenes right, but that’s why there are professionals that are hired from Hong Kong to work on American and European films but the wirework for “Kamui Gaiden” doesn’t look as smooth and looks as if they are gliding from a wire.

But these shortcomings are few, the focus is on the story.  Koyuki plays a more convincing role as the mother and former ninja, Kaoru Kobayashi also does a great job playing the husband/father Hanbei.  There is also an appearance by Hideaki Ito who plays Fudo, a ninja also on the run and plays a pivotal role in the final half of the movie.

The film also features short appearances by Hong Kong star Ekin Cheng as Dumok (a ninja who tries to stop Sugaru early in the film) and Anna Tsuchiya as Ayu, the lord’s wife who is always laughing at his grotesque fetishes or violent tendencies.

But what the film does have is a lot of heart.  Yes, and I mean that in a good way for a ninja, action film because Kamui is literally displaced and just wants to free himself of any pursuers.  His new family has embraced him (well, with the exception of Sugaru) especially with the eldest teen daughter Sayaka (played by Suzuka Ohgo), your average teenage girl with her first major crush.

And Kamui cares for this family, so it just drives a stake through your heart as you see these relationships build and see them destroyed by a callous act that no one sees coming.

Sure, this is not a Sho Kosugi ninja style film or anything like “Super Ninjas” that many of us grew up watching during the ’80s.  And no, we aren’t going to see ninja stars or heads being impaled or samurai’s sneaking in for assassinations.  This is all about one man’s goal for freedom and to escape and survive from his old clan who wants him dead.  Will Kamui ever find this new life?

Overall, “Kamui Gaiden” is an exciting, action-packed yet sad and tragic ninja film.  Ken’ichi Matsuyama (“Death Note” films) does a great job playing the wanted ninja who has escaped from his clan and a good number of characters who definitely compliment the lone ninja.  If you have familiarity with anime, manga and video games with a  ninja storyline, “Kamui Gaiden” will definitely entertain you!






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