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Tajomaru Avenging Blade: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 27, 2011 by  



From the director of “Samurai Fiction” comes this stylized, feudal Japan era, action film featuring popular young star Shun Oguri.   While not the best film of its genre, “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is a decent and entertaining popcorn swordfighting action film that is entertaining.

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Images courtesy of © 2009 Tajomaru Film Committee. Licensed by FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Tajomaru Avenging Blade: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2010

DURATION: 132 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9 HD Native), DolbyTrue HD Japanese 5.1 and DolbyTrueHD English 5.1, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV MA

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2011

Directed by Hiroyuki Nakano

Based on the Short Story “Yabu no Naka” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Screenplay by Shinichi Ichikawa, Mataichiro Yamamoto

Produced by Mataichiro Yamamoto

Co-Producer: Hidemi Satani

Associate Producer: Eugene Nomura, Toshiie Tomida

Line Producer: Toshihiro Osato

Music by Naoki Otsubo

Cinematography by Takumi Furuya

Edited by Shuichi Kakesu

Production Design by Yuji Hayashida

Costume Design by Kazuhiro Sawataishi

Starring:

Shun Oguri as Naomitsu Hatakeyama

Yuki Shibamoto as Ako

Kei Tanaka as Sakuramaru

Kyosuke Yabe as Michikane

Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as Nobutsuna Hatakeyama

Hirotaro Honda as Hidetaka Kuriyama

Hiroki Matsukata as Tajomaru

Masaomi Kondo as Kagetoki

Ken’ichi Hagiwara as Ashikaga Yoshimasa

In the days of feudal Japan bandits ruled the forests. Tajomaru was the king of criminals: his ruthless character terrorized villagers and royalty across the country. As the legend went, whoever killed the infamous thief inherited his name, his sword and his reputation…

Naomitsu is a nobleman forced to flee the capital by conspirators embroiled in jealousy. In a desperate struggle with the nefarious Tajomaru, Naomitsu loses the love of his life, Ako, but gains a new title and the coveted blade, The Cutting Wave. As he wages war on his betrayers in furious battles – and even braves the depths of the Pit of Hell – bodies will fall and vengeance will be served by the great bandit king.

In 2010,  Japanese movie goers had the opportunity to experience “Tajomaru Avenging Blade”, the latest film for “Samurai Fiction” director Hiroyuki Nakano.

“Tajomaru” is a film adaptation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s novel “Yabu no Naka” and would star actor Shun Oguri (“Tokyo Dogs, “Azumi”, “Stand Up!!”, “Hana Yori no Dango”), Yuki Shibamoto (“Furin Kazan”, A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), Kei Tanaka (“Soredemo, Ikite Yuku”, “Hot Man”, “Waterboys”), Hirouki Ikeuchi (“GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka”, “Beautiful Life”) and Ken’ichi Hagiwara (“Fighting Girl”, “Love Letter”, “The Wanderers”).

In Japan, actor Kenichi Hagiwara won an award for “Special Jury Award Best Actor” for the Japanese Film Critics Award and the theme song “Pray” by the rock band B’z was on top of the music charts.

The film revolves around two brothers of nobility, Naomitsu Hatekeyama (played by Shun Oguri) and Nobotsuna Hatekyama (played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi).  As children, the two would spar with each other and have fun, while hanging out with Princess Ako (played by Yuki Shibamoto).

Long ago, when they were children, they encountered a young boy named Sakuramaru who was a thief.  But being a kind-hearted person, Naomitsu allowed Sakuramaru to become part of their family.

And eventually growing up, Sakuramaru (played by Kei Tanaka) grew up wanting to become a retainer for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who eventually takes in Sakuramaru.

But growing up, as the death of Ako’s father, one of the boys is supposed to marry Princess Ako and also inherit the family gold.  Naomitsu and Ako have always been in love since they were young, so it is thought that the two would get married.  When older Nobotsuna feels that he needs to step in and become the family leader, this concerns Naomitsu because he loves Ako.  He doesn’t care if his brother takes the gold, all Naomitsu wants is to be with his one and only love.

While Ako is grieving, Naomitsu goes to meet with Ako in hopes that she can tell him where the gold is and hopes to give it to his brother while finding a way for him to keep Ako, but Sakuramaru tells a different story to Nobotsuna.  Sakuramaru tells the elder brother that Naomitsu is scheming to get Ako and the money, this angers Nobotsuna.

Nobotsuna suddenly goes to Ako with anger and rapes her.  With Nobotsuna angered at his younger brother, he sends his men after him and in the process, Naomitsu and Ako flee their home.

Meanwhile, Sakuramaru uses the opportunity to kill the guardian of Naomitsu and Nobotsuna’s and his men and then afterward killing Nobotsuna.

Sakuramaru has now taken Naomitsu’s name and leads the Hakeyama family and now he has the power but now what he needs is the money and his goal is to find Ako and find out where the gold from her family is located.

As Naomitsu and Ako continue fleeing far from their home, both are approached by the legendary and feared warrior Tajomaru (played by Hiroki Matsukata).  Despite Tajomaru being an older man, Naomitsu is nowhere the same level in swordfighting skills and is knocked out and lays unconscious after their fight.

We then see Tajomaru going after Ako but she is unable to fight against him and he throws her to the ground and looks as if he will be raping her.  When Naomitsu awakens, he is tied up and sees a crying Ako begging to Tajomaru not to kill her and that she will go with him anywhere if he doesn’t do anything to her.  She then tells tells Tajomaru to kill Naomitsu.  Naomitsu thinks that she has been raped and that is the reason she would say such a thing and that she is just upset because he was unable to defend her.

When Tajomaru goes to kill Naomitsu, she runs away and flees.  He then frees Naomitsu, who is shocked of what has taken place and upset for raping Ako, Naomitsu finds a knife and stabs Tajomaru several times and kills him.

Before he dies, Tajomaru tells Naomitsu that the legend of Tajomaru must continue and gives him his sword and tells him that from now on, he will be known as Tajomaru.

And as for Tajomaru, he joins a group of thieves and becomes a good moral leader for them.  But once word gets to Naomitsu that his brother has been killed and someone using his name has assumed leadership, Naomitsu returns to his village and to his surprise he finds out that Sakuramaru is now using his name and that living with him is Princess Ako.

VIDEO:

“Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9) and the film is full of colors and fine detail.  Especially with the costume and set design which really sets the look and feel of the series.  The picture quality features a warmer look and there is a hint of softness at times but for the most part, this film looks beautiful in HD.

Also, one can easily compare the accompanying DVD to the Blu-ray and see how the colors are much more sharper and costume design is much more detailed on Blu-ray compared to the DVD release.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is presented in Japanese with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Mix and and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and subtitles are in English.

I am one who will never watch an Asian film with an English dub. The Japanese lossless soundtrack is well-acted but I did watch the English dub and as FUNimation Entertainment is known for casting the best English voice talent, it’s quite subjective to the viewer but I feel that fans who prefer English dubbing will enjoy it.

Both have similar mixes and the film is primarily center and front-channel driven. I did notice the use of crowd ambiance during the film and the action sequences are well-utilized for the surround channels.

If anything, the only thing that didn’t work for me is watching a movie that is based in feudal Japan and then hearing JET’s “Sgt. Major” playing in the background.  But it was cool to see B’z’s “Pray” used as the ending credits theme song.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Tajomaru Avenging Blade” comes with the following special features:

  • Making of Tajomaru – (17:07) Featuring the making of “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” and how various scenes were shot.

EXTRAS:

“Tajomaru Avenging Blade” comes with a DVD presented in 16:9, Japanese and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround.

A fun, modernized feudal Japan swordfighting film, “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” may not be the best film of its genre but for a new generation of moviegoers who wants to see a younger cast (courtesy of popular actor Shun Oguri and Kei Tanaka and actress Yuki Shibamoto) and a stylized modern feel (courtesy of the music by Japanese rock band B’z and Australian rock band JET), then this movie is for you!

I know plenty of Japanese drama fans who simply love Shun Oguri and while he typically is featured in roles of playing the lover not the fighter, in the case of “Tajomaru Avenging Blade”, he plays both as the character Naomitsu Hatakeyama.

While the Hatakeyama family and Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa do have a place in Japanese history, the story of “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is not a fictional story.   The best part of “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is its look and feel.  The costume design and set design are well-done and capture traditional Japan quite well, but when you move past that, I felt the film had some shortcomings in terms of plot.

The “thief and always a thief” storyline doesn’t quite cut it for me.  The character Sakuramaru as the antagonist is one thing but it makes you wonder why he became this vile character.  We don’t really know what made Sakuramaru become so evil, especially when he was taken care of by the Hatakeyama family.  We are alluded that he was used by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa but to what extent and why, we don’t know.  Also, with the Hatakeyama brothers being excellent, well-trained swordfighters, how Sakuramaru would become better than possibly even the skilled Naomitsu, also didn’t cut it for me.

But to add the big “question mark” is seeing Naomitsu turned Tajomaru hanging out with the thieves and then hearing JET’s “Sgt. Major” playing in the background followed by a rap song by the thieves.  I know that possibly filmmaker Hiroyuki Nakano was trying to make this film accessible for the younger generation, especially those who came out to watch Shun Oguri but it’s one thing to hear JET but to hear a rap song celebration, that was to kitschy for me.

But I do like the twists and turns that takes place in “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” but I feel that there were some plot elements that needed to be ironed out and aside from modernizing a movie for a younger generation, I suppose it’s all subjective to the viewer but modern music in a film set in the far distant past of feudal Japan, it didn’t work for me.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” does feature a solid lossless soundtrack.  Not very immersive but for this type of film, the soundtrack works well especially how it incorporates the ambiance of the film.  Picture quality is also very good as the colorful costumes really look beautiful and the detail on Blu-ray is fantastic.  There is only one special feature included and it’s only the “making of”.

Overall, “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” works great as a popcorn action film.  As long as no one is expecting anything deep along the lines of an Akira Kurosawa-type plot or the best in swordfighting choreography, then you should be fine.  If anything, “Tajomaru Avenging Blade” is a nice diversion from the heavier and deeper feudal Japan storyline, it’s not a great film but I was entertained by it.

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