Raise the Castle! is a Japanese, low budget, comedic fantasy digital short. Directed by newcomer Yo Kohatsu- I assume he's a newcomer because I couldn't find any filmography on him- it is a tale of respect for tradition and infectious eccentric dreams, a good compliment to the likes of Don Quixote, The Fisher King or even Fitzcarraldo. It's a sweet film with a real soft spot for nostalgia and a flair for comedy that sometimes goes a bit over the top.
The small town of Masuao is holding its annual festival. Resident history expert Professor O-iwate is giving a yawner of a speech to the bored townspeople and local officials, espousing his theories on the legend of the town once supposedly having a castle. Part of the legend involves a nearby, off limits cave where the spirits of three samurai are held in limbo awaiting the day that the castle is rebuilt. Mayor Kobaba's geeky assistant stumbles into the cave where he is scared by two layabouts- I'm unsure of they are supposed to be homeless, stoners, or just two loser campers- and the three men emerge from the cave possessed by the samurai trio's spirits.
Ishizaki is possessed by the lead samurai, Onadaiji Hayatonesoke. Onadaiji's centuries old mission is to build a holy castle/shrine in Masurao. Prof. O-iwate welcomes the odd supernatural occurrence because it backs up all of his never proven theories, and he gladly becomes Onadaiji's chef retainer. The short doesn't quite make it clear how much the townspeople originally believe it to be an act, but they buy into the mission and begin to pitch in with the construction of a castle in the middle of a public park. When the two layabouts are de-possessed, they stupidly instruct the villagers to make the castle out of cardboard. Of course, the materials don't matter because it is ultimately about what the castle symbolizes. The mayor is against the entire endeavor because it goes against so many construction ordinances, but he fears his opposition will tarnish his image, so he sets about planning shenanigans to bring the castle down.
Raise the Castle is clever, full of whimsy, and populated by colorful characters. The films main drawback is its length. It's a short film, fifty-nine minutes long, and I felt there was room for more story, certainly enough to expand it into feature film length. It hits the ground running. The main cast is all quickly introduced with a flash of text info about their characters, and it almost feels like an afterthought, something done because the script didn't define them and their roles well enough. From O-iwate's academic lack of respect and his love of history and the mayor's zany pandering and devoted cabinet members, the entire cast could be fleshed out a bit more. Likewise, just a few minutes of shots establishing the town, getting a fell for its intimacy and tight knit residents, would have made the film all the more endearing.
The DVD: Cinema Epoch.
Picture: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. It is a basic digital video flick, not high grade, high definition digital video. As such, the image is okay but nothing spectacular. Standard video problems exist like a lack depth and definition. There is some noticeable noise and slight artifacts which, again, I think can be chalked up to the low grade source rather than a transfer error.
Sound: Japanese 2.0 Stereo with default English subtitles. A pretty basic track. More than acceptable considering the source and nature of the production. The subs are fine but do not translate a few moments of onscreen text.
Extras: Trailer. --- Image Galleries. --- Featurettes: Making Of (14:42), Digital Magic (5:42), and Rehearsals (4:00). --- Interview with Director Yo Kohatsu (3:22).
A nice round of extras. All of the featurettes are informative and offer a nice behind the scenes look, including director narration guiding you along and offering many anecdotes. The director interview is brief and nothing more than a few soundbites, but the setting and purposeful comedic propwork makes it worth a chuckle.
Conclusion: Raise The Castle! is a charming little film. The key word there is "little." Despite a nice round of extras on the DVD, it is a lightweight piece of entertainment. I'd say it would make for a great rental if you are in the mood for a good humored, innocuous, foreign fantasy.