Goemon is the latest live-action release from FUNimation, the leading anime licensor in the US. With flashy special effects the film promises to endear itself largely to that demographic, but does it have staying power with more mainstream audiences? This is the latest effort from Casshern director Kazuaki Kiriya and in many ways it's a similarly styled piece of work.
Let it be said right from the outset that Goemon is a visual powerhouse. The film is grandiose and liberal in its use of computer generated effects, and for the most part it could almost be considered an animated masterpiece with live action actors. The fight scenes are often jaw dropping, the backdrops are fantastic, and more often than not the film is pure eye candy. Unfortunately that's more or less a flashy distraction, because the narrative comes up short and the plot isn't quite as interesting as one would have you believe.
For better or worse, there's no greater comparison for Goemon than to say it's a Japanese version of Robin Hood with ninjas. Set in 1582 the film takes place at a point in time after warlord Nobunaga (Hashinosuké Nakamura) has been murdered and has subsequently been succeeded by one of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Eiji Okuda). In the early moments of the movie we are introduced to a charismatic young thief named Goemon (Yōsuke Eguchi), who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. His actions come at a price, however, and when he steals a trinket called Pandora's Box he becomes the target of Hideyoshi's forces.
There's more to Goemon than initially meets the eye. As the film moves forward it's revealed that as a child he was taken into Nobunaga's charge and taught the ways of the ninja by Hattori Hanzo (Susumu Terajima). He soon became one of the top warriors in the world, but over the course of time since Nobunaga's murder he came to use his talents for thievery. The box he stole, however, has the power to change all that.
The contents inside the box reveal a larger plot revolving around Nobunaga's murder and who was really behind it. Toss in a love plot and an old rival for Goemon, and you have the makings of something that could be considered a masterpiece. Unfortunately along the way the narrative makes many stumbles. There are character flaws and pacing issues that plague this film, and ultimately it feels like the plot plays second fiddle to the over-the-top violence and action sequences. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering the target audience, but anyone looking for a more thought-provoking or intellectually entertaining film will be left wanting.
With the focus almost primarily on the action and special effects Goemon is rather polarizing. In the end it doesn't satisfy on every level, but those looking for two hours of highly polished special effects will walk away the happiest. Fountains of blood, people being cleaved in two, and all manner of slick ninja effects steal the spotlight from the otherwise decent acting and what could have been a more interesting plot. It's recommended for those looking for a live action anime, or anyone who thought ninjas and Robin Hood would be a good mix.
Goemon is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and comes with a full 1080p presentation and AVC/MPEG-4 encoding. While the plot in the film comes up short, I dare say that the technical presentation of the movie does not. The details in this transfer are plentiful and the sharp resolution really gives plenty of eye candy to titillate the senses. Abundant special effects, computer generated backgrounds, and high definitely ninja action leave one breathless. There's no loss in detail and the contrast is stunning with rich black levels and colors that pop.
For sound Goemon is a treat for the ears as well. A Dolby TrueHD 6.1 mix is included for the original Japanese language and an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 dub has been supplied as well. The Japanese track with optional subtitles is definitely the way to go here, though on both accounts the sound direction and presentation is powerful stuff. Directionality in the soundstage is immersive enough and all the special effects, sounds, and music play dynamically on the rear channels. As alive as the track is, some effects feel reserved in a way, and it doesn't quite pack the punch it could have. It's still an impressive track, however, and compliments the action.
For bonus features there is a collection of trailers as well as two featurettes. "Making of Goemon Kiriya World" focuses on the art style used in the film, and "Making of Goemon" looks at the production as a whole. The latter supplemental is better than the former, though both are worth checking out once you're done with the film.
Goemon is more a treat for the eyes and the sense than it is a complete picture, but it's still an entertaining release. It's the kind of "shut your brain off at the door" you crave once in a while and to that end it's successful. Fans of Japanese cinema and anime will want to check it out, though anyone looking for something more involved will be left wanting. Strong presentational quality is a feather in the cap for this Blu-ray release though, and in the end I'd say it's strongly recommended despite the plot's shortcomings.