Dororo is based on the comic by manga grandaddy, Osamu Tezuka, and even though I’m becoming more familiar with his work recently (Buddha, Black Jack, Metropolis, Astro Boy) the original Dororo manga hasn’t yet made it into my reading list so I’m reviewing this based solely on the movie alone without seeing it as simply a movie adaption. I suppose that gives me a somewhat unique perspective without prejudice. So let’s get it on!
The movie begins with a samurai leaving a heavy battle, complete with rather large arrows jammed lovingly into his back, however his is such an image of masculinity that he barely seems phased by this. Anyway he proceeds to make a pact with 48 demons which will grant him inhuman powers, there’s a catch however. For the demons to agree to this the samurai must allow these demons to take 48 body parts from his unborn son. Being a selfish arsehole who is overcome with the greed of gaining more power he accepts unflinchingly and the demons grant his request in a manner befitting the movie, Highlander.
From then on we cut to years in the future where the child has grown up, he proceeds to battle a demon and regain one of his limbs which a self proclaimed ‘greatest thief in the world‘ witnesses and asks an old man to fill in the boys story via flashback. I’ll go into that first demon battle in more detail shortly but first I want to focus on the boys backstory as told by the old man. It turns out this deformed child was abandoned and discovered by a shaman who took pity on him and took him in as his own. This moves into a sequence of him creating prosthetic limbs for the boy through adolescence and training him to fight. It’s probably one of my favourite sequences of the entire film because it quite successfully manages to grasp that atmosphere of an old fairytale. Grotesque, mystical, implausible but with an element of magic that is undeniably charming. Mission accomplished.
However, now let’s move back to that first confrontation with the demon. The set-up of slaying these 48 demons promises a whole lot of action in fantastic settings, or that’s what one would hope at least. Even though I have praise for the story it’s actually the action sequences which are the death of this film. Take the very first battle with the demon, some quite interesting choreography and some great looking make up effects for the false limbs/bitchin’ sword hands but ruined by a CGI monster that doesn’t fare much more convincing than CGI in a episode of the new Doctor Who. It’s distracting and undermines the attempts by the cast, choreography and music to make an intense blood pumping action sequence. Mission Failed.
This isn’t just a problem I’ve found in this movie though but a lot of Japanese live action films that attempt to incorporate CGI. The Death Note films and Blood the last vampire being a more recent examples I can think of. It leaves the movies looking extremely low budget like a sci-fi channel original presentation but the special effects have more problems to deal with than unrealistic CGI. It seems like these productions have ideas in mind that are far from the reach of their budget. Again, I’ll get back to that.
After the old man finishes telling the thief the story of the boy, she gets the idea that he’d be an interesting guy to tag along with. So in a chirpily annoying fashion she ambushes the guy in the middle of nowhere stating that she wants to join him while banging a drum and walking like she has a bad hemorrhoid . He’s reluctant to let a girl join him but she angrily retaliates by saying she is a man and flashing her boobs at him. He quickly changes his mind and let’s her join, don’t blame him either. She asks his name and says he is simply a wanderer or Dororo. The thief likes the name and adopts it as her own and so they begin their travels, hunting down the remaining demons.
Eventually they reach a burned down house where children were killed. Now this is where I magically leap back into a rant about the special effects because if you thought the CGI earlier was distracting then you are in for a big shock when you see what’s coming next. I don’t even know how to describe what turns up out of nowhere but just look at the screenshot below. It looks like a cross between a woodlouse and Mr Blobby! Apparently that animatronic monstrosity is meant to be the combined souls of the dead children but all it does is make me feel bad because never before have I laughed so much at the idea of dead children. If that was their goal then they get another mission accomplished from me but I suspect it’s more of a failure.
From then on it’s just a series of battling demons with a largely cheesy array of effects that wouldn’t seem out of place in Power Rangers or the 60’s Star Trek series. There comes a point though where you can’t take the movie seriously anymore and you simply succumb to that fact that at least it’s entertaining. The sad thing is that the cast does a respectable job, the scenery is comparable to Lord of the Rings and the music enhances those more intimate moments and the epic scope of the journey – apart from the completely unfitting ending credit music, at least it’s kept out of the film itself. Being 2 hours long the pacing also didn’t drag the film down or make me feel restless.
The pluses and the minuses are an even balance but in the end it’s largely an action movie that’s severely lacking in decent action. Pick it up as a rental and have a good laugh with your friends but don’t go out of your way or pocket to get hold of it.
“24 demons to go…”, Sequel time?