How is it possible to give up a life of killing and murder?
Is immersion in religion enough to wash clean blood stained
hands and renew the soul with redemption? This is the quandary
which Benkei, once a feared swordsman and now a Buddhist monk
must face. Having resolved never to take another life, circumstances
force Benkei into choosing sides in a fight between good and
evil. When Benkei is forced to draw his sword he is forced
to confront both his internal demons as well as external real
(2000) was written and directed by Sogo Ishii, who has
been a successful writer and director since the late seventies.
The film won the Hochi Film Award for best supporting actor
for Tadanobu Asano who plays the role of Shano, the effeminate
king in waiting. Given the adulation that Kurosawa's films
garland it's a brave man who makes a samurai film today.
film plays on many levels. Visually it's a gore fest and the
opening shot is of a soldier having his head very bloodily
severed from his shoulders. After that it just gets nasty.
This is great for action fans but without greater depth it
would quickly become tedious in a film that's over two hours
long. The most interesting part of the film examines Benkei's
internal journey from killer to monk to saviour. When he takes
on the task of hunting down the demon that is killing the
soldiers he quickly discovers that in fact it is three very
deadly swordsmen who are out for revenge. The swordsmen have
their own justifications for their actions many of which are
bound by their own code of honour. Soon the story shifts from
being just another gore fest into an examination of what it
is to be a demon. Benkei calls himself a demon for his past
vicious and bloody actions, which have irrevocably damaged
his soul leaving him less than a man.
film creates a strange combination of the mystical and the
mundane. Mystical because, although you quickly discover that
there are no demons in the sense of evil spirits, the form
and format of such fairy tales is used to examine the war
damaged souls of the main protagonists. Mundane as this semi-mystical
nuance is place firmly in the reality of a period in Japans
history when men really were cut down, on a nightly basis,
on Kyoto's Gojoe Bridge.
If the film suffers from anything it's the confusing battle
choreography by Hirofumi Nakase. Often you can see how, between
himself and Sogo Ishii, they have attempted to convey the
confusing nature of real sword fights. This works up to a
point, but the end result is that many of the action sequences
come over as confusing.
disc is bereft of any real extras apart from trailers for
Azumi and Sky High, which although they look
entertaining can't really be said to enhance the DVD in any
meaningful way. There is no English dub on this print, which
to honest isn't a great detraction as the original actors
do a fine job with their individual roles.
track comes in plain Jane stereo or the much superior 5.1.
The 5.1 is really the one to go for as this is a samurai action
film there is lots of use made of both the front and rear
speakers and a nice lot of toe rumbling vibration from the
A great film well worth a couple of hours of anyone's time
but a poor showing on the extras.