Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Ryu Daisuke and Nagase Masatoshi
Optimum Asia
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 10 April 2006

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 ones...

Gojoe (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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Audio 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 sub woofer.

Verdict... A great film well worth a couple of hours of anyone's time but a poor showing on the extras.

Charles Packer

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