Stephen reviews: Legend of the Millennium Dragon (2011)

Legend of the Millennium Dragon [鬼神伝, Onigamiden] (2011)

Starring Kenshō Ono, Satomi Ishihara, Shidō Nakamura, Kentaro Ito, Yasuyuki kase, Takashi Kondō, Shotaro Morikubo, Akio Nojima

Directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki

I love mythology. Myths are the oldest stories we have, and they are a tie to what stories are and why we tell them. Those stories have captivated audiences for centuries and millennia. I am always fascinated by how potent they are, and how they strike to the core of human nature. As an anime fan, it should come as no surprise that I have a special love for Japanese mythology. Legend of the Millennium Dragon is based heavily on Japanese myths, taking some of the more important characters and throwing them into an action film with a hefty dollop of magical explosions. This is exactly the kind of thing I love to see. Except that Millennium Dragon is boring as hell. I really don’t know how you can make huge explosions, hectic sword fights, and furious monsters dull, but they certainly can be. If you doubt me, go ahead and watch this. You’ll learn the sad truth.

Part of this film’s problem is its overuse of computer effects. I don’t just mean that I hate CG and it makes the film look ugly (and boy is that the truth as well), but that Kawasaki seems far too enamored of his ability to pan the camera around. Whole scenes seem devoted to the fact that he can show a panoramic view of the room. He tried to infuse a sense of awe through the film, but it’s only awe at what the computer can do, not at the characters or events. It doesn’t impress, and it doesn’t entertain.

The plot adds nothing of value to the experience either. It’s just a generic tale of a young man who finds out he has some amazing power, and then needs to save the world, or at least ancient Japan, from a rather uninspired villain. Add to that a cheesy “why can’t we all just get along?” theme to the whole thing, and we get a wholly uninteresting story.

I liked the designs for the Oni, and the idea that they are just people wearing war masks rather than monsters, but that was about the only good thing this movie has to offer. Well, there’s also the goofiest and most impractical looking catapult I have ever seen, but that was just unintentional humor. Millennium Dragon tries to impress by making everything huge, and the climax is a contest of one-upmanship with each side simply pulling a bigger monster out its ass, back and forth while you yawn away the evening. But like a cat arching its back to look more menacing, it’s all just fluff.

3 comments to Stephen reviews: Legend of the Millennium Dragon (2011)

  • I love how you mention that it feels like the only awe in the film is the director’s awe at what he can do with the computer. That’s an apt description of most stupid CG FX, and really the state of the industry. When it was impossible to do a lot of things, the creative ones had to compromise and get creative to work around the problems. Nowadays they just say, “I want a big, goofy looking alien named Jar Jar to star in my movie” and then it happens.

    I think I’ll avoid this one, even though the poster looks cool.

    • Stephen

      I have a mental image of the director twirling the camera around and shouting “WHEEEE!” like a child on a merry-go-round. It’s like he’s just playing around with his gadgets without any thought for whether it makes a compelling story or not.

      I had a similar feeling when I read your review of Hugo with Scorsese zooming through windows. It’s like the directors found a new toy and were playing with it to the exclusion of everything else. Playing around os fine, but when you start making something for real, you need to pick your tools by how functional they are as a narrative device, not by how much fun it is to play with them.

      As for the poster, when I first saw it thought he looked like a Naruto character. Then I saw the trailer saying it was from the studio that made the Naruto anime. Mystery solved.

      • For me, it boils down to not being impressed by technology. Who cares if the opening shot to Hugo starts hundreds of feet above the train station slowly moving closer, then into the station and then up to a clock where Hugo hides? Sure it’s “cool” but it’s all computer, it’s not impressive. Scorsese of all people should understand that. Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin is the same bullshit.

        I know we sound like old men bickering about the old days, but I will never give in on this. Tools are fine, but they need to be used effectively and to serve the storytelling in the film, and it infuriates me to see previously fantastic directors embrace the modern ways. Ugh. They’re supposed to be showing the upstart assholes how it’s done!

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