Hermes: Winds of Love [Hermes – Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku ヘルメス 愛は風の如く] (1997)
Starring Takehito Koyasu, Miki Ito, Kenji Utsumi, Chie Koujiro, Satomi Koorogi, Osamu Hosoi, Kikuko Inoue
Directed by Tetsuo Imazawa
A very loose interpretation of Greek mythology, the title character of Hermes: Winds of Love is here imagined as the king of all ancient Greece. He’s not a god in this film, except for sometimes when he is. The same can be said for his wife Aphrodite. And yet there are actual gods roaming around as well, such as the unnamed goddess of love and the father of all the gods, who is not Zeus but someone named Ophelius (I’m sure that’s not the way it was spelled in the subtitles, but I no longer have the DVD available to check on it).
This lead to a rather bizarre film that was hard to interpret. It’s obviously neither an attempt at historical accuracy, nor at mythological accuracy. I wasn’t sure if the creators were just playing with mythology that they didn’t know much about, or if they were deliberately altering things to work for their story. After a little digging, though, it turns out that the film was produced by a group called Happy Science, which appears to be Japan’s equivalent of Scientology. Suddenly it started making sense that the film made no sense. It might also explain the random spaceship orbiting Earth that appears for about five seconds and is never seen or heard of again.
It turns out Happy Science has made a variety of films to advertize their religion, and I’m not likely to explore the series any further. It’s not that I hate someone expressing religious beliefs through fiction. I’m not here to criticize Happy Science (I’ll leave that to someone who didn’t just find out they exist two hours ago); I’m here to criticize this film’s ability to tell a good story, and Hermes is a pretty dull film. It chronicles the rise of Hermes to king of Crete and how he rescues Aphrodite, defeats King Minos and brings about a golden age of prosperity.
The film is too disjointed and unfocused to make a compelling narrative. The first half wants to be an action film chronicling the battle against Minos’s army and his deformed son, Minotaur. This part could have made for a good movie on its own if it were allowed to be the entire film and had the room to fill out the dramatic moments properly. But too much of it passes in rapid succession. Conflicts end too quickly to really get into them. Beyond that, most of the military battles scenes are too bland to hold my attention. The single combat scenes are much better, at least, and manage to capture some sense of dramatic weight. But they end all too quickly to get much out of them. Theseus’s battle with Minotaur should have been an epic struggle, and while what little of it there was looked pretty nice, the battle’s conclusion was rather anticlimactic and left a lot to be desired.
All that action in the first half of the film also sets up some false expectations. The second half drops almost all the action elements and turns into a philosophical journey for enlightenment. This is where the film gets really boring. The first half certainly wasn’t great, but it was at least mildly entertaining at times. The second half just meanders without any real goal. Hermes concerns himself with meditation and there is a complete lack of any kind of conflict. He struggles to find a way to improve the lot of his people, but from all appearances, they’re already doing pretty well. There are no pressing social issues that need addressing, so I sat there wondering where this film was going. In retrospect, this was the point at which Happy Science was injecting its philosophical code into the narrative, but even with this knowledge, the film seems remarkably non-profound. Nothing it says has any more depth than the average Disney film. The Lion King‘s Circle of Life song has more insight than the entirety of Hermes: Winds of Love.
And speaking of things Disney does better than this film, Hermes is filled with hallucinatory musical montages showing stuff like Aphrodite riding flying dolphins and an underwater fireworks show that looks like it belongs in The Little Mermaid. I’m a fan of surreal imagery, but this was bland, the typical beautiful world kind of stuff that brings nothing fresh or interesting to the table. Well, there is one exception, and that’s the visions of hell near the end of the film. I won’t say they’re fantastic, but they do prove to be much more interesting than the rest of the film’s attempts at fantastic imagery.
There’s not a lot of value to this film, and while I have seen worse I still can’t give Hermes any kind of recommendation. It’s shallow when it tries to be poignant and boring when it tries to be exciting. The interesting parts of it are shoved aside too quickly to get any enjoyment out of them. The film doesn’t deliver much of anything, so do yourself a favor and ignore it.