Stephen reviews: Twilight of the Dark Master (1997)

twilightofthedarkmaster_6Twilight of the Dark Master [支配者の黄昏 Shihaisha no Tasogare] (1997)

Starring Toshihiko Seki, Emi Shinohara, Akira Kamiya, Urara Takano, Hiroya Ishimaru, Kaneto Shiozawa, Seizo Katou, Atsuko Takahata, Takaya Hashi

Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo


Twilight of the Dark Master follows the tradition of earlier grisly demon anime such as Demon City Shinjuku or Wicked City. It tells a similar tale of conflict between good and evil in a dismal future setting invaded by demons. In terms of adult content, it lies somewhere between those other two. It has a good deal of disturbing sexual content, but it is more subtly delivered than Wicked City‘s full-frontal insanity.

The plot is too convoluted for me to summarize here. Not because it is too complex, but because it drip feeds even the basic information over the course of the film, leaving you wondering just what is going on for the first half. This makes it difficult to give much information without spoiling things, so I’ll only give you the most basic premise. It’s about a newly engaged woman named Shizuka getting mauled (and perhaps raped) by a giant demon. Shizuka then sets off on a quest to find and kill the monster that attacked her. Along the way she enlists the aid of a mysterious wizard whose job is to hunt down demons.

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Stephen reviews: X (1996)

X (1996)
AKA X/1999, X: Their Destiny Was Foreordained 1999

Starring Tomokazu Seki, Ken Narita, Yūko Minaguchi, Atsuko Takahata, Junko Iwao, Tōru Furusawa, Masako Ikeda, Kazuhiko Inoue,Mami Koyama, Rica Matsumoto, Kotono Mitsuishi, Issei Miyazaki, Jōji Nakata, Yukana Nogami, Toshihiko Seki, Emi Shinohara, Hideyuki Tanaka, Kōichi Yamadera

Directed by Rintaro


No, the title X has nothing to do with the film’s rating. It is in fact rated R. There’s no sex anywhere, and the only nudity is in the incredibly creepy opening scene where the main character, Kamui, confronts his naked mother. Before Kamui can do much of anything, his mother rips open her own stomach with her bare hands and pulls out a massive sword, which she then stabs into Kamui’s stomach. And just to end the scene on a confusing note, because it wasn’t confusing enough apparently, Mommy dearest spontaneously explodes in a spray of blood and severed limbs. Things like this are why Japan has cornered the WTF market. It certainly grabs your attention, but even after watching the film I’m not sure whether that scene was a dream sequence, or literal event. It doesn’t matter much though, as there isn’t much difference between the two in this movie. People travel through dreams, and the film is filled with apocalyptic visions.

The movie is about the end of the world, and the two groups fighting over it: the Dragons of Heaven who want to preserve modern civilization, and the Dragons of Earth that want to return the world to its natural state. Each side has six members in addition to the two fortune-telling sisters that lead them, and that means there’s obviously going to be some limits on how well we get to know them. Many characters have a sort of “Hi! Bye!” feel to them, just getting enough time to show off their stuff before dying. This film is an adaptation of a comic book series, and the problem of condensing a longer story will always be present. Rintaro has learned a few things in the decade since he directed The Dagger of Kamui, though, and the pacing in X is smooth throughout the film, giving a balanced focus to as many characters as it could.

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Stephen reviews: Ninja Scroll (1993)

Ninja Scroll [獣兵衛忍風帖, Jūbē Ninpūchō] (1993)

Starring Kōichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Takeshi Aono, Daisuke Gôri, Toshihiko Seki, Shûichirô Moriyama

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri


Despite the title, Ninja Scroll doesn’t have much in the way of scrolls. There’s only one, and while it is important for a minor plot point, it certainly isn’t title worthy. But if the film doesn’t deliver the kind of ancient literary action that you were hoping for, let me tell you, it certainly keeps its word about the ninjas. In fact, it has so many to spare that it kills off a dozen of them in the first ten minutes. The poor guys don’t even stand a chance, as their opponent is a gigantic ninja made of rock with an equally gigantic two-bladed sword that he hurls around like a boomerang. He’s one of the Eight Demons (or devils, depending on the translation) of Kimon who all have a different magic power. In fact the only major character in the movie that doesn’t have some kind of magic ability is Jubei, the main character, who has only his badass sword skills to keep him alive.

Jubei gets hired, or rather blackmailed, by an old ninja to fight against the demons. And of course, the old man has powers, too. He can stretch into strange shapes and change color like a chameleon. They also wind up working with Kagero, a female ninja with her own power, who helps in order to repay Jubei for saving her from being raped. The sexual content is pretty graphic, so anyone squeamish about the rape scene may be getting more than they bargained for.

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