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Ashura - Ashura Jo no Hitomi (Takita Yojiro 2005)


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Ashura [The Eyes of Ashura Castle]

Ashura Jo no Hitomi

Genre: Edo-Era Supernatural Sword-Flailing

review in one breath

The sudden rise in demonic activity can only mean one thing: the emergence of Ashura, Queen of the Underworld under whose reign the terrors of Hell will dominate the world of mortals. Although an elite squadron of priest-like warriors have been prepared in anticipation of the Ashura prophecies, their formidable skills prove no match for the demonic hordes once Ashura's rebirth begins. But also buried deep within the prophecy is the possibility that Ashura may perchance be overpowered by a mortal man, thereby saving the world as we know it.


intro

The film Ashura is a period piece set in the Edo era (1615 - 1867), a period in which much of Japan's traditional ghost tales and Kwaidan were originally written down and published. A well-known author of that era was Tsuruya Nanboku IV who penned such classics as Yotsuya Kaidan. The character of Tsuruya actually appears in Ashura and it is suggested that from his observations of the emergence of Queen Ashura his abilities at writing horror tales is greatly enhanced. Thus the film presents not only the tale itself but also the manner in which the tale supposedly was passed down to the contemporary audience. (This tale of Ashura is not in fact a story by Tsuruya but of contemporary writer Kazuki Nakashima.)

The film is directed by Takita Yojiro who also directed Onmyoji (2001) and Onmyoji 2 (2003), both of which were equally elaborate and colorful period pieces, though set in the earlier Heian (794 - 1192) period. All three of these films cast young, prominent talent in lead roles, offered progressive contemporary soundtracks, and infused humor and memorable characters throughout.

Here, the lead character of Izumo, kabuki star and former demon slayer is played by Somegoro Ichikawa (currently a heart-throb in the 2008 TV series Ryoki teki na Kanojo) while his leading lady is the very lean and doe-eyed Rie Miyazawa (who is perhaps best remembered as being one of the first young women to successfully transition from bikini/nude teen idol to mainstream actress). Also thrown into the mix are Kanako Higuchi (from Edo Porn and Casshern) as the demonic priestess Bizu and Atsuro Watabe (Heat After Dark and Mizuchi) as Jaku, the blood-thirsty demon slayer.

As mentioned earlier, this film is very colorful and uses a progressive, rock-based soundtrack to elevate the momentum of action scenes. There are plenty of special effects ranging from computer generated to miniature sets to enhance the eye candy. Midnight ninjas leap incredible distances from roof to roof, comet storms decimate Edo, the Demon Queen's Castle descends from the sky, and raging sword fights take place in Escher-like labyrinthine staircases. Although the quality of these effects is admittedly far from convincingly sophisticated, they nonetheless are entertaining and vibrant.

One particularly memorable scene involves a re-enactment of a festive, raucous Kabuki play authored by Tsuruya Nanboku. The Kabuki play is depicted in all it color and theatrics. But what is noteworthy is how is captures the Edo-era transformation of Kabuki as High Culture to Kabuki as entertainment for the masses. Here, the audience feels free to shout and cheer during the performance. This scene along with several others does a good job of re-creating a vibrant, urban late Edo setting.

story

A self-appointed band of demon slayers has trained and prepared for a generation, ridding the capitol of Edo from various demonic forces and awaiting the prophesied emergence of Ashura, a fierce demonic Goddess under whose reign the world is transformed into Darkness. But after an unnerving encounter with a creepy little girl, Izumo's conscience forces him to step aside as leader of the warrior pack and, seeking a more light-hearted path joins the Kabuki theater.

But when Izumo inadvertently runs into the mysterious and beautiful Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa) it seems that more than mere Kabuki awaits his destiny. As a small mark on Tsubaki's shoulder slowly grows into an elaborate Lotus design, both she and Izumo are soon forced to realize that she is being slowly re-incarnated into Ashura.

With warriors seeking to slay the young woman, and demonic hordes seeking to protect her, Izumo's love for Tsubaki places him squarely in the middle of the world's fate. THEN he dusts off his sword and returns to his former vengeance-wielding ways.

verdict

I would consider this high-quality B-grade fare. It has plenty of humor and is chock-full with colorful characters, gods and monsters and does as best it can with its computer-reliant effects. And the film does not take itself too seriously, as well it should not, since nothing appears to be too convincing and implausibility proves to be commonplace. But entertaining it is, boiling down to a love tale involving two young, popular stars, wrapped in a flamboyant supernatural tale of apocalyptic proportion.

Its fun to watch, but I doubt you'll learn anything new or be too mystified figuring out "what happens next" or how the movie ends (though the ending is unexpectedly elaborate). This is already available in Region 1 format with both English subs and/or dubs, so if you're interested its easily obtained.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Some interesting depictions of late Edo urban life and entertainment, though historic realism is jumbled in with legend and superstition. PLENTY of fluorescent green blood spraying to the rafters. Sword fights and impaling abound. One non-explicit love scene between Rie Miyazawa and Ichikawa, no doubt sending adolescent otakus into an ecstatic frenzy. Wall to wall eye candy and action, set in a densely populated urban Edo overrun with demons, naughty nuns and floating castles.

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