Genre: Melodramatic and Colorful Retelling of the Hakkenden
review in one breath
Eight karmically bound warriors find themselves at the forefront of a battle with demonic strongholds over the future of Japan. This is director Fukasaku Kinji's cinematic adaptation of the Hakkenden, Japan's oldest and longest literary epic.
I recently reviewed the titillatingly titled Edo Porn (Hokusai Manga) by director Shindo Kaneto, which was in fact a biographical study of the life of Katsushika Hokusai (???? 1760-1849), one of the most remembered Ukiyo-e artists of the Tokugawan/Edo era. In that film you may recall that one of Hokusai's primary friend relationships involved Kyokutei Bakin (???? / 1767�1848), who would eventually become Japan's first "professional" writer and the author of Nans? Satomi Hakkenden (???????), an epic tale consisting of more than 100 volumes, earning the now centuries-old title of Japan's most proliferous literary epic.
Bakin's Nans? Satomi Hakkenden (aka Hakkenden) provides an extensive and intricate narrative which has long been the fuel for cinematic and anime adaptations. Though I surmise very few Japanese souls have actually read the entire narrative, all seem familiar with the core narrative and characters, allowing, for example, this relatively brief encapsulation by director Fukasaku of an otherwise immense narrative.
Of course I myself have not read the entire saga, and as far as I can currently surmise, only one volume has been translated into English. (And here you gotta ask yourself WHY (?) only one?) This particular film seems to be the only live-action adaptation of Hakkenden available (in the West). A rather popular anime version has been available for quite some time (which I have not yet seen but soon will).
Director Fukasaku pulls in some big talent for this, including Sonny Chiba, Sanada Hiroyuki, Meguro Yuki, and Yakushimaru Hiroko. Thus this was indeed a high budget affair and undoubtedly intended to make a splash publicly.
As mentioned earlier, the Hakkenden narrative comprises over 100 volumes. Perhaps the following brief description will suffice:
The term "ha" (?) "ken" (?) "den" (?) literally means "Eight Dog Legend". Satomi (??) refers to the geographical region of the tale. The reference to "dogs" derives from the Hakkenden legend that due to a foolish promise by her father, Princess Fushi was wedded to her Lord's dog. When the military attempted to rectify matters, their gunshot overwhelmed not only the dog but also Princess Fushi, from whom eight glowing orbs emerge. Centuries later, eight infants are born holding a small glowing orb in their hand.
These eight "dog-born" warriors must then find each other and together discover their fated destiny.
Can they possibly join together before the SEXY evil queen Tamazusa and her hunky offspring accomplish their dastardly deed??
This film tries very hard to present a very dramatic and dark depiction of the Hakkenden, but comes across as nearly jaw-droppingly melodramatic and like, so, retro 1980's. Like totally.
The costumes, sets and well-intentioned attempts at CG effects all point to the rather ambitious effort and grand vision director Fukasaku originally had in mind. But two decades later, and particularly when forced to watch the English-dubbed version, this amazingly colorful film nearly reaches "camp" status.
Yes, this is perhaps the only live-action version of the Hakkenden available to Western audiences. And yes, you might perhaps glean (only with the help of this review) the slight outline of the Hakkenden tale, but HOLY COW, this is akin to the Three Stooges doing Shakespeare. In other words, the flambouyant acting and mind-boggling scenes nearly overwhelm the storyline.
This is purely Saturday afternoon fare and should definitely NOT be approached too seriously.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with ONLY dubbed English (ARRGGHH!!)
|Cinematic adaptation of the Hakkenden, Japan's longest running literary epic.||Creepily retro special effects depicting sudden decay.||When not wreaking global havoc, busty queen Tamazusa is (thankfully) doing nude laps in the pool of blood.||Here's your sole opportunity to experience a live-action version of the infamous Hakkenden. And then, may God forgive you (and me) for watching this...|