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(left) Satoshi Tsumabuki, and (right) Kou Shibasaki in Dororo.
Japanese: どろろ
Year: 2007
Director: Koichi Chigira
Producer: Takashi Hirano
Writer: Masa Nakamura, Akihiko Shiota, Osamu Tezuka (original manga)
Action: Ching Siu-Tung
Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kou Shibasaki, Kiichi Nakai, Yoshio Harada, Kumiko Aso, Eita, Anna Tsuchiya, Hitori Gekidan, Mieko Harada
The Skinny: Manga-to-movie adaptation that mixes horror, swordplay, and cheesy CGI for a decidedly mixed bag experience. Unintentional laughter is guaranteed with Dororo, but decent emotions and energetic action can be had too. Fun, if not substantial.
by Kozo:

Based on the manga from Osamu "God of Manga" Tezuka, Dororo serves up an entertaining bit of manga-to-multiplex fun despite never finding the right tone. Director Koichi Chigira does a lot of things right but also a lot of things wrong, leading to long patches of boredom and the occasional unintentional laugh. Still, there's fun to be had along the way. Satoshi Tsumabuki stars as Hyakkimaru, a cursed fellow who lacks forty-eight vital pieces of his body. Once upon a time, warlord Kagemitsu Daigo (Kiichi Nakai) traded away forty-eight pieces of his unborn son's body to evil demon gods in exchange for unmatched power on the battlefield. The demon gods agreed, each asking for one part of the boy's body. The reason: the child will one day possess the power to vanquish all demons, and obviously the demon gods don't want to see that happen. This deal looks to make all parties happy - except, that is, the kid himself who's put into a basket and sent down the river like Moses. Unlike Moses, however, this kid has no arms, legs, eyes, ears, and many more body parts.

Fortunately for the incomplete tyke, a crackpot inventor named Jukai (Yoshio Harada) finds the kid, and proceeds to develop fantastic prosthetic limbs that enable him to walk, see, and talk. Sort of. The boy is really blind, deaf, and dumb, but it's his heart, mechanical though it may be, that can see and hear (an artificial voice-box handles the talking). The boy also possesses swords (one of them a famous demon-slaying one) built into his limbs, and prosthetic hands to place over his swords. Now grown to adulthood, the boy has become an incredibly handsome and kick-ass version of Edward Scissorhands, and begins a quest to kill the demon gods who made off with his appendages. Given the name Hyakkimaru, the would-be demon killer takes on a sidekick, a childlike thief named Dororo (Kou Shibasaki of Battle Royale). Together, the two roam the countryside, killing demons and moving closer to the mystery of Hyakkimaru's missing limbs. That mystery: that his father, Kagemitsu Daigo, is responsible for his missing limbs AND he killed Dororo's family AND he's sort of a tyrant who generally treats the common folk rather poorly. What are the odds that Hyakkimaru's demon-slaying blade will taste his father's human flesh before the 141 minutes of Dororo are up?

Why Dororo is called Dororo is a bit of a mystery. After all, the true star of the film is Hyakkimaru, while Dororo is just a glorified sidekick/conscience to the incomplete hero of the story. That said, Kou Shibasaki makes the most of her screentime, acting as annoyingly boyish as a woman of her beauty possibly can. Her performance borders on grating, but she handles her emotional scenes quite well. The same can't be said for Satoshi Tsumabuki, who handles Hyakkimaru's moroseness well, but doesn't bring a lot of inner life to the character. He seems much more comfortable once he gets to stop acting blind, which occurs when he kills the two demon gods who stole his eyes. You see, after killing one of these offending gods, Hyakkimaru doubles over in pain, ejects the synthetic body parts, and regrows his former appendage, complete with chintzy CGI effects. It's actually somewhat amusing to see a tough swordsman cough up a fake liver before growing a new one. During the course of the film, Hyakkimaru also drops a leg, an ear, an arm, and - in the imagination of teen girls in the audience - probably some, uh, more vital body parts that we're not privy to. Thankfully, the movie doesn't go there.

Hyakkimaru also lacks a human heart, which means he can get impaled with no ill effects, but also that he simply cannot feel the true pain of being a human being. Who wants to bet that heartbreak won't be a moment of wonder for this Pinocchio-Tin Man wannabe? You can almost smell the moment in the screenplay, and true to form, the filmmakers deliver. What's surprising is that the moment registers, as do many of the emotions delivered during the climax. Credit the actors for managing to wring some depth out of the pages of static exposition. Dororo clocks in at well over two hours, and a lot of it is people talking, talking, and talking some more. Nearly all the important exposition happens when people are sitting around doing nothing, and seldom does an important revelation occur, say, during an action sequence. Also, some characters in the film seem to exist solely to show up and dispense exposition whenever the script requires it, and sometimes their sudden appearances can cause unintentional laughter.

The action sequences can also cause guffaws. Hyakkimaru faces off against numerous CGI-created or enhanced demons, but some of them are clearly still men in suits. With the bouncy music score and the sometimes subpar CGI chipping in their share of cheap cheesiness, Dororo sometimes resembles one of those wacky Henshin TV series. Veteran Hong Kong action director Ching Siu-Tung provides the sometimes over-the-top action, which only adds to the onscreen silliness. Making things even more uneven is the film's dalliance with the macabre. Jukai's workshop is filled with spare body parts, some of which were collected from dead children on the battlefield. The very notion that Hyakkimaru's prosthetics are made from dead kids is creepy enough to give one the willies, as are some of the creatures, who purportedly feed on kids and talk about it happily. Simultaneously horrific, comic, and dramatic, the concept of Dororo probably works better as a manga or anime than as a live-action film, though the film's cheesiness would seem to indicate that it's some sort of a kid flick. Given the omnipresent blood and gore, that doesn't seem likely.

Then again, the Japanese have a larger tolerance towards violence, meaning the film's copious blood would probably be more disturbing to Mr. and Mrs. Smith than Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka. Besides, genre film is now a thing for adults. It's not just kids who salivate over live-action versions of Spider-Man or Casshern, but ticket-buying adults who get off on seeing their childhood memories rendered in flesh-and-blood big screen form. With that in mind, Dororo has the goods to be fun and enjoyable, albeit a bit messy and slow-paced. Ching Siu-Tung's action is perfectly suited for this sort of acrobatic fantasy film, and the New Zealand location is gorgeous. Plus, watching Hyakkimaru hunt down the thieves of his body parts is kind of fun, in a gotta-collect-them-all kind of way. Whenever Hyakkimaru dispatches his latest demon, there's an undeniable curiosity factor in seeing which body part grows back. Rooting for Hyakkimaru isn't hard. After all, who wouldn't want to see the former incomplete boy become whole once again? Speaking of which, Hyakkimaru doesn't collect all forty-eight parts during the course of the film, meaning Dororo 2 and even Dororo 3 are in the offing. It's an obvious bit of commercialism, but Dororo succeeds more than enough as throwaway fun that the sequels don't seem like a bad idea at all. So to see Hyakkimaru grow back his brain and lower intestine I have to buy a ticket for Dororo 2 AND Dororo 3? Done and done. See you there. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
CN Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen