The Blood of Rebirth -- Film Review


Bottom Line: A vacuous Japanese medieval revenge-fantasy offering only sensory stimulation.

TOKYO -- A masseur in Medieval Japan returns from the dead to settle scores with his nemesis in "Blood of Rebirth," a visually and aurally hypnotic mythical fantasy almost completely emptied of meaning or dramatic development. The high-powered rock score by Twin Tail (of which the director Toshiaki Toyoda is a member) and limited dialogue turn the film into an unusual cross between a silent movie and an MTV show.

Toyoda, who enjoys some festival fame for his stylistic direction of "Pornostar" and "Blue Spring," will not enlarge his circle of admirers beyond those easily impressed by cool art direction. The majority audience will leave the cinema with the hazy and vacant feeling of a party hangover. Marketwise, this is probably a curio for Japanophiles only.

"Blood" is inspired by "Oguri Hangan," a Japanese resurrection folkloric myth. The opening text sets the time at the Middle Ages "when demons ruled over humans." The main story, however, leaves out the demons, and focuses only on mortals who seem hopelessly dysfunctional.

The protagonist Oguri (Twin Tail drummer Tatsuya Nakamura) is a masseur for a tyrannical lord (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who is infected with some supernatural poison, and is in periodic agony. Oguri and the lord's handmaid -- tattoo-faced Princess Terute (Mayuu Kusakari) -- exchange furtive looks of attraction. When Oguri prefers freelancer status over lifetime employment as the lord's retainer, he is treacherously murdered.

His soul arrives at a transit point where he can choose to go to heaven or hell, but he decides to return to earth to resolve "unfinished business." He reappears as a semi-paralyzed "hungry ghost."

Meanwhile, the lord buys the nose of a "Tengu" (a Japanese demon) from a roving potions peddler (Hirofumi Arai), but Terute steals it. What she needs it for is never explained. Eventually, the paths of Oguri, Terute, the peddler and the lord converge in the forest.

Oguri's revenge becomes possible when he finds the Spring of Rebirth with Terute's help. This is not the climax one expects, the spring being just a red puddle, while the legendary revival is shot as a long and mindless montage of Oguri splashing about in slow motion. More original is his duel with the lord which takes place inside a boiling cauldron and features some wacky CGI.

Toyoda enlivens the screen with an orgy of crimson and rouge to create a rugged, animistic world of his own imagination. Interior scenes utilize only two sets -- the lord's court and the otherworld -- both are exotically decorated to look like Oriental antique shops. Everything else takes place outdoors, which is captured with a barbaric, mystic beauty reminiscent of "Excalibur."

The cast's expressions vary between drugged ecstasy and drugged oblivion. What passes for dialogue is as articulate and meaningful a conversation between Conan and Xena. Not that the cast is to blame, since for a substantial part of the film, Ogura just sits in a sleigh, being pulled along the forest by various strange people who come and go randomly.

One sequence in which close-ups of Terute's hand dragging the sleigh by its rope is shot frame by frame ad absurdum, reflects Toyoda's disregard for narrative propriety.
Sound recording is of superior quality and the score is memorable for its vigorous and atmosphere mix of hard rock, ethereal Celtic melody and synthesized world music.

Venue: Tokyo Filmex International Film Festival
Presented by Mazri Inc., Media Factory Inc., TYO Inc., Phantom Film Co. Ltd., Studio Swan (IMJ-E); produced by by Mazri Inc.
Cast: Tatsuya Nakamura, Mayuu Kusakari, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Arai Hirofumi
Director/screenwriter: Toshiaki Toyoda
Producer: Koji Koji
Director of photography: Toyotaro Shigemori
Production designer: Mitsuo Harada
Music: TWIN TAIL, Tatsuya Nakamura, Yui Kaisui, Toshiyuki Terui
Costume designer: Daisuke Iga
Editor: Masaki Murakami
World Sales: Open Sesame Co. Ltd.
No rating, 83 minutes