There’s a legend of sorts in Japan about Goemon Ishikawa, an outlaw and a thief who, according to the legend, died boiled on a cauldron after he attempted to assassinate the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the Japanese civil war. A good chunk of his fame comes from the stories that attribute him Robin Hood-like characteristics, according to which he’d steal from the rich and give said money to the poor.
This movie is loosely based on his life, with the storyline partially following the legend around him, with more than a few licenses taken to make the movie more appealing, although how much of the movie is taken straight from the legend and how much is plain made up is a bit hard to point out, considering this is a very old legend we speak of, with several different versions, and with very little information to separate the myth from the reality of what happened.
The movie itself isn’t a bad one, although its beginning is pretty weak, the storytelling at times disjointed and the first half of the movie itself is very close to being a yawnfest, partially for the weird storytelling it begins with. However, that pretty much sums up the bad points of the movie – Goemon presents us with a very nice action flick, one that for the most part keeps the action serious and one which actually has a somewhat interesting story, although it’s hard to praise the story itself being that it is mainly based off a legend. Nevertheless, it manages to present a generally good story with a good pacing.
The issue with it, however, is precisely that it is generally good. As stated before, the first half of the movie gets very close to being a bore, with a story that seems to be all over the place, very few reasons to care at all about the characters during it, the introduction of way too many characters in too short a time and the fact that during the first half of the movie it doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants to be a serious action movie or a live-action anime, thus getting way too many comic relief occasions during scenes that would otherwise be serious, and having way too many downright impossible situations solved by just as impossible solutions, generally not without the hero or his sidekick making some silly remark.
And that’s another of the issues with the movie, the sidekick. Sasuke is awfully close to becoming a live-action Jar Jar Binks, and you know a movie has hit rock bottom when a character like that appears, considering most of what’s wrong about Episode I can be reduced to said character. Other than the massive fail at a likeable character that Sasuke represents and the inability the movie has to decide whether it wants to be a live-action anime or just an action movie, the only other notable fault in the movie lies with the visuals: They aren’t bad (At several moments they are terrific, and the art direction is nearly excellent), but most of the backgrounds are CGI and sadly the quality varies among them. For most of the movie they look amazing, but during a couple scenes the quality dwindles quite a bit, and in several occasions it is all too easy to notice when scenes were shot with a green background as opposed to real locations.
Last, but not least, I must give the acting on this movie a nod – It isn’t awesome, it isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it is solid enough not to distract you from the movie itself, and that’s certainly something noteworthy from a movie coming from a country that’s famous for having produced RINGU, a horror movie where the true horror was the performances as opposed to its story.
The Blu-ray of Goemon manages to keep a sharp image for most of the time, keeping a pretty decent quality over the entire movie and with most of the video issues coming from the film rather than representing a bad transfer – The quality can vary wildly between scenes, but generally it becomes obvious it is either due to artistic input or just plain bad special effects.
As for the sound, the sound track isn’t anything overtly special, though the bluray does include the original Japanese 6.1 track, which is an amazingly good thing for purists like me who loathe dubs no matter what language things are dubbed into. Other than that, the soundtrack is pretty clear, without any part of it being drowned by another, but I can’t say the sound quality or mixing are amazing – They’re just good, and they don’t detract from the movie experience.
All in all, Goemon is a movie that can be divisive at times, and one I was initially prepared to loathe. However, it presents several redeeming qualities, and it manages to keep you interested once you survive the horrid beginning. At the end of the day, Goemon is a pretty well done movie, and while it might not be the best action movie or have the best story, it does have a very nice setting and its production has enough quality to be worth at least one shot, especially if you’re into Asian or international cinema.
Final review score: 3.5/5
Availability: Currently available from Amazon.com
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