Written, directed and choreographed by Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern). Goemon tells the story of Japanese folk legend Goemon Ishikawa, a Ninja/Samurai bandit who stole valuables from the rich and gave them to the poor.
Quick Plot Summary – The year is 1582. For the first time since the dawn of civilization, Japan has been united under a single leader. For years, the warlord Nobunaga Oda has battled in order to unite the country only to be betrayed and killed by one of his military commanders, Mitsuhide Akechi , shortly before achieving his goal. Mitsuhide is soon after slain (literally during his escape from the battle that claimed Nobunaga’s life) and Nobunaga’s successor, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, takes on the reigns of the military campaign and fulfils his former master’s dream and the country finds itself in a state of peace for the first time in a hundred years.
As with Kiriya’s previous movie, Goemon is a completely bluescreen/cgi affair. Sadly as with Casshern, Goemon is beautifully shot yet another painfully flawed Kiriya flick.
An Impressive Start
The movie starts very impressively, as we join Goemon as he is attempting to steal right from under the nose of Hideyoshi. This initial scene nicely sets the rest of the plot in motion, as whilst stealing money to give to the people, Goemon inadvertently throws out a much more valuable item. A document which proofs that Hideyoshi and others set out to overthrow and murder the previous ruler (Goemons former guidance).
Hideyoshi, concerned the document may be used against him orders his most trusted guards to find the document and also kill whosoever stole it.
As mentioned early, Goemon the movie is based on the popular Japanese legend, as such if you were to try and do some research into Goemon it would be very difficult to either proof or disproof if the character ever really existed. Many stories of Goemons life exist and you will also find many Japanese kabuki plays based on his legend. Video games have also been created – namely ‘Legend of the Mystical Ninja’.
Goemon – Japanese Robin Hood
Usually with movies based on legends, the director is given the freedom to create a surreal world without the need to keep rechecking the source material but Goemon is very different. Goemon is little more than a legend; he is part of Japanese popular culture – very much like the legend of Robin Hood. Many are familiar with the stories of Goemon and those who are will be very confused with the movie. Rather than take a known story about Goemon , Kiriya seems to have taken a mix of stories based on the hero and used these to create the film we see here.
Sadly this is all too evident when watching the movie, as at times the movie feels more like a mismatch of stories strung together by a very loose and unbelievable main character , Goemon never feels like a truly coherent film.
The characters in Goemon despite the films runtime (over 120mins long) are underdeveloped and the actors suffer badly from the poor script and mismatch of a story.
Some of the characters (Mitsunari) and (Saizou) are perfectly cast and actually do a very good job in their roles, yet they are very rarely on screen. Sadly the biggest problem in regard to casting is that of the lead played Yosuke Eguchi.
The Biggest Problem With Goemon , Appears To Be The Casting of The Lead
At times Eguchi is very stale in the lead role, dramatic speeches fall flat and come across as little more than he is reading the script line by line without any real emotion. Kiriya choose to display Goemon as an over confidence, carefree thief (always with a sly smile on his face) and sadly this works very much against the movie. Because of this character choice, at no time do you actually truly care about the Goemon character, in fact by the end of the movie I was praying for his death and rooting for the bad guys.
Even during the fight scenes Eguchi looks very wooden, and often he is helped by the clever use of CGI effects and ‘slow mo’ to showcase Goemons ‘speed’. In fact the majority of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed and executed. The fight to enter Hideyoshis complex is one stand out scene though and is truly exciting to watch and very reminisce of the final fight scenes in ‘300’. In this fight Goemon is helped by a group of Ninjas who all bring along some pretty nasty weaponry for the fight. It’s a real shame that the ninjas only truly appear in the movie very late on, I believe the film would have been much better if we could have been introduced to these characters earlier on including more on their backstory.
As with the majority of the film though, the character introductions for these ninjas is next to none-existent, and as with Goemon himself you really feel no attachment to these characters at all.
The majority of the film plays out like a series of interlinked MTV Music Videos (Kiriya was a music video director… and it shows), with flashes of brilliance in the way of the often wonderful CGI and clever camera work, closely followed by bad acting by the lead and a story full of stop start story arches that by the time the film reaches its climax you really are left feeling cheated.
Whether or not you enjoy watching Goemon really depends on what you are expecting. Fans of Kiriyas previous movie ‘Casshern’ may be disappointed as in many ways Goemon is an inferior film yet given its shorter running time may be an easier watch.
Those new to Kiriya may be blown away by the visual effects, which at times really are a joy to watch.
If only Kiriya had taken a different direction with how he wanted to develop the character and focused more on Goemons back-story and the reasons why he became a thief then we could have been looking at one of the films of the year.