Takashi Yamazaki, known from narratives like Eternal Zero (2013) and Parasyte (2014, 2015), is not unfamiliar with Ryohei Saigan’s work as mangaka. In fact, “Destiny: Tale of Kamakura” is his fourth movie based on the narratives Saigan invented. And while Ryohei Saigan is a well-known artist in Japan, he is, strange as it may be, a forgotten master in the west. For many, this movie will be the first encounter with Saigan’s imagination and qualities a mangaka.
When young Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) marries mystery author Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai), she has no idea that her daily life at Kamakura will become everything but mundane. One day, this safe mundanity is put into question by a passing water-imp. At first afraid, the following confrontations with a variety of magical creatures quickly turns her life into a constant source of wonder, revealing Kamakura as a place where humans and non-humans live side-by-side, seemingly in harmony. Nevertheless, danger lurks around the corner, ultimately leading to Akiko’s disappearance. Is Isshiki able to save her?
“Destiny” has no plot-development or dramatic build-up in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the episodic nature, obviously resembling the structure of a manga, puts the emphasis on relationship of the newlyweds, in a slice-of-life kind of way. Luckily, some continuity is provided, as various small plot-details introduced in the different episodes come nicely together in the episodic-finale of the narrative.
As the newlyweds form the central focus of the narrative, it comes as no surprise that the narrative concerns genuine love. But as the magnificent finale of “Destiny” shows, the love in question is nevertheless an idealized one. Furthermore, one should read in Akiko’s position a subtle plea for less prejudice towards the foreign. With her open, accepting and ever friendly position, she breaks the ‘invisible’ barrier that obviously still exists between the non-humans and the humans. In this way, Takashi Yamazaki is able to infuse this light-hearted fantastical narrative with a subtle form of social criticism.
The visualization of the Japanese folkloric creatures and the visualization of a netherworld, based on Buddhist thoughts of reincarnation, is utterly beautiful. Therefore, it is slightly disappointing that Yamazaki forgets to give the middle part of the narrative the dense visualization of fantasy it deserves. Nevertheless, “Destiny” underlines, as one of the few live-action movies venturing in the field of Japanese folkloric inspired fantasy, the unexploited potential of such rich fantasy for cinema purposes.
The focus on the newlyweds is also evident in the cinematography. While “Destiny” mingles, as most movies do, fixed shots and moving shots, each kind of shot serves its purpose. The fixed shots are fundamental in enabling the chemistry between our two leads define the atmosphere and touch the spectator. The timely moving shots – shots that mainly follow Isshiki and to, a lesser degree, Akiko – are instrumental in establishing Isshiki as main point of reference, while subtly eliciting heartfelt sympathy from the spectator for this couple.
The special effects do what they need to do. While they do not frame the other side of Kamakura and the other-world in a realistic way, they do elevate the fantastical nature of the narrative space in a believable way. In other words, the harmonious integration of the special effects enables the spectator to experience the fantastical Kamakura and the netherworld as a plausible space.
The musical score underlines the magical nature of the narrative beautifully. Even though the cinematography subtly favours Isshiki’s viewpoint, the musical score favours to express the wonder of a certain character, according to the needs of the narrative. Additionally, the versatility of musical score is successful in turning the more emotional moments into truly touching vignettes. As such, the fantastical “Destiny” is also able to satisfy the more romantic souls among us.
As the narrative focuses on the newlyweds as such, much of the spectator’s enjoyment depends on the chemistry the two leads have. Luckily, both Masato Sakai and Mitsuki Takahata deliver. Their individual acting performances are great. The chemistry they have quickly fills the narrative space with a heartwarming charm, producing many endearing and funny moments.
“Destiny: Tale of Kamakura” is great. The fantasy setting works and is brought to life in a believable way. As a matter of fact, the setting works so well that it is slightly disappointing to see that Kamakura is underused in the middle part of the narrative. Luckily, the visually impressive finale more than makes up for it. “Destiny” is also an extremely enjoyable romantic-comedy, due to the amazing chemistry between the two leads. In short, if you are a romantic soul, “Destiny” will surely be a moving experience. As the credits roll, you’ll want to hug your girlfriend while hoping that something like destiny truly exists.