Film: Tajomaru: Avenging Blade **
Release date: 31st January 2011
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Hiroyuki Nakano
Starring: Shun Oguri, Yuki Shibamoto, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kei Tanaka, Kyôsuke Yabe
Reviewer: Adam Wing
With a glimmering blade in hand, we head back to the forest for more swordplay shenanigans and epic romance. Loosely based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories ‘Rashomon’ and ‘In A Grove’ (most famously adapted for the screen by Akira Kurosawa in 1950), Tajomaru stars Shun Oguri (Sukiyaki Western Django), Kyosuke Yabe (Samurai Zombie) and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (Ip Man), available now on R2 DVD courtesy of Manga Entertainment.
Two brothers, Naomitsu and Nobutsuna Hatakeyama, are born into a wealthy and powerful family and both destined for greatness. However, when the father of their lifelong friend dies, a decree is made that has a profound effect on all their lives. The conditions of the decree force Nobutsuna to betray his brother by taking Ako as his own in order to inherit her late father’s wealth and position. However, driven by his love for Ako, Naomitsu gives up his life of privilege and instead flees with her into the remote forested mountain region where he believes they will be safe. It sounds simple on paper but to say Hiroyuki Nakano’s delivery is confused is like suggesting that Donnie Yen knows how to do romance.
During the journey, they are ambushed and attacked by a bandit calling himself Tajomaru who intends to kidnap Ako, and this is where things start to get really messy. Fortunately, she escapes and runs away before Nobutsuna manages to kill the bandit, whose identity he assumes. Now calling himself Tajomaru, Nobutsuna sets out on a dangerous and adventurous quest in search of Ako.
Meanwhile, back at the Hatakeyama home, an unlikely protagonist has decided the time is right to make a treacherous move that will place him within striking distance of the country’s most powerful positions of leadership. The plot has more twists and turns than an episode of your favourite soap opera, which is actually rather fitting because there’s a chance you’ll get that feeling throughout.
The first thing you’ll notice about Tajomaru is that it looks and feels like a TV movie. The set design, the budget and the style in which the film is shot give Tajomaru a made-for-TV vibe that it rarely escapes from. The action sequences add a touch of style to proceedings, filmed with passion and flair, but they make their presence felt infrequently.
If you’re looking for a fresh spin on the action swordplay genre then you’ve come to the wrong place, Tajomaru is a cliché-ridden exercise in fantasy filmmaking, a tiresome and unnecessary retread of all that has gone before. Director Hiroyuki Nakano gives his production a fresh spin with a questionable choice of soundtrack, but you don’t need me to tell you that swordplay, costume drama and rap music don’t belong in a movie together.
The actors perform adequately, but the characters actions and motives are muddled and the plot can be confusing at times. Not that there is much of a plot to speak of, but Nakano attempts to cover up the lack of substance with poorly executed multiple viewpoints and perplexing storytelling. There’s very little here to recommend beyond action spectacle, but don’t think for one second that you’ll get your fix there either. Tajomaru is a chore from start to finish, it’s just that the occasional glimpse of glimmering blade entertains effectively in fits and starts. Tajomaru was made for Sunday afternoon viewing, low expectations and a DVD collector out of ideas.
If you’re a die-hard swordplay drama completist then it might be worth a look, but there are so many better movies out there, it’s like putting Rich Tea biscuits in the same barrel as a Chocolate Hobnob - admirable but ultimately pointless.