ADV Films // 1989 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mac McEntire // June 16th, 2005
A demon from a different space and time comes to Earth carrying cargo...a baby.
Okay, picture this: a small, quiet, rural village out in the countryside during the olden days of feudal Japan. The peaceful tranquility is suddenly broken by two gigantic loincloth-wearing blue-skinned monsters trying to kill each other. After leveling half the village with their duel, one monster beheads the other, with blood spewing everywhere. Then, in a wannabe-Kubrick edit, suddenly we're in outer space with a fleet of starships flying by. The same two monsters show up, fight each other in the vacuum of space, and one beheads the other again. This lasts for about 30 seconds before we're back on Earth, now in the present, only to have the now-familiar monsters arrive once more, still out to kill each other. In a close-up, one of the beasts lets out a mighty roar, and we see a baby sleeping peacefully inside its mouth.
For apparently no reason at all, the monster leaves the baby with a childless couple, saying it will return for the kid in 15 years. Jump to 15 years later, where the boy, named Jiro, is in high school. He has a girlfriend, Miyuki, and two loving adopted parents. Then, demons -- or "oni" if you're going native -- start popping up everywhere. Not only are they after Jiro, but they're out to torture and abuse anyone close to him. This kicks off two episodes filled with extreme violence, naked women, and a bunch of stuff that makes absolutely no sense.
Although the medium of anime has come a long way in recent years in terms of diversity, for many people "anime" still means mega-violent near-pornographic cartoons. Shuten Doji is one of the reasons anime has this reputation. Blood gushes out of wounds by the gallon, as if the interior of the human body is made up of the red stuff, stored at an incredible high pressure. Meanwhile, female characters have their clothes forcibly removed at every opportunity, so giant monsters can fondle them with their long snake-like tongues. Yep, it's one of those animes.
You might be thinking that this is great for some wild and crazy B-movie thrills, what with all the monsters, fighting, gore, and nudity. And there is certainly potential here for genuinely creepy horrors, such as when the oni take over the minds of Jiro's parents and girlfriend as a way to abuse and humiliate him. Yes, the series goes into that dark and disturbing place. Too bad that there's a lot more going on, preventing Shuten Doji from reaching the frightening heights it strives for.
About once every minute, something happens that's unexplained, or just so bizarre that all it does is just distract the viewer. Like, say, how did Jiro and Miyuki get home after being transported to another dimension in the first episode? Who are all these characters who just show up out of nowhere in the second episode to help Jiro? Are they classmates of his? If so, where'd they get those hand grenades? In the first episode, we learn that Jiro's magic powers were really those of a Conan the Barbarian-style hero watching out for him, but in the second episode, suddenly Jiro has powers of his own? And don't even get me started on the naked shape-changing nun. Any fun a viewer might get from the sleazier aspects of Shuten Doji is overwhelmed by the frustration of the next bit of ludicrous weirdness around every corner.
At least the picture and sound are of better quality. The transfer here is very clean, with all the little details coming across just fine, especially when debris starts flying all over the place during action scenes. One gets the sense that the creators intended the series to be played loud, because they make great use of sound, punctuating many scenes with deep rumbling effects. The only extras here are trailers for six other ADV Films releases.
Shuten Doji is found guilty of being an incomprehensible mess.
Review content copyright © 2005 Mac McEntire; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* ADV Trailers