Funimation // 2099 // 132 Minutes // Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 6th, 2011
He'll cut a path to justice.
In the shadow of the other Japanese historical slash-o-rama that came out earlier this year, Tajomaru and his Avenging Blade are all set to get their avenging on.
Oh, but you'll have to wait for the avenging. So much waiting. First, we have to set the stage: it's feudal Japan and Naomitsu (Shun Oguri) is a young nobleman who finds himself running for his life, when his adopted younger brother goes off the deep end and starts murdering everyone. While taking refuge in the woods, Naomitsu encounters the legendary thief Tajomaru; one thing leads to another, Naomitsu takes on his identity, mingles with rabble, and eventually lays siege to his brother's fortress.
The biggest problem of Tajomaru is the misconception that will surely follow it -- the one that says it's a badass action movie. There is very little action here, and what sword-swinging mayhem does it make it through is a lukewarm in its execution; not nearly as severe as the violent tagline would imply.
What he have here then is a straight-on historical drama, spotted with the occasional clanks of steel, but relying mainly on dull characterizations and political maneuvering for its pop. Unfortunately, there's not much here to warrant a gander. The only interesting character is the bad guy -- of course -- and he's almost cartoonishly bad. The antagonistic relationship he shares with his brother has some potential for intrigue, but the guy is just written as an irredeemable a-hole, so all I ended up rooting for was Naomitsu to end his life in grotesque fashion.
The thing is, Naomitsu's kind of a bore himself. His arc is entirely predictable, transitioning from love-sick post-adolescent to inadvertent Man of the People, and finally to a Man Who Realizes What Is Important in the World. Again, I can tolerate these telegraphed narrative checkpoints, if I was given some engaging samurai action to hang my hat on, but Tajomaru left me hanging.
The worst news? The soundtrack. It's terrible. Shockingly terrible. Synth-pop for the sword clashes and Top 40 bubblegum rock for everything else. These are mystifying music choices, for a film that takes itself seriously as a historical drama.
The DVD is light on the extras (just one making-of featurette), but delivers in the technical department. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer blasts out strong color levels and a clean picture. Both Dolby 5.1 tracks (English and Japanese) are solid, though tarnished (through no fault of their own) by the awful score.
Tajomaru: Avenging Blade is only for the hardest of hardcore fans of feudal Japanese cinema, if such a subculture exists.
Not hara-kiri levels of guilty. Go work the rice fields instead.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2099
MPAA Rating: Rated