Ishii's epic rethink of the Genji-Heike clan wars of the 12th century is superbly cast and designed, full of visual magic and very different in tone from most Japanese jidai-geki - but not terrifically exciting. The oft-told clash between the warrior Benkei (Ryu, great), persuaded by the inscription on his chest that he is destined to defeat the forces of darkness, and the deposed Genji prince Shanao (Asano), conducting arcane rituals in secret with his kagemusha doubles, is seen here as an all-out spirit war. Decked out with ghosts and rumours of ghosts, cosmic portents (twin comets, a solar eclipse) and faster than light swordplay, it clearly hopes to reach the psychedelic heights of Ishii's August in the Water. It does succeed in blurring the line between the physical and the metaphysical, and in its repetitive way it's often very impressive. But it never quite takes off. (A recut 'international version' also exists.
Cast and crew
Goro Nakajima, Sogo Ishii