A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 492 – Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma – July 5th, 2011

I have to say, our years working at video stores have definitely affected our movie purchases in a big way. Working at a smaller store with lots of lesser known titles certainly exposed us to things we’d never have seen otherwise, and might not have bothered renting had we not had employee accounts to use. And now we get to go searching for some of those lesser known titles to find them for this project. Because the thing about this project is that we owned a lot of things we’d never seen before, but when looking at our list we realized how many things we had seen and loved but didn’t own. And this was one of the latter.

A little over a year ago I asked some friends online if they could help me figure out what this anime was. I’d seen it in college while working at the video store, and I remembered that it had an eerie counting song run over the trailer. We’d originally rented it because of the trailer and that song and been thoroughly baffled by it once we’d seen it. I remembered it having lots of monsters and a woman who turned into a moth (or vice versa, I wasn’t sure) and one of the main characters had a scar on his face. The protagonist and antagonist were childhood friends and now one of them had gone evil. And that was pretty much all I could give anyone to go on. Because I sincerely doubt that saying “I’m pretty sure we saw the trailer on some other thing that also had a trailer for Gappa: The Triphibian Monster,” would help. And really, take a look at that list of characteristics. Monsters and shape-shifters, creepy music, childhood friends turned rivals because one is evil? Yeah, that’s totally unique.

None of my friends were able to put a name to my mystery movie and so we moved on, hoping that some day we’d remember it or stumble across it. Then, after watching The Ninja Scroll, Andy decided to actively look. And how did he look, might you ask? He searched youtube for anime trailers with creepy music. And lo and behold, there it was. Over ten years later and I could still hum the tune. It’s a weird sort of movie that’s stuck with us despite being confusing and flawed. Because make no mistake, this movie is not a great anime classic full of lush visuals and impeccable storytelling. It’s an animated movie that actually has still sketches as part of its action scenes and one of the main characters is a total cipher.

The story is a little patchy. We start out with Hikage, a ninja warrior who’s been assigned to track down his former best friend, Marou, so Marou won’t spread knowledge of their clan leader’s death too early. But of course it’s not that simple. Marou has been claimed by the Yoma – demons who want to take over the world – and is growing in power. Hikage sees him in a strange village full of oddly happy people who don’t seem to have any cares at all. The village has no apparent resources, yet everyone in it is partying and laughing and super happy. But then he doesn’t see Marou again and instead becomes enamoured of a young woman, Aya, who has a bad scar on her cheek. And then he finds out that the village is full of suicidal folks who are being kept happy so they can be fed to Marou and he and his demons can take over. He fights the demon who was responsible, then some more demons, then everyone dies and Marou gets away and that’s the end of the episode.

Oh yeah, this is actually episodic. We hadn’t realized that before. And actually, I think it’s better this way. I’m fairly certain that the version we originally watched wasn’t divided, and it does play well enough as a whole. The thing is, I’m fairly sure there are some bits missing out of the version we originally saw, and I like that the second half introduces itself as a second half, divided from the first by three years. Because while the overarching plot of Hikage and Marou and the Yoma is still going on, the specifics of what Hikage encounters are different. And by smushing them together without much acknowledgement that there is a gap? Ironically, I think it would make the movie less cohesive.

The second half of the movie picks up three years later with the introduction of another character named Aya, this time a young woman who’s a ninja. She joins Hikage as they encounter a village full of ghosts and a bunch of other demons, most of whom shapeshift from human form to some sort of animal. And of course the whole thing ends with a climactic fight between Marou and Hikage, with Marou going full on demon and there’s lots of swordplay and yelling and blood. Aya gets attacked by a horse demon and eventually it all ends with Marou’s death. Not exactly a shocking ending. Of course, it also introduces the idea that Marou will be back, and that he will make the same choices he made before. Which brings up the question of Aya. In the first half she’s got a scar that a younger version of her (we assume) gets from the events of the second half.

The Aya thing is what gets me here. I can sort of see what the movie was going for with it, suggesting that there’s a cyclical nature of the events that are playing out. Marou’s rebirth, his strange origins, his choices and his words all hint at there being an inevitability to it all. But then there’s Aya, who dies in the first half only to sort of reappear in the second. Maybe it’s not the same Aya. Maybe the first half showed the potential future of the second half Aya had she not met Hikage? Maybe they’re not the same person but share the same soul? The movie does include the concepts of possession and reincarnation, allowing for the possibility that Aya wasn’t the same person but gained aspects of the other Aya. I don’t know. It’s all very vague, much like the battle scenes of the movie, which are shown by panning over some still sketches.

I find it frustrating because it hints at such a bigger picture. A lot of the movie does. But that bigger picture just doesn’t exist. This wasn’t a longer series condensed into an OVA and it doesn’t seem to have started as a manga series. It’s just a two part movie with some really big concepts that don’t quite fit. I love the still visuals and the demons are nicely drawn. The idea is pretty solid at its core and the characters are as well drawn as I’d expect them to be (aside from Aya) but it leaves me feeling like I missed something. This version left me feeling less that way than I remember feeling after the first time I saw it, but it’s still there. I enjoyed it, but I really wish there was even more of it to enjoy.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma

July 5, 2011

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma

Way back on the third day of our movie-a-day project we reviewed Hellboy: Storm of Swords. It was a direct to video animated Hellboy story inspired by Japanese folk tales and it reminded me of an anime I had seen years ago, but I couldn’t think of the name of it. Then again, when we reviewed Ninja Scroll a little while ago I was reminded of this mysterious and bloody anime from bygone days. It was so irritating – like an itch – to have this movie I only vaguely remembered and couldn’t therefore find. So I spent about an hour searching the internet until a title leaped out at me. “Curse of the Undead Yoma.”

This was it! This was that mystery movie I couldn’t remember! Amanda and I first sought this out when we saw this trailer and were instantly captivated. Just haunting, wistful song in the trailer made us curious. What was this strange looking movie filled with ghosts and demons? Luckily at the time we were working for TLA video and they had this in their vast collection of anime, so we were able to watch it soon after seeing the preview.

I think that version we watched way back in the nineties was different than this, which we picked up on DVD last week. For one thing, I don’t remember the other version being two separate episodes as this one is. For another I remember being utterly confused and befuddled by the goings on the last time I saw this, whereas tonight it seemed relatively simple and clear. Either I was very tired the last time I saw this or the version we were watching was compressed and edited. Maybe it was also dubbed, which could add to the confusion (this being in the days before DVD when everything was properly available in multiple languages.) Anyhow, back then this movie was just a series of interesting pictures strung together by only the vaguest of plots.

Tonight I was able to understand the plot pretty well. Young Ninja Hikage is sent to kill his childhood friend Marou after their master is killed by a mysterious demon. He tracks Marou to a lost village where nobody has any memory of their past. It’s an unsettling place where people with no direction seem to wash up, including the beautiful young Aya, who sings the haunting song from the preview and who has a distinctive scar or birthmark over half her face. As Hikage searches for Marou he discovers that something is brutally killing the villagers, although everybody he confronts about it denies that anything is happening. Soon he finds out that the villagers are sacrifices to a resurrected demon god of some sort. he kills the demon’s spider henchmen, releasing the villagers from their ensorcelled peace, and confronts the god himself, who of course turns out to be his childhood companion Marou.

Marou gets away and the villagers, released from their dreamlike state, all die. (They had been drawn to the village by their suicidal tendencies apparently.) Thus ends the first of the two episodes. The second episode catches up with Hikage two years later. He has been travelling all over Japan slaying Yoma, the demons being raised by Marou to overthrow the human race. He encounters a young ninja girl on a beach who is also coincidentally named Aya. The two of them strike out killing Yoma, encountering ghosts and whatnot until Hikage finally catches up with Marou and has his climactic confrontation.

Amanda is somewhat upset by the recursive nature of the coda to the film, what with the two Ayas, but I kind of enjoy that aspect of the movie as well. The entire thing has an otherworldly and mystical feel to it, so the strange sense of inevitability and rebirth works for me. It’s a ghost story, really. All the people in the first village are lost, perhaps lost in time even – so the Aya we meet there could perhaps be an echo of the Aya in the second half. Or perhaps Hikage is just fated to love a girl named Aya with a scar – who knows? The movie doesn’t present answers, and that’s just fine by me. It’s a movie about second chances and love and betrayal, and all of those themes fill it from start to end.

This was made in 1989 – around the time of Akira. As such I can’t help being impressed with the detailed animation throughout. It’s full of cool demons, ninjitsu and acrobatic fight scenes, and lots of gore and corpses. There’s a lot of imagery that is frankly disturbing and unsettling, which is exactly the mood that the film makers were going for I’m sure. The whole “childhood friends who have to fight to the death” might be a tired kind of trope in the anime world, but this is one of my favorite examples of it. My other favorite is a spoof in the short lived Here is Greenwood series.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment