By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
Full of the typical visual razzle-dazzle one has come to expect from his movies, director Takashi Yamazaki’s latest is sweetly entertaining, effectively blending romance with the supernatural. Set in the early 1960’s, we are introduced to renowned author Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and his younger wife Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata), who are returning to the former’s hometown of Kamakura after a whirlwind relationship and marriage in Tokyo. This will be the first time Akiko has made the trip to Kamakura, and she is in for quite a surprise, as it holds many peculiar secrets. The first is that her new husband has an unhealthy obsession for model trains; the second is that he helps the local police with crimes that have an otherworldly angle to them; but the biggest one is that the small town itself has long interacted with a parallel universe inhabited by ghosts, goblins, and yokai.
Reassuring Akiko that everything is fine as long as she follows some basic rules, Masakazu alternates his time between his friendly-if-pushy editor Honda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), Chief Daibutsu (Jun Kunimura) from the local police, and his new wife, but the newlyweds appear quite innocent in learning what marriage truly means. Helping them out is the writer’s longtime housekeeper Kin (Tamao Nakamura). Things take a darker turn when an unseen force starts wreaking havoc in the town, and seems to be specifically targeting Akiko for some unknown reason. These encounters will lead Masakazu to travel to the other side, where even more secrets will be revealed.
Based on the 80’s manga by Ryohei Saigan, this is the second time the artist and film-maker Yamazaki (whose body of work also includes Juvenile, Returner, The Eternal Zero, and the Parasyte films) have teamed up, after the highly successful Always: Sunset on Third Street trilogy, and the director seems fascinated by Saigan’s elaborate worlds, made up of dozens of smaller stories which give the central location a real textural framework. While maybe not as fully rounded as the Sunset films, Yamazaki takes his time to create an infectious mood, carefully weaving through the townsfolk and their various connections with each other via likeable vignettes, quietly allowing us to feel something towards this gallery of characters. Yamazaki is blessed with a strong cast, all of whom help the material’s human element resonate to a greater degree, bringing required balance to the large scale effects that will engulf the story in the second half.
Sakai (Golden Slumber, Key of Life, The Chef of South Polar) is delightful as Masakazu. using that kindly pained expression of his to marvellous effect; Takahata (Jossy’s, Blue Spring Ride, Japanese Girls Never Die) is an utter delight as Akiko, bringing real charm and buoyancy to proceedings; Tsutsumi (the Mole Song films, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, Princess Toyotomi) and Kunimura (The Wailing, the Chihayafuru films) are both nicely relaxed as Honda and Daibutsu respectively; the always reliable Hiroko Yakushimaru (The 8 Year Engagement, Wasao) is fine as the owner of a bar frequented by both humans and creatures; and Sakura Ando (currently co-starring in the outstanding Shoplifters) is charming as a rather approachable Grim Reaper. Only the talented Mikako Ichikawa (Glasses, Rent-a-Cat, The Extreme Sukiyaki) seems under-utilised.
The special effects, as expected, are first-rate, with a final act visit to the Spirited Away-like netherworld proving to be genuinely eye-popping. Though a particular confrontation does go on a little longer than needed, the finale does over a satisfying wrap-up. Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is a film that mainly relies on the small idiosyncrasies and interactions of its characters, which is unusual for a big budget, effects-heavy fantasy. However, given how headache-inducing many of these huge blockbusters can be, to see one deliver more gentle, good-natured entertainment such as this, is a comforting experience indeed.