×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ashura

A timeless tale gets redone in "Ashura," a Kabuki classic here given sexy, f/x-laden treatment that only outstays its welcome in final reels. Top cast, wildly eclectic soundtrack and intriguing use of antique themes make pic a midnight must for fans of both manga and traditional threads.

With:
With: Somegoro Ichikawa, Rie Miyazawa, Kanako Higuchi, Atsuro Watabe, Takashi Naito, Yukijoro Hotaru, Fumiyo Kohinata, Kazui Kuwabara, Sarutiki Minigawa, Koji Ookura, Kumiko Tsuchiya, Tatsuo Yamada.

A timeless tale gets redone in “Ashura,” a Kabuki classic here given sexy, f/x-laden treatment that only outstays its welcome in final reels. Top cast, wildly eclectic soundtrack and intriguing use of antique themes make pic — about a climactic battle, and love affair, between demons and demon hunters in old Edo — a midnight must for fans of both manga and traditional threads. New Nippon DVD release comes with disc containing a staged version of the original play, also starring Somegoro Ichikawa.

Fans of the Japan-arthouse tradition of marrying archaic elements to experimental form (Bunraku-inspired “Double Suicide” being the most obvious example) will appreciate many ironies here. These start with topliner Ichikawa, son of a famous Kabuki star, as Izumo, top Demon Hunter-turned-thespian who gave up chasing evil spirits after he thought he killed an innocent girl.

This tragedy occurs at the end of an opening sequence in which Izumo and other hunters, led by sage samurai (Atsuro Watabe) and his too-eager lieutenant Jaku (Takashi Naito), who looks like a feral rock star, relish slicing and dicing befanged demons across a debauched-looking 19th-century Edo.

Girl later returns as Tsubaki (former teen idol and sometime porn star Rie Miyazawa), an acrobat and part-time ninja thief who posseses untapped magic powers. When Izumo bumps into her in a romantic, riverfront setting, he sets out to learn her secrets, and they woo each other in semi-violent fashion.

Fireworks result in Tsubaki herself ascending to throne of Ashura, long-awaited queen of darkness. Meanwhile, Bizan (Kanako Higuchi), beautiful, nun-like apparition, shows up occasionally to explain things.

In the drawn-out final quarter, Jaku changes sides to get with Bizan, and to prevent Izumo from following Tsubaki/Ashura into her upside-down castle fortress.

Despite the over-the-top sword-and-sorcery, helmer and co-scripter Yojiro Takita (who has previously handled period and horror pics) revel most in theatrical elements. He ultimately rests saga on Tsuruya Namboku IV (Fumiyo Kohinata), the Kabuki playwright who actually wrote the original and is here presented as an easily bored witness to earth-shattering events.

Visual f/x range from awesome to cheesy, and detached, multi-level approach is reinforced by music score that combines odd-metered jazz with heavily orchestrated world pop and more. Even so, it’s unexpected when post-apocalyptic credits roll while Sting sings “My Funny Valentine.”

Ashura

Japan

Production: A Shochiku Films production. (International sales: Shochiku Co., Tokyo.) Produced by Shuji Miyajima. Directed by Yojiro Takita. Screenplay, Sei Kawaguchi, Kazuki Nakajima, Maqsashi Todayama.

Crew: Camera (color), Katsumi Yanagishima; editor, Nobuko Tomita; music, Yoko Kanno; production designer, Hiroshi Hayashida; sound (Dolby), Osamu Onodera; creature f/x, Tomoo Haraguchi. Reviewed at Hawaii Film Festival (Eastern Showcase), Oct. 29, 2005. Running time: 119 MIN.

With: With: Somegoro Ichikawa, Rie Miyazawa, Kanako Higuchi, Atsuro Watabe, Takashi Naito, Yukijoro Hotaru, Fumiyo Kohinata, Kazui Kuwabara, Sarutiki Minigawa, Koji Ookura, Kumiko Tsuchiya, Tatsuo Yamada.

More Film

  • 'Who Will Write Our History' Review:

    Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History'

    The most famous diarist of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, began to write down the drama of her daily life with no ulterior motive (apart from her teenage ambition to write fiction). But in March 1944, the year before she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she heard a radio broadcast by a member of the [...]

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

    Film News Roundup: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Trailer Sets Sony Pictures Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sets a studio record, Chris Meledandri and Glenn Close are honored, an art-house streaming service is unveiled, and “Cliffs of Freedom” gets a release. TRAILER STATS The first “Spider-Man: Far From Home” trailer has set a record as the biggest digital launch in Sony Pictures history [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo to Star in the Thriller 'Hell on the Border'

    Frank Grillo is set to star in the action-thriller “Hell on the Border” with Wes Miller directing. Miller also penned the script with Curtis Nichouls, Henry Penzi, and Sasha Yelaun producing. Ron Perlman is also on board to co-star. Plot details are unknown at this time. Production is currently underway in Birmingham, Ala. More Reviews [...]

  • Lee Unkrich Variety Oscars Nominees Lunch

    'Toy Story 3,' 'Coco' Director Lee Unkrich to Exit Pixar After 25 Years

    Lee Unkrich, who won Academy Awards for “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” is departing Pixar Animation Studios after 25 years to spend more time with his family. Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994 after working as an assistant editor in television on “Silk Stalkings” and “Renegade.” He served as editor on Pixar’s first feature, 1995’s “Toy [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed

    Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed Back Several Months

    Warner Bros. is pushing back the production start date of its third “Fantastic Beasts” movie several months from July to the late fall, a spokesperson said Friday. Actors have been notified about the change in dates. The untitled third “Fantastic Beasts” movie has not yet set a release date. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. The deal suggests that Apple sees docu [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content