The story takes place in ancient Japan where the Heike Clan rule after a bitter struggle with the rival Genji Clan. Gojoe bridge is the entrance to their capital city and each night the guards watching it are murdered by someone, or something, unseen. The bridge separates the city from The Devil’s Wood which is a burial ground for the corpses of the more unsavory members of society. This fuels the locals to think it is a demon that haunts the bridge and has set it sights on their city. Enter Benkai (Daisuke Ryu) a swordsman and killer who has put down his blade and taken vows as a monk. He hasn’t used a weapon in seven years, but gets a vision that destroying the demon of Gojoe bridge, will bring him enlightenment. As he investigates, he soon discovers it is no demon that haunts the bridge, but master swordsman and heir to the Genji Clan, Shanao (Tadanobu Asano) who seeks revenge on the Heike. Can Benkai defeat this ‘demon’ when he still has quite a few of his own?
As directed by Sogo Ishii, and co-written by he and Goro Nakajima, this is a very dark and borderline apocalyptic swordplay thriller with a subtle yet strong supernatural undercurrent. The villain of Gojoe bridge may indeed be a mere man, but he believes he is a god come to restore the Genji and the power of that belief seems to make him virtually invincible. Ishii has already crafted an intense and bleak film that, despite being a bit too long, remains intense and atmospheric during it’s entire running time. This added supernatural element only serves to add an air of mystery and power to the already tense flick. The power of belief also seems to be a theme here as both Shanao and Benkai have strong spiritual beliefs that seem to strengthen them in their missions…or in Benkai’s case weaken him as his violent past still haunts him. There is also much said about man’s true nature as many innocents in the film meet violent ends at the hands of the evil that men do and Benkai is only truly ready to face Shanao when he casts off the monk and embraces the killer. Is Ishii saying that despite how hard he tries, man will always be destructive in nature? Maybe!..though he does conclude his film with what could be viewed as a slight glimmer of hope…or maybe it just means the cycle will just begin all over again, someday. The answers are not spoon fed to you. Despite the dark and grim tone and more moderate pace, there are some very thrilling sword duels and the final showdown between our two principals is worth waiting over two hours for. It’s very physical, very bloody…as is the rest of the film…and the supernatural overtones come out of the shadows for an explosive finale. The cast are all very good, Ishii has a stunning visual eye that is only heightened by Makoto Watanabe’s cinematography and the film gets added atmosphere from Hiroyuki Onogaw’s score.
In conclusion, despite a very long length and a more moderate pace, this is an intense, atmospheric and bloody film. It takes some interesting characters, especially our flawed hero and puts them in a very tense setting surrounded with supernatural elements. There are some dark themes running through it and even it’s conclusion may indicate that man’s destructive nature is a cycle, though depending on how you view certain events, there may be a glimmer of hope. An intense and involving film with some really strong action scenes and a darker tone than usually found in these type of movies.
3 and 1/2 swords!
Couldn’t find the trailer, but did find the whole movie