June 3, 2010

Moon Over Tao

The third film in the Keita Amemiya Collection just may be his most accomplished film, at least of this trio. It shows the film maker with a clearly bigger budget, although still distinctly in the low-budget realm, and taking a step away from his stock in trade of robot based films. Moon Over Tao continues his trend of wringing all he can out of the budget and onto the screen with a visually inventive film. While it may not be a great film, and one that takes a certain type of movie lover to get behind, you have to respect him for what he does with so little.

The film begins with a fifteenth century Japanese lord, Tadaoki, showing a special sword to one of his up and coming swordsman named Hayate. Meanwhile, just outside the gate is a man in a wide brimmed hat (I am unsure of what it is called) asking to see Tadaoki. The gatekeeper is unwilling to let him pass. The stranger then takes out a pad, writes something on it and sticks the paper to the gatekeeper's forehead. Within moments, the stranger is in the main chamber with Tadaoki. The slip is removed and the gatekeeper, unsure of what just happened, runs off frightened.

This is an element of the film that I really liked, and also one that many unfamiliar with the culture will not understand. Not to put myself up too high, as I do not always understand it, but I know where they come from. The stranger, revealed to be a former military advisor is Suikyou, a man who has taken up a more spiritual life as a Taoist. They have the knowledge of magical spells that are cast by writing them and applying them to where you want them to work. For another film that makes use of these spells, see the Mr. Vampire series.

In any case, we learn that the sword being shown earlier is made of some sort of special metal, not Earth-bound steel, but something else. Tadaoki wants more of these weapons to use in their future battles. So, Suikyou and Hayate set off to find the source of the metal and bargain for more weapons. This is where the story takes a turn.

The metal is not from this planet and its true nature could prove to be deadly, destructive to the entire planet. This is revealed by the arrival of a trio of alien women, dropped to the surface like scuba divers. They fight among themselves and then disappear into the darkness.

From here on out the story becomes a bit confused. Yes, it is easy to follow, but when it comes to any sort of explanation you need to mine what you can and fill in the rest. The aliens, the mystery metal, the in-fighting between the aliens, the bugs that seem to follow them around and heal injuries, the metal sphere's thirst for blood, the nature of the Makaraga creature that comes from the sphere, there are all sorts of things here that fit together like a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.

What it all comes down to is whether or not you want to work through it. For my money, I liked the movie. The story is a mish-mash of genres, bringing the samurai film into close proximity with an alien movie, and even tossing in the monster movie. While the movie's personality suffers from multiple personality disorder, director and co-writer Keita Amemiya keeps things interesting with his unique visual flair. Yes, the performances are fine too, nothing much to talk about on that front.

All of this movies problems lie with the screenplay and the execution of said screenplay. It almost feels like two screenplays were in a nasty, twisted metal car wreck and the result is what became the shooting script. An intriguing mess, but still a mess. Fortunately, the visual style and always surging pacing keep the viewer interested.

Audio/Video. Like the other films in the set, the transfer is soft and fine detail is lost. Still, it does the job. The biggest issues come during scenes shot day-for night, which look utterly ridiculous here and have no detail. The audio does not have a lot of life to it, but is considerably clearer than the video, this goes for both the dub English and original Japanese tracks.

Extras. None, aside from a couple of trailers for other Tokyo Shock releases.

Bottomline. Is Keita Amemiya a good film maker? Yes and no. In the big picture, probably not, but within the realm of low budget film making, he does a lot of interesting and worthwhile things, better than most. It makes me wonder of he got a big budget and a quality script what he could do. I enjoy his films and am glad to have them in my collection, with this likely being the pinnacle of what he has achieved.



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