Simply beyond and back, with the sound of rock.
Japan during the middle ages, a time when mysticism and dark overlords still ruled the land. A deviant tyrant, master of a ruthless clan, calls on a respectable masseur to ease his physical burdens. The masseur agrees to help, and for this he pays with his life. But his refusal to enter the hereafter, has him coming back as a ‘hungry ghost’ to take care of unfinished business…
Those thinking The Blood Of Rebirth will spawn a tale of merciless revenge and heroic bloodshed, will be severely misled and most likely suffer from a disappointment. It’s not so much like the masseur seems fully aware himself of what all exactly he’s coming back for. Most of the middle section of the film spends a great deal of time showing him coming back to his senses and gaining strength, while aided by a docile and caring female servant called Terute, once a princess in a distant land, who previously fled from the tyrant’s clan. It’s clear that she feels she owes it to the masseur to help him recover, as it were his thoughtful, simple words that encouraged her to gather the necessary strength to free herself from the enslaved life she was leading.
The masseur, named Oguri, is played by Japanese rock musician Tatsuya Nakamura (also drummer of the band Twin Tail, which provided the soundtrack) and without many words he puts down a comforting yet very determined character. From the first moments he appears on the screen, you just feel he’s a likeable protagonist as well as a force to be reckoned with. So simple and effective that it’s hard to explain, really. His ways are modestly thoughtful and this suits his character in such a way, it scarcely strikes some humorous notes, subtle and welcome, like in the conversation he has with the gateway keeper in the hereafter (played by Itsuji Itao from Air Doll).
The plot boils down to a triangular relationship between our three main characters – the tyrant, the masseur and the slave girl – which has fairly nothing to do with love, is on a more superficial level about betrayal and revenge but more profoundly about faith, companionship & sacrifice. Exploring these themes, along with the character development, is kept to a strict minimum giving the film more than enough time to stop and admire the landscapes, so to speak. It’s a simplicity you can either embrace or reject, the former allowing you to enjoy the visual surroundings equally like the film does, the latter taking you on a straight line out of the film. Chances are you might still find your way back into the film, but by the time the third act comes around some things will have been lost on you along the way.
I’m not necessarily talking about the scenery (which does provide us majestical images and slow motion sequences) but more so about the amazing instrumental rock soundtrack that floats somewhere between psycho-jazz-rock and emo-post-rock. You figure it out, but it left me wanting more as the music was nothing short of being superb. Director Toshiaki Toyoda could have had his band Twin Tail create a couple more themes to play variants on. That’s mainly because I liked the instrumental songs a lot, but I can see other people perhaps questioning this approach. For the music often doesn’t really enhance or support the events or action in the film. They form a bit of a contrast at times with what’s happening on the screen. But since the music is often used in scenes where there’s no dialogues, they strangely go very well with the often long drawn-out images. Good stuff, but I can imagine not for all tastes.
The final act of The Blood Of Rebirth includes a fairly bloody & downright crazy ‘vs. fight’ – and like we all know, the Japenese can be very imaginative when it comes to that – and a sweet and favorable ending. If there ever should have been doubts while watching the film, then these two things should stimulate a satisfying verdict in the end. For esthetics, ideologies and sound design this is a film well worth seeing – or perhaps well worth undergoing might be phrasing things a little better. If you want to see a film driven by an uptempo narrative, offering a complex perspective to the kabuki legend at hand, you better look elsewhere within the realm of Japanese cinema. Recommended for those who don’t mind digesting something else for a change, and rest assured, it’s far less heavy subject matter to stomach than it might appear at first.
This was my first Toshiaki Toyoda film, and now I want more. Offscreen’s guide to the 2010 program hit the nail on the head with describing it as a chambara version of Jim Jarmusch‘s . I need to add something to this, if anything, so I’ll just say, even if I have no way of knowing this, that if you’d show The Blood Of Rebirth to David Lynch, he’ll probably say it’s a cool film.
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