Someone bought this movie for me as a gift yesterday knowing my love for both Japanese movies and horror. While many of the characters are demons, I have to start with the disclaimer that this is not a horror movie per se, rather a film of a novelization of a historical political drama. The movie is based on both the actual Christian uprising of the Shimabara Revolt against the Shogunate in the 1600s and the novel Makai Tensho. To my knowledge this is the fifth movie to be made from this novel, and as the first came out in 1981 and starred Sonny Chiba I will be watching that one in the future.
As the movie begins, the leader of the revolt, Shiro Amukasa, is killed along with sixty something thousand of his followers and the Shogunate believes the rebellion has been quashed. What they didn’t count on is that Amukasa was learning an occult art called “Makai Tensho” or demonic transmigration while he was hanging around in hell. I guess this is similar to getting your law degree in prison?
Anyway, Amukasa returns to earth about ten years later as a demon in flesh and commences to raising demon allies using young womens’ bodies as vessels for the demons. The first and only time we watch the process, a very lovely and topless woman is strapped to a table with an upside down cross carved at the top of her sternum. For you pervs, the camera lingers on her breasts for a much longer time than is necessary for the story but this is the only pair in the movie. Soon her arm starts to bulge and then she explodes and a blood-soaked demon in the form of a man appears where she was. I liked the reversal of the Christian tradition in making the men from the womens’ bodies.
The story draws out slowly but evenly, revealing more about the nature of the demons, how they can be killed, even who is in the bodies because some people make surprise appearances after walking around in someone else’s body for awhile. There are a couple of nice twists and some action takes place off screen to be revealed later. What I enjoyed most is that the film knocks our usual perception of demons on its ass. You can’t tell who is a demon unless they appear to you in the form of someone whom you know to be dead, or if they make their eyes go all weird on purpose, or if they just come out and tell you, “hey, guess what, I’m a demon.” Nobody gets an exorcism and nobody gets eaten. They look like humans, but are able to fly through the air like 70s martial arts actors. There is even one character who gets possessed but holds the original character of a righteous person and even helps to fight the demons.
What about the swordfights? There are many of them and they get progressively more intricate as the main demon hunter Jubei Yagyu (the role originally played by Chiba) slashes his way up the demonic ladder. But there is a lot of doublecrossing and talking in between the fighting. The movie is not as gory as I would have liked; however, it does boast one of the most badass death sequences I have ever seen as Yagyu takes a blade to the chest, fakes being more hurt than he is, and then pushes the blade the rest of the way through himself and through his unsuspecting opponent who is standing too closely behind him.
This was not the greatest movie ever but I had fun watching it, especially because I’d never heard of it and had no expectations going in. I couldn’t find much online about the movie and even IMDB has only two threads discussing it (with no arguing in either thread, wow) but someone at the Tokyo Shock company liked it a lot because the version I have is a two disc set with an entire disc of special features included. This version can be played with English dubbing or in Japanese with English subtitles. I recommend this for a rainy day when you feel like watching a story that has a little bit of everything.