Some time ago, there was a soldier who was so powerful that he became the subject of rumour rather than a confirmation of his actual existence; he was codenamed Ghost. On one training exercise to set about beating him, a small platoon of soldiers were slaughtered in an abandoned building, their commanding officer the last of them to have his throat slashed in a killing spree that has made this man a wanted criminal ever since. But what happened to him? It has taken a while, but he has been tracked to this quiet town on the Japanese coast, where he is calling himself Toshiro (Tak Sakaguchi) and looks after his niece, little Sachi (Yura Kondo), while being a shopkeeper...
Sakaguchi had made quite the name for himself as a big screen martial artist, especially in Japan, so when announced he was retiring from the screen there was great dismay from his legions of fans. Obviously feeling rather guilty, he offered to write and star in one more movie before moving behind the camera and continuing his career there, and Re: Born was that film, a work that started out as a meditative drama, the first five minutes aside, and then after about half an hour of the leading man moping around, it developed into pretty much an hour of non-stop action. If that did not satisfy his followers, then what would? Although it may still leave them wanting more than he was reluctant to give.
That half hour stretch was interesting in that it gave Sakaguchi opportunities to prove his acting chops, not something many an action star was willing to do when their adherents were keen to let them know it was their kicking ass proclivities they really wanted to see from them. Nevertheless, it did offer a measure of depth to what could have resembled not merely a computer game adaptation, but an actual computer game itself as he literally cut a swathe through seemingly dozens upon dozens of camo-uniformed and anonymous military types. This was all to demonstrate Toshiro had no interest in either returning to the fold of the Army, nor paying for his crimes against them previously.
This certainly supplied the action, but once it started and barely let up for that hour it tended to overshadow the good intentions of the character business that had gone before, even if Sachi's kidnapping (yes, that old cliché again) would not have had the same weight if we had not seen him doting over her in an increasingly perilous world. It was merely that those action sequences were so intense that you wondered if the fans he was making this for would not have been content with a solid ninety minutes of them, not caring about the little girl or Kenji (Takumi Saitoh), the hero's best buddy who had been disabled in combat and now needs a wheelchair to get around. Naturally, he wants to join in the violence, and it was an irony that the action which paralysed him from the waist down was what he most relished getting back to.
But this was Sakaguchi's movie, and there was no way of forgetting that. Seriously, there must have been at least fifty throat slashings from his character alone, one after the other in one long sequence of sustained bloodshed, impressive in its choreography but it did feel like one damn thing after another after a while. Director Yûji Shimomura was a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator himself, and handled the filming as well as apparently winding up his leading actor and letting him go could possibly do, but it was a case of not simply giving the audience what it wanted, but giving them second servings, third servings, fourth, fifth... To add to that gaming mood, there was even a big boss to get past come the end of the movie, as seeing Toshiro dispatching countless, similar-looking stunt performers had to lead somewhere, and that climactic battle was it. He certainly assured his credentials as a major Japanese action star in his swan song, but for the unconverted Re: Born may have been a little baffling, philosophising and all. Music by Kenji Kawai.
[Eureka's Blu-ray looks and sounds tip-top, and has a couple of trailers and an intro as features, that latter lasting about thirty seconds but pretty amusing with it.]