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  Gintama - The Movie Steampunk Samurai
Year: 2010
Director: Shinji Takamatsu
Stars: Daisuke Sakaguchi, Rie Kugimiya, Tomokazu Sugita, Akira Ishida, Kazuya Nakai, Kenichi Suzumura, Susumu Chiba, Takehito Koyasu, Satsuki Yoshino
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Edo era Japan suffered a great shock when alien beings called Amanto invaded the Earth, seized control of the nation’s government and outlawed the carrying of swords by the once-proud samurai. Moreover, the aliens began running Japan as a giant sweatshop using natives as labourers. In this strange new era Gintoki Sakata (voiced by Tomokazu Sugita), an eccentric, uncouth but courageous young samurai, and his friends Shinpachi Shimura (Daisuke Sakaguchi), bespectacled heir of the Kakido-Ryu sword clan, and Kagura (Rie Kugimiya), a dainty yet incredibly strong alien girl from the powerful Yota clan, start a self-employed business called the Yoruzuya Gin-chan. For the right price, the gang will do just about any odd job, from retrieving lost kittens to saving the world.

Gintama ranks alongside Naruto (2002) and Bleach (2004) as among the current tent-pole anime franchises hugely popular among Japanese teenagers. Produced, unusually for an anime, by Warner Brothers, the film gets off to an amusingly irreverent start. The action freeze-frames in mid-intro and replays several times as the lead characters debate why a major Hollywood studio want to make an anime about samurai and whether this movie will be a worthy showcase for their obvious star quality. This establishes a zany anything goes tone that proves among the most appealing aspects of an uneven yet thoroughly entertaining romp. Nothing is sacred. Our heroes name check their own manga magazine, complain the anime is too violent and indulge in all manner of post-modern tomfoolery.

Clearly aimed at long-time fans, Gintama - The Movie gets off to a running start and does not clue newcomers in to who is who. Nevertheless, director Shinji Takamatsu creates an appealingly oddball world where samurai rub shoulders with outlandish alien beings, super-intelligent animals and surreal creations such as Elizabeth an, er, thing in a giant bird costume that communicates through hand-painted signs. Its anarchic mix of steampunk sci-fi, samurai adventure and fourth wall-breaking attitude is somewhat along the lines of Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s live action The Sword of Alexander (2007) though, much like a Jeff Lau movie, the tone switches from unhinged comedy to disarmingly lyrical at the drop of a hat.

The plot, which wisely plays its central sci-fi conspiracy angle completely straight, involves Shinpachi and Kagura investigating the disappearance of friendly rival samurai, Katsura (Akira Ishida), whom it appears fell victim to a serial killer prowling the city. Meanwhile, a swordsmith hires Gintoki to retrieve the Benizakura, a magic sword which the silver-haired samurai discovers is actually an alien artificial intelligence that enslaves both mind and body of anyone foolish enough to wield it. Both plot strands eventually come together as the heroes discover the Benizakura belongs to a band of rogue samurai out to overthrow the Shogunate.

While the set-pieces are spectacular and exciting, the dense story is sometimes hard to follow with a few too many lulls in the action. Surprisingly, lead hero Gintoki has little do till the rousing climax, often either comatose or convalescing while supporting characters shoulder the detective work. Happily, all the characters prove engaging though for non-devotees, emerge slightly lacking in depth. The third act recalls both Akira (1988) and Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) as the out-of-control Benizakura overwhelms one of the principal villains transforming them into a biomechanical monster. After the downfall of the villains the onset of an alien invasion feels like unnecessary padding and the finale is frustratingly inconclusive, presumably setting things up for a sequel. Still, the post-credits extended gag which has characters squabbling over who will headline the next Gintama movie proves genuinely funny, especially a climactic appearance by the Warner Brothers, or anime approximation thereof anyway.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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