Today’s selection: Ashura (2005, dir. Yojiro Takita)
Subgenre: Historical Fantasy, Yokai
Available from: Animeigo
NB: The Japanese title is Ashura jo no Hitomi (Eyes of Ashura Castle), in case you need to keep it straight wih the 2012 Keiichi Sato anime movie Ashura (AKA Asura).
Ashura is a fantasy film set somewhere in the early Edo period, a time when oni freely disguised themselves as human in order to wreak havoc. A group of black-clad “Demon Wardens” hunt them, but one of the group, Izumo, goes AWOL after accidentally killing an innocent. Izumo becomes a kabuki actor, but is dragged back into the life when he gets involved with an amnesiac kunoichi with ties to a demonic nun, a corrupted Demon Guard officer, and the oni queen Ashura.
Director Takita had already cut his teeth in the fantasy/monster realm with the Onmyouji franchise, but this film is a step up on several levels. While it’s based on a play (by Re: Cutie Honey and Gurren Lagann scribe Kazuki Nakashima), Takita never lets one feel that, with movie the camera with constantly interesting tracks and zooms that would be impossible for a static set. Tomo’o Haraguchi’s effects rock, and Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack also enhances the overall cinematic experience. There are moments where the plot drags a bit, but overall the film is supremely watchable, with entertaining twists and larger-than-life characters. Where else can one see the metaphorical red string of fate used as a literal weapon?