The Floating Castle
Credits: Directed by Shinji Higuchi and Isshin Inudô and starring Hiroki Narimiya, Takayuki Yamada, Masachika Ichimura, Kôichi Satô, Mana Ashida, Machiko Ono, Isao Natsuyagi, Mansai Nomura, Sei Hiraizumi, Masahiko Nishimura, Nana Eikura and Honami Suzuki.
Details: 144 mins, Japan,
Synopsis: In the year 1590, powerful daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Masachika Ichimura) nears his plan to unify all of Japan, but he comes across a floating fortress known as Oshi Castle. Narita Nagachika (Mansai Nomura), in charge of defending the castle, must use his army of 500 men to combat Toyotomi Hideyoshi's army of 20,000.
Woeful action-comedy sunk by poor acting, CGI.
It’s a rare film where you notice even the lousy acting of extras
JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: With its brownish palette, like faded Eastmancolor, its arsenal of clumsy wipes and seemingly arbitrary freeze-frames—not to mention that vintage Toho ident at the start—this might easily be mistaken for a 1960s programme-filler, particularly in its awkward, distinctly retro pre-credit sequence. What it could not possibly be mistaken for, however, is any kind of classic.
It’s a rare film where you notice even the lousy acting of extras. But this is that movie: a boisterous, crudely directed action-comedy, set in Sengoku-era Japan, which opens with a new regent, Hideyoshi, attempting to consolidate the warring kingdoms, and unleashing upon one especially recalcitrant group of enemies a flash-flood—a deluge which, here as later in the film, occasions some of the worst CGI of the year.
But however lame the effects are, the acting is far, far worse. Chief culprit, in this respect, is star Mansai Nomura, who plays the hapless ‘Lord Bone’—a grinning man-child given to capering and pratfalls, who must step up when his father dies in order to protect Castle Oshii—the ‘floating castle’ of the title, it being set on a lake—and its inhabitants. This, despite some seriously disproportionate odds: he has just 500 men at his disposal, against an army of 20,000.
Gradually he enlists the help of others, notably an aged samurai, Izumi (Tomomitsu Yamaguchi), and an ambitious younger would-be warrior, Sakamaki (Hiroki Narimiya), whose unorthodox strategic plans prove unusually effective. He also wins the love of the princess Kaihime (Nana Eikura), whose patience—unlike the viewer’s—apparently knows no bounds.
Whenever Bone is onscreen, the film dies a little. His big dramatic moment here consists of cavorting idiotically before the invading forces (a bit of pantomime involving wee-wee goes down especially well), in order to provoke his own assassination, and thereby inspire his own troops. But the sequence is protracted to an almost unbelievable extent, as the filmmakers invite us to laugh along with Bone’s buffoonish antics. And much like another bigscreen clown, Roberto Benigni, Nomura is actually charmless and grating; the film’s attempts to ingratiate him only have the effect of pushing us further away. Creepily over-friendly, blithely unconcerned by social hierarchies (the peasants are his friends!), he’s like the Shogunate version of Barney the Dinosaur, and as such, contradicts long centuries of Japanese imperial hauteur.
Originally scheduled to premiere in September 2011, the film’s release was postponed more than a year following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami—the producers realising that, all things considered, it might not be the best moment to unveil a story about the devastation caused by induced flash-flooding.
Yet appallingly, what the extra time seems to have allowed is for the addition of FX shots that shamelessly recreate some of the ‘greatest hits’ from that incident: overhead images of tall waves rushing swiftly over green fields, or a wall of water crashing into a building beside a canal, are appropriated directly from news footage of the Tohoku incident, and represent a kind of opportunistic low, the point where tragedy meets idiocy.
This, coupled with the inordinate length (145 very long minutes), makes this a bitter pill to swallow. Avoid it—and rent or buy Takashi Miike’s superb 13 Assassins instead, a smarter, nobler, altogether better movie than this one.
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