Friday Flicks: Goemon (2009)

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Friday Flicks is a one of our Periodicals, which we decided to start up because of our love for Asian cinema.

What we do with Friday Flicks will be similar to what other websites do with film reviews, except we won’t give a grade or score. Rather, we will tell you what we like and what we don’t like about the film. Our main goal is to spread the awesomeness of Asian cinema, creating new fans and introducing new films to existing ones.

We plan on talking about films from all across Asia (including Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, The Philippines, etc), both old and new. We basically want to make Asian film fans out of you.

One last note: These reviews will have minor spoilers. We intend to not reveal any major plot twists or story lines. Yet, a movie review is nearly impossible to do without talking about about the story even at little.

That being said, let’s get the show on the road!

This week’s Friday Flick: Goemon


Quick Notes

  • The film is (very) loosely based on the legendary Ishikawa Goemon, a sort of Robin Hood of Sengoku Period Japan.
  • The entire film was shot on a digital backlot, the same as director Kariya’s previous film, Casshern.
  • If director Kariya Kazuaki’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the ex-husband of Japanese pop legend Utada Hikaru.
  • Director Kariya has a very small role as Akechi Mitsuhide, the man who betrayed and assassinated Oda Nobunaga.
  • Goemon was nominated at the 2010 Asian Film Awards for Best Costume Designer and Best Visual Effects.

The legendary thief


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Ishikawa Goemon (Eguchi Yosuke) is an extraordinary thief that steals from the rich and gives to the poor. One night, upon robbing a mansion, he unknowingly steals a small and empty box. Not knowing its value, he tosses it with the other gold coins and jewelry into a crowd of thousands, all happy and cheering his name with outstretched arms. A young homeless child by the name of Koheita happens to pick it up. After giving away tons of riches, Goemon flees into the night, escaping any and all pursuers who tried to give chase.

Later that evening, he is greeted by his servant Sarutobi Sasuke (Gori), who informs him that there was supposedly a treasure among the riches that is being sought out by Ishida Mitsunari (Kaname Jun), a samurai serving under the ruler of the land, the tyrannical Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Okuda Eiji). Mitsunari had come to the mansion to confiscate the box, but because it was nowhere to be found, he had all the residents and servants living in the mansion killed.

Goemon goes to retrieves the box, only to be confronted by the shinobi Saizo (Osawa Takao), his brother-in-arms from his days of training in the ways of the ninja. After fighting and barely making it out with his life, Goemon discovers a map hidden inside the box, which leads him, Sasuke, and Koheita to a destroyed Buddha statue containing a mysterious treasure.

The treasure is in fact, a contract between Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide (director Kiriya Kazuaki), the man who betrayed and assassinated Oda Nobunaga — Goemon’s old master and the ruler of the land before Hideyoshi. The document is proof that Hideyoshi, a former vassal of Nobunaga, conspired with Mitsuhide and killed Nobunaga, and now wants all evidence of that matter destroyed. Enraged at the discovery of the conspiracy, Goemon sets out on a plan of revenge, which will reunite him with the past he left behind, including Chacha (Hirosue Ryoko), Nobunaga’s niece and the girl he was once assigned to protect.

Sengoku Japan, the Remix


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Goemon is one of those names that anyone who’s a fan of ninja lore knows (or should know). The name has appeared in video games, literature, kabuki dramas, and heck, even Lupin III. Though traditionally he was known as merely a thief, it was contemporary pop culture that exaggerated his background to that of a ninja.

The film brings in other big historical names into the mix, which can hype up any history buff. We have Japan’s three legendary unifiers (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu), other big names in ninja lore (Sarutobi Sasuke and Kirigakure Saizo), and many other key players in Japanese history (Akechi Mitsuhide, Ishida Mitsunari, Sen no Rikyu, and more). Although the key thing that the history buffs will notice is that many of these characters are, just like the Japan the story is set in, re-imagined and resemble very little to how history has depicted them.

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For instance, Oda Nobunaga is traditionally depicted as a clever, but cold warlord, even portrayed as a villain in many mediums. However, in Goemon he is a kind and just leader who had the potential to lead the world into peace. So that being said, the film should not be watched with the idea that it is intended to portray history accurately. Rather, it should be watched as a fantasy, action-adventure, using many references to historical names to build the world it’s set in.

After all, anyone who knows Sengoku Period Japan, or even anyone who has indulged in pop culture work set in the era, knows that the country didn’t have castles that look like something out of Arthurian legend, filled with knights that look more European than samurai. There also weren’t any brothels that had girls in very revealing half-kimono, shaking their booties in hip-hop fashion. Hell, back then men sported chonmage, the top knot hairstyles usually shown in samurai films. However, characters in Goemon sport hairstyles that people of today have, even bleached and dyed.

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But once you’re taken into this re-imagined Japan, the film draws you in further with its titular character. Goemon, played by the charismatic Eguchi Yosuke (who also played Saito in the live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin), is a character who has run away from his past, effectively escaping the shackles that shinobi are traditionally bound by. However, the free spirit is forced to confront it all over again upon the realization of the conspiracy behind the assassination of his beloved leader and father figure, Oda Nobunaga. It’s very hard not to be drawn in by Eguchi’s charm, which will make you love the character Goemon completely, and cheer for him until the end.

Eguchi is supported by a whole slew of amazing actors. The most notable are Osawa Takao and Okuda Eiji. Osawa, previously seen in another chanbara film Ichi, does amazing work as Goemon’s rival and brother-in-arms Saizo. Osawa’s presence makes Saizo fear-striking whenever he comes on screen. Far from being a villain, Saizo is essentially the cool and cold rival that usually contrasts the cheerful and colorful lead. He’s basically Sasuke to Naruto (although a million times more likable).

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Okuda’s Hideyoshi is an excellent villain, giving the presence of a tyrant with more than a few screws loose. He really brings to life a character that can easily snap if things don’t go his way. Hideyoshi is easily a character that one will hate to see squirm away with his life, and love to see finally get his just desserts.

Of course, the film’s testosterone has to have something to balance it out, and we have that in the form of the beautiful Hirosue Ryoko. Though indeed a character who could have been developed a little bit more, she is enough to make sure the film doesn’t stay a sausage fest.

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Goemon is loaded with fantastic ninja battles that are rivaled by the best ones seen in anime. The ninjas run and jump over rooftops, swing through trees, and even the traditional windy grass field. The action melds CG-assisted visual effects (the film was filmed primarily in a digital backlot) and slow motion to present action that can be described in one word: epic. Though admittedly, it does get over the top a bit when Goemon is shown to fight off hordes and hordes of bad guys alone like some sort of Dynasty Warriors video game, one can’t help by get absorbed into the action.

So, if you’re in the mood for a film with some of the most epic fight scenes and charismatic characters, this Goemon is the film to watch.

Watch this film…


…if you want to see Japan’s answer to 300.




Ray Arcega

Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.




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