As any anime or manga fan can tell you, bringing either medium to life is a tricky proposition on a good day, but then by the same token, nobody does live-action cartoons better than the Japanese. Based on Hideaki Sorachi’s eponymous manga series, “Gintama” brings its source material to life with a vigor and energy worthy of “Tai Chi Zero” and “Scott Pilgrim vs The World“!
Leading the way is Shun Oguri as the heroic former Samurai, Gintoki Sakata. Kanna Hashimoto and Masaki Suda step into the roles of his close friends, Kagura and Shinpachi Shimura. Takayuki Yamada provides the voice of the living duck mascot, “Elizabeth”, while villainous duties fall to Hirofumi Arai in the role of Nizo Okada, who finds himself possessed by a mystical katana that Japan’s new occupiers will stop at nothing to get their hands on.
In an alternate timeline, Japan falls victim to a massive alien invasion during the Edo period, seizing control over the land and forcing all samurai to lay down their arms.
Once known as the “White Demon”, former samurai Gintoki Sakata nows makes a living as a handyman, but he inexplicably finds himself thrust back into the life of a samurai. A mysterious swordsman tasks him with keeping a cursed sword with supernatural abilities out of the hands of the alien invaders intent on getting their hands on it to strengthen their grip over the world. With the help of his good friends Kagura and Shinpachi Shimura, Gintoki takes up the mantle of the “White Demon” once more to keep the mystic relic from falling into the wrong hands.
Most adaptations of a popular source material make the leap to live-action with the understanding that they’ll need to make some kind of stylistic transition from one medium to another, but not “Gintama”. The film adapts the visual and narrative outlandishness of the manga and anime that spawned it with such a degree of literalism that you’d swear that the Wachowskis had some kind of creative input.
The film wears its out-and-out craziness and visual insanity as a badge of honor; not two minutes go by without the film incorporating either some cartoonish sound effects or heavily stylized CGI (though admittedly, its rather hit-and-miss quality-wise in this regard) into the action sequences or as a tool to punctuate the dialogue – or sometimes, just simply because it can.
If you’re the type of fan who prefers adaptations of their favourite IP to be painstakingly literal in how closely they hew to the source material, you’ll leave “Gintama” one happy camper, while everyone else will be in for a live-action cartoon in the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” sense of the term.
The film is no less nuts in its plentiful katana-based fight sequences, and in fact, this is where “Gintama” is most eager to ratchet up its wackiness. Not even the delightfully bonkers “Kingsman” films had this flagrant a disregard for the laws of gravity and physics. Pinning down the film’s best action sequence would be hard, as “Gintama” only gets more and more unorthodox as it goes along – no small feat for a film that features a man in a life-sized beetle suit in its first fifteen minutes.
Gintoki’s opening rescue of Shinpachi sets the tone for what kind of action madness the film has in store for the viewer, and indeed, the first sword duel between Gintoki and Nizo is probably about as close as the film gets to “down to Earth” in either the action or the overall tone. The last third is where the film really offers up the best of what it has to offer, with Kagura and Shipachi battling an army of opponents aboard a flying cruise ship before being joined by Gintoki.
Perhaps the most understated success of “Gintama”, however, is how well the action is captured on screen. This is especially true in the final one-on-one duel between Gintoki and a traitor in Japan’s midst, with the camera sweeping and encircling both combatants to capture the over-the-top action in superb detail. In a film where the term “subtle” doesn’t apply whatsoever, it’s a reminder of the value of keeping shaky cam and overly fast editing to a minimum, executed with great subtlety!
For anime and manga fans (also known as “otaku”), “Gintama” is the stuff that dreams are made of. Meanwhile, martial arts fans and casual viewers alike can delight at the astonishing levels of “Looney Tunes” action insanity that the film dishes up. Although a little longer than it needs to be, and marred by some CGI of the below-average variety, if it’s an evening of utterly wacked-out action-comedy zaniness you crave, you could do far worse than “Gintama”!
- Shun Oguri based his portrayal of Gintoki on the one and only Jackie Chan.
- Yuichi Fukuda didn’t at first care for “Gintama” due to the frequent comparisons it received with his filmography. However, when he read the manga, he quickly saw why it was so frequently compared to his work and quickly became a fan. Fukuda also says that his films “Yusha Yoshihiko” and “Blue Flame” are what convinced “Gintama” author Hideaki Sorachi to do a live-action adaptation.
- This film’s storyline is based upon the “Benizakura” saga in the “Gintama” manga. This marks the third time this storyline has been adapted, after the anime films “Gintama” in 2005 and “Gintama: The Movie” in 2010.
Film Rating: 8/10
- “Worse than a bad karaoke video” – Kagura (offering up her opinion of the films prologue on Gintoki’s past).
- “Die-hard fans are sure to write harsh reviews, so we need the new viewers to be kind to us.” – Gintoki (explaining the need for the prologue).
- “I’ll rule the world of beetle wrestling!” – Kagura (after knocking a giant beetle out of a tree, which turns out to be a man in a beetle suit).
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