ASIAN FILM - Article
14:27 - 13th August 2015, by David West


Before adapting Chushingura in Last Knights, Kazuaki Kiriya visited the end of Japan’s Warring States period in his epic action fantasy Goemon. Yosuke Eguchi plays Goemon Ishikawa, raised to be a ninja in the service of the mighty warlord Oda Nobunaga. But after Nobunaga’s death, his former retainer Hideyoshi Toyotomi assumes power, while Goemon chooses to become an outlaw, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When he accidentally steals an item that threatens to expose Toyotomi’s treacherous route to the top, Goemon becomes the target for the warlord’s assassins and is forced to confront his past while fighting for the future of the nation.

The cast are just about the only real thing in Goemon. Everything else – from ships to streets to castles – was created digitally, allowing Kiriya to craft a vision of feudal Japan that is dizzying in detail and eye-popping in scale. The design work merrily blends together medieval Europe (according to history, Nobunaga wore European-style armour) and Japan, and there’s even a samurai army that looks like they stepped out of Star Wars.

The digital world allows action scenes to scoff at the limits of gravity. The chase / fight between Goemon and fellow ninja Saizo (Takao Osawa) starts in the city and spreads out into the countryside as they zip over rooftops and fields alike. South Korean real-life giant (he’s 7’ 2”!) and former kickboxer Choi Hong-Man makes a cameo as a hulking opponent who battles Goemon aboard a burning ship in one of the many spectacular set pieces put together by Kiriya and action coordinator Seiji Mori. Alongside all the swashbuckling, there’s time for a spot of romantic longing between the dashing Goemon and the doe-eyed princess Chacha (Ryoko Hirosue). Goemon was such a hit with NEO readers that it snagged the Best Film prize in the NEO Awards in 2010.


Goemon Ishikawa is a well-known figure in Japanese folk tales, often compared to Robin Hood, but historically accurate information about him is scant. A biography of Hideyoshi Toyotomi written in 1642 refers to Goemon as a thief who was executed by being boiled alive. As his legend grew, Goemon became an outlaw and a ninja who fought for the poor against the powerful, appearing as the subject of Kabuki plays as far back as the 16th century. More recently he can be found in video games, and his descendant, Goemon Ishikawa XIII, is a recurring character in the Lupin franchise.


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