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  • Gojoe (2000) is a typically vibrant and vivid piece of film-making from Japanese firebrand Sogo Ishii, who remains perhaps one of the most radical and underrated Japanese filmmakers of the last twenty-five years. Ishii began his directing career in the late 1970's when he was still a student at the Nihon University, and his work of that particular period with films like Panic High School (1978), Crazy Thunder Road (1980) and Burst City (1982) reflected an interest in performance art and his involvement in the Tokyo punk scene. Though later films like Angel Dust (1994) and Labyrinth of Dreams (1997) saw a greater sense of maturity and more clearly defined emphasis on character and atmosphere, he remained a consistent and interesting talent with a truly original vision.

    Gojoe returns somewhat to the style of Ishii's earlier, bold and energetic work; combing grand spectacle with clearly defined storytelling with roots in actual Japanese folklore. However, the way in which the narrative unfolds is really quite interesting, with the story beginning with a scene of murder and the notion that the killing could have been supernatural as opposed to political; with Ishii's subtle use of cinematography, editing and sound design creating a staggering sense of tension from the very first frame. Added to this, there are definitely shades of Masaki Kobayashi's classic anthology-film Kwaidan (1964) and Kaneto Shindō's masterpiece Onibaba (1964) being developed here, with that great atmosphere of supernatural intrigue, murder, violence and dread being continually juxtaposed against an expressionistic period setting, which seems somewhat nightmarish and vaguely ethereal. The violence of Gojoe is occasionally fairly explicit and definitely over-the-top, but there is a distinct balletic grace to the way in which Ishii captures the action; creating something that falls halfway between the over-the-top fountains of gore seen in the majority of Japanese Anime (or the more extreme films of Takashi Miike), with something that is perhaps closer to the heavily choreographed kabuki theatre or interpretive dance.

    As the story progresses the supernatural elements give way to political intrigue and elements of actual historical fact, but the whole arc of this notion seems designed to add some sense to the story of warring rivals, as opposed to giving us a full-blown history lesson. Dialog is sparse and character development tends to emerge slowly from the quiet scenes of silent brooding and the more sombre moments that stress a philosophical aspect to the boundless scenes of violence and swordplay. Though ultimately the plot is slight and simplified to the point of near abstraction, the film manages to keep us motivated through the continual combination of Ishii's imaginative direction and the fine performances of lead actors Daisuke Ryu who portrays the warrior monk Benkei, and the always surprising Tadanobu Asano as the mysterious and deadly Shanao.

    As an actor, Ryu is probably most familiar from Akira Kurosawa's historical masterpieces Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985), as well as Takashi Miike's more recent remake of Graveyard of Honour (2002), while Asano has worked with a number of highly esteemed Japanese filmmakers, including Shinya Tsukamoto on Gemini (1999) and Vital (2004), Nagisa Oshima on Taboo (1998), Takeshi Kitano on Zatoichi (2003), the aforementioned Miike on Ichi the Killer (2001) and Sogo Ishii again on subsequent films Electric Dragon 80, 000 V (2001) and Dead End Run (2004). Though essentially playing antagonists, the two actors complement each other exceedingly well, creating bold characters that manage to instil a sense of purpose and authority from a film that tends to rely heavily on action and excess. In terms of martial arts, swordplay and a greatly choreographed sense of movement, the film has certain similarities to director Zhang Yimou's trilogy of historical set martial arts films, Hero (2002), The House of Flying Daggers (2004) and The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), with Gojoe's reliance on historical content, culture and subtle shades of politics probably stressing a similarity with Hero in particular.

    Certainly, I wouldn't go as far as to call Gojoe a masterpiece. It has its flaws, most of which are in the plotting, the heavy reliance on historical context, the awareness of the Japanese folklore that inspired it, and the over abundance of lengthy fight sequences, but still; this something that is definitely worth checking out. Ishii's direction is filled with an eerie sense of atmosphere, energy and imagination, masking the limitation of the budget until a few sadly fake looking FX shots towards the end, and offering us some of the most vibrant and violent scenes of action and combat you're ever likely to see.
  • This movie rates as one of my all time favourite top 10 movies. Many people seeing it for the first time and knowing little about many of the themes in the movie probably won't understand why I find it so enthralling so I will try to explain...

    The movie is very rich in historical detail and cultural insights, and while it has a few minor anachronisms, they are completely forgivable. The story is a retelling of the famous duel between the Monk Benkei and the young Prince Yoshitsune on Gojo bridge. During the fight according to legend Yoshitsune bests Benkei and the monk becomes the prince's loyal retainer. This movie is a revision of that story however and involves war, dark prophecy, and political maneuvering.

    One of the main themes in the movie is "Mappo", which is the prophecy by the Buddha that after 1000 years his teachings would fail and the world would fall into chaos. It was believed in Heian Japan, after the eruption of Mt Fuji and the civil war between the Taira (Heike) and the Minamoto (Genji) that the world would fall into anarchy and everything would collapse. It is a time of demons.

    Next you have the way in which the movie resolves the issue of Yoshitsune's sword training by the Tenku (Raven Goblins) of Karuma. Defeated clans often escaped into the mountains and disguised themselves as demons to scare the locals off. This is said to be where ninja clans began historically. Yoshitsune's depiction in Gojo nicely accommodates all of this.

    Then there is Benkei, and the various strains of Buddhism depicted, including a lot of Esoteric Buddhism of the Shingon sect. These are all depicted quite accurately, and just to add a little extra, the movie manages to convey the power of meditation and Ki energy in a way that makes it integral to the story, i.e. it uses magic realism to add an extra dimension to the film but does it in such a way as to make it tactical and menacing.

    All-in-all it is filled with fascinating tidbits and rings surprisingly true-to-life for the period. The scenery and the costuming are also completely unmissable and very authentic. The soundtrack is great, very brooding and ominous. I also thought that the actual acting performances were surprisingly good. Benkei is a great brooding anti-hero, Shanao (Yoshitsune)is depicted as a young man testing his limits and growing increasingly drunk on his own power, and Tetsukichi the scavenging sword-smith makes for and interesting depiction of the "common man" and his less than flattering opinion of the killers who fancy themselves his social betters.

    As to the plot, to see why it is so good, I really suggest you dig up an old book on Japanese history and see how this retelling turns an almost lighthearted Robin Hood vs Little John story into a gory tale of intrigue, violence and infernal karma.
  • simon_booth23 August 2003
    I happily admit that I'm a sucker for a beautiful film, and sufficiently inventive camera movements and angles can be enough to keep my interest in a fairly long film. Not one the length of Gojoe though, even though it had some of the most remarkable cinematography I've seen since the Korean period piece MUSA. However, Gojoe provides far more than just beautiful images (as does MUSA... don't which to imply a contrast) - it's second greatest strength is superb acting, and a fascinating story with some very dark philosophy. I must admit to being quite unsure what the point was it was trying to make in the end, but it definitely provokes some thoughts along the way. Vague ones, but definitely thoughts :p

    One department in which the film could have been better is the action. There's a tremendous amount of bloodletting in the film, but the action is all filmed with hyperkinetic close-ups, and frequently obscured by objects in the foreground. It does create some very intense and impressive visuals, but it would have been nice to see some more actual moves, something to make it more believable that the villains could just wade through entire armies laying waste to everyone.

    Still, the film is definitely one of the most interesting and most beautiful films I've seen for quite some time. Recommended!
  • Another attempt by modern Japanese directors to redefine the chambara genre. Successful, and not, in varying degrees.

    Buddhist monk has a vision that he is to slay a legendary (and very active) demon at the Gojoe bridge in order to attain enlightenment. While not at the forefront, Buddhist thought is at the heart of this movie, much like Kurosawa's "Ran". It probably what made the movie the most interesting to me although it's nowheres near "Ran's" league.

    Stylish visual direction and excellent photography keep the movie mostly interesting throughout the two hour and eighteen minute length. The lead actors are uniformly excellent. The music is really good. The two weaknesses are the story and the fight scenes. The movie drags in the middle which could have been fixed by some prudent editing. And the fight scenes are mostly filmed in blurry close-ups. This works for most of the film but the finale feels like a cheat. Another recent film like this is Tsui Hark's "Seven Swords", great film but the promised fight scenes are disappointing. Asano really doesn't move like a sword wielding demon, his acting is great but he would be an extra in a traditional chambara fight scene.

    Good movie, you'll probably find it interesting just don't expect traditional sword fights.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I basically picked up this movie because I had seen Kitano Takashi's brilliant remake of Zatoichi and was in the mood for another updated samurai tale which also starred Asano Tadanobu. These two movies are worlds apart. Zatoichi added humor and depth to its characters and subverted traditional samurai movie clichés. Gojoe goes off the deep end in the other direction.

    First off, I hate movies that have other characters inform the audience what the main character is like instead of having the character develop over the course of the movie. "You cannot decide whether you are a monk or a warrior" says almost every character in Benkei's presence, yet this inner turmoil is barely conveyed within the character himself. Instead of character development, we get bloated, boring, gory battle scenes. Asano's character is undeveloped and even he looks like he is bored and doesn't know what he is doing there. I know that he usually looks distant and cool and that is part of Asano's appeal, but this movie doesn't serve him.

    A lot of the camera movement is nauseating. There is a scene that goes on forever in which the camera spins around the main characters until my wife and I felt like vomiting. The ending is ridiculous and rather anti-climatic.

    Its too bad that really good samurai movies aren't being made in Japan nowadays with this type of budget. The colors, scenery, and costumes were great, but the rest is just a loooong waste of time. I would rather see one of the kabuki versions of this myth.
  • This story is set in 12th century Japan and shows the fight of a non-violent monk against a demon protector of the Gojoe bridge. As far as story goes, this one is not very interesting. At no point in the movie do you actually care what will happen next. The pace is slow, which is successful at times, but feel overly drawn out for the majority of the picture.

    The fighting scenes are not very well choreographed and are truly long and boring with the exception of the finale one. The effortlessness in which the demon slays its victims should have been shown with a few well placed kill instead of a continuous uninteresting, placid bloodbath. It is said that the demon wants to kill a thousand souls, and the director seemingly tried to show us at least a few hundred kills. I think this was a mistake.

    As much as the story fails to convey anything substantial, the cinematographic work of Makoto Watanabe is some of the best footage I have seen in a while, who exploits some interesting visual technics and has an amazing grasp of the power of colors. It also serves to create some distinct moods that can be relatively suggestive and involving. In particular, I am thinking here of a scene in which Benkei finds a poor soul on a beach who wants to set himself ablaze. Numerous innovative compositions were also well used by director Sogo Ishii who seems to be given his cinematographer some creative leeway. Unfortunately, the director cannot direct the rest of this mediocre story to anything substantial. The real star here is Watanabe who proves to be an ingenious director of photography and explores the art more than your average DOP. If you like artistic cinematography, I suggest you endure the tedious story (put mute if you want) and enjoy some excellent footage.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    **SPOILERS**This was an ugly movie, and I'm sorry that I watched it. Like Jan Kounen's Dobermann, it suffers mostly from poor editing--or lack of it. It is as if the director was so in love with his work that instead of cutting the movie down to a pace that kept your attention, he added all of the footage he had shot together. There are maybe two cool scenes in the entire movie. One of them is *SPOILER* when Benkei is petrified and the camera starts spinning around him. That was cool--but okay, we got it! Move on please! The camera won't stop spinning around this guy! There's maybe one or two more cool scenes that I forgot about in this flood of mediocrity, but the last duel scene IS NOT ONE OF THEM! It may be because unlike in the earlier sword-handling scenes, Shanao isn't masked--but just because the director couldn't find a stuntman who somewhat resembled Asano Tadanobu doesn't give him the right to go ahead and make up 80% of the sword fight with extreme close-ups of sword clashes! And all from the same angle, may I add. The director should learn from the American produced 1995 bullet-train ninja movie The Hunted! I personally saw the village raid scene as a tribute paid to the social activists of the previous generation who were confronted by the police in the violent demonstrations of their college years. The situation where innocence is oppressed by an authoritative and armed branch of the government unwilling to understand seems to be a message common in the Japanese media, due to the strong influence of socialists and communists who are a political minority. The movie versions of GTO and Salary Man Kintaro are two other recent examples *END SPOILER* I don't understand. I just don't understand why people who don't speak the language of the movie find praise worthy material in this. Maybe the worst was lost in the translation.

    The ending of the movie--on which marketing played a lot, is a different interpretation of the legendary encounter between Shanao and Benkei. But that legend is not the most popular in Japanese folklore, and it is so detached from contemporary themes, that after 138 minutes of over played visual techniques, who cares how the director wants to re-interpret the story!? Director Sasaki Hirohisa of Crazy Lips said that there was an unpleasant trend among new Japanese directors to ignore Japanese audiences, and target their movies for foreign film festivals--in order to gain faster international fame. This works, although it doesn't make sense, because the point of an international movie fest is to introduce to the world what kind of movies are being made in other countries-what kind of movies people WATCH in those countries. Certainly not Gojoe and the like.
  • GOJOE takes a little getting used to at first, but the final result is very satisfying. The tale, about a murderous samurai who seeks to redeem himself by opposing an effeminate, but dangerous samurai, is worth more than a watch. There is a lot at stake here, from physical survival to soulful salvation. The movie may seem a bit similar to other anime-inspired Samurai film at first, but it does eventually delve into more mature/adult territory soon after.

    Not to be missed. GOJOE is one of the better samurai movies to come around post-Kurosawa.

    8 out of 10

    (go to for a more detailed review of the movie and reviews of other foreign films)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As incredible as it may seem, Gojoe is an anime- and Hong Kong-inspired samurai action flick with a pacifistic message. This ankle of the film is effectively portrayed through the protagonist (a great acting job done by Daisuke Ryu), a killer-turned-to-boddhist-monk Benkei. Benkei has sworn never to kill again, but he still takes up the sword to fight what he thinks is a demon invasion...

    Gojoe is a film difficult to rate. It's visual imagery is stunningly crafted and beautiful, but it uses too much trickery (circling camera and high speed drives, expressionistic shots, leeched colors, digital effects etc.), so the end result is somewhat tiring. That said, the beginning and the ending of the film are nevertheless both elegant and powerful. If only the director Sogo Ishii would have been wise enough not to overuse his bag of tricks.

    Other problem with Gojoe is the amount of violence. For a film with such an anti-violent message Gojoe wastes way too much energy and screen time to depict the endless battle scenes. Also, the way the violence is shown is always on the edge of being self-indulgent; in fact, a blood shower against the night sky seems to be one of the films signature images. Luckily, Ishii is wise enough to show the ugly, tragic side of violence as well. Still, it seems that Ishii is not sure whether he's making a traditional action film or a deeply moral allegory. The audience can't be sure of this, either, until the very end of the film. The powerful (albeit cynical) ending is what saves Gojoe; it clearly emphasizes that this film is something more than a mere gore-fest.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ...because absolutely nothing happened in the middle 115 minutes. Not a thing.

    It's a fairly tried and tested formula. Two protagonists, in some way linked, must meet at the end for the battle of all battles. However the formula works best when somewhere along the way you sympathise or empathise with at least one of the characters - often both at various times. It's not a complicated movie device at all, yet I found myself feeling nothing for any of the characters. I was clock watching from literally the 12th minute in. The final giant battle, like the rest of the fight scenes, was also a let down. Mundane doesn't do it justice.

    The slight saving grace is some, and I emphasise some, excellent cinematography. However it gets lost among some truly awful and amateurish scenes - the big spinny one for example.

    After Yume no ginga, and some of his excellent shorter works, I expected far more out of Ishii. His two most recent films didn't do anything to restore my faith either.

    Just a big disappointment.
  • duff-mcninja20 April 2008
    this is seriously one of the worst movies i have ever seen. i love Japanese movies, and i think another film by the same director, electric dragon 80,000 v, is a masterpiece. i really wanted to like this movie - asano is a terrific actor and the storyline was immensely appealing. but i couldn't find anything entertaining about it.

    the movie takes forever for nothing to happen. and the effects the director used - like the constant percussion and the exorbitant use of slow motion - merely added to my growing annoyance at the fact that the plot was so mind-bogglingly slow and the actors were heinously overacting. a lot of the boredom was a result of extraneous additions that were completely unnecessary - like an hour spent on asano going around slicing buddha statues and proclaiming how he doesn't worship anything. this added nothing to the plot. a fellow Japanese film buff and i were both checking the time constantly. we couldn't believe this film was as terrible as it was. and the finale was awful. i thought the director would at least attempt to reward the viewer for managing to sit through this, but sadly i was mistaken.
  • I personally thought the movie was pretty good, very good acting by Tadanobu Asano of Ichi the Killer fame. I really can't say much about the story, but there were parts that confused me a little too much, and overall I thought the movie was just too lengthy. Other than that however, the movie contained superb acting great fighting and a lot of the locations were beautifully shot, great effects, and a lot of sword play. Another solid effort by Tadanobu Asano in my opinion. Well I really can't say anymore about the movie, but if you're only outlook on Asian cinema is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, I would suggest you trying to rent it, but if you're a die-hard Asian cinema fan I would say this has to be in your collection very good Japanese film.
  • Sogo Ishii has taken the old myth of Musashibo Benkei and stood it on its head to produce a dark, gory, spellbinding and terrific-looking movie. Those unfamiliar with the legend won't need to be; the story explains itself nicely as it goes along. Well worth seeking out even though there are no English-language home video versions.
  • At two and a quarter hours this is a sometimes slow moving thoughtful film interrupted by vast sword battles. The battle between darkness and light is signified by the constant motif of the blazing sun and is superbly demonstrated by a three way fight between 'demons', bandits and soldiers in a forest during an eclipse.

    Be prepared: following a stunning sword fight under lightning filled skies the end of this picture will have you scratching your head in puzzlement.
  • Well, if you are one of those Katana's film-nuts (just like me) you sure will appreciate this metaphysical Katana swinging blood spitting samurai action flick.

    Starring Tadanobu Asano (Vital, Barren Illusion) & Ryu Daisuke (Kagemusha). This samurai war between Heiki's clan versus Genji's clan touch the zenith in the final showdown at Gojo bridge. The body-count is countless.

    Demons, magic swords, Shinto priests versus Buddhist monks and the beautiful visions provided by maestro Sogo Ishii will do the rest.

    A good Japanese flick for a rainy summer night.
  • On paper, GOJOE sounds great: a 12th century storyline which sees a demonic force haunting Gojoe Bridge in Japan, slaughtering clan members like there's no tomorrow. With only a righteous Buddhist monk able to save the day, the scene looks to be set for an explosive showdown, but sadly the reality is anything but.

    This has to be one of the most boring films I've ever sat through. The entire movie consists of a waiting game until the over-too-soon climax, and even the climactic battle is a example of disappointing, CGI-effects filled nonsense. The historically-significant background to the movie promises much, but is glossed over in expository scenes that add little to the movie as a whole.

    The most impressive thing about this movie is the level of quality that's gone into the construction of the various sets and costumes; they don't disappoint, but the rest of the movie (and especially the script) does. There are a few action scenes, badly shot and unengaging, but the main problem is a complete lack of momentum or interest. The film just plods along to a disappointing climax. There's no faulting the acting, but with low budget films like this, a little verve, a little vitality, goes a hell of a long way – take a look at the yakuza vs zombie action flick VERSUS for a good example of this. Sadly, GOJOE has no oomph behind it whatsoever and as a result it's a barely watchable film.
  • Sogo Ishii can be a skilled filmmaker under the right conditions, but Gojoe tells the story of a warrior monk and his only rival, a scion of the Genji clan. The film-making has the main hallmarks of a low-budget production, including blurry fight scenes and clumsy montages (the kind you might find in an under-produced dorama). The monk Benkei informs his spiritual teacher that his destiny lies in defeating the mysterious spirit that guards Gojoe bridge at night, but he doesn't realize that this decision will bring him squarely into conflict with nearly every element of society at that time - but which could earn him enlightenment.

    There's no absence of ambitiousness, however, in its depiction of the conflict between the holy and the worldly. Artsy flourishes in some of the photography and editing help to compensate for the loose film-making style.

    A disappointment.
  • jpfratkin10 February 2005
    Gojoe is part of a new wave of Japanese cinema, taking very creative directors, editors and photographers and working on historic themes, what the Japanese call "period pieces". Gojoe is extremely creative in terms of color, photography, and editing. Brilliant, even. The new wave of Japanese samurai films allows a peek at traditional beliefs in shamanism, demons and occult powers that were certainly a part of their ancient culture, but not really explored in Kurosawa's samurai epics, or the Zaitochi series. Another fine example of this genre is Onmyoji (2001). I would place director Sogo Ichii as one of the most interesting and creative of the new wave Japanese directors. Other recent Japanese period pieces I would highly recommend include Yomada's Twilight Samurai (2002) and Shintaro Katsu's Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (2003).
  • I have to totally disagree with the other comment concerning this movie. The visual effects complement the supernatural themes of the movie and do not detract from the plot furthermore I loved how this move was unlike Crouching Tiger because this time the sword action had no strings attached and most of the time you can see the action up close.

    I think western audiences will be very confused with 2 scenes one of which involves a monk trying to burn himself alive and the other concerning the villagers chanting that it is the end of the world. The mentioned scenes are derived from certain interpretations of Mahayana Buddhist text (Mahayana Buddhism can be found in China, Korea and Japan) and the other scene deals with a quirk in the Japanese calendar...people back then really thought that the world would come to an end... Gojoe has the action, story and visuals to mesmerize any viewer. I strongly believe that with some skillful editing it can be sold in the U.S. My one complaint is in the last fight scene (I can't give anything away--sorry).
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I am glad I saw this film having seen some of the director's other films in the past. I thought the production values was great like the costumes and settings with the bridge. It was interesting to see how the concept of spirit and demons were handled.

    I do agree with some of the other comments about the fight scenes. They were hard to follow at times.

    Ultimately, a moral tale. It would be interesting to know what some Japanese viewers thought of the film. It is a film I would like to see again.

    Some scenes like the ones where Benkai and the Prince were fighting on a "psychic" level were well done.

    I did come out of the cinema thinking what has just happened here. Intense.