It's not necessary to know the manga to enjoy this movie.
I think that the negative comments here don't do this movie justice. First of all, I didn't watch this movie with any kind of expectations but that it would have beautiful shots of nature in it, which it did, in fact, these alone would be a reason to watch this movie if you are someone who loves nature.
Not knowing the manga of which this is an adaptation, I still had little problems understanding what was going on (admittedly, it took me a while to figure out that the little boy's storyline was in fact a flashback of the protagonist's youth, but once I got that, the characters' backstories and relationships were as clear as they needed to be to appreciate the story). A lot of the commenters here also complain that it is never made entirely clear how the "mushi" came into existence. I think that that is not an attitude to watch a movie that deals with mysterious, supernatural things (although the mushi are, in this movie, explicitly not supernatural, but feeding off the very source of nature's energy itself). It is not necessary to know how, for example, the Rocky Mountains came into existence to admire their stunning beauty. Actually, the best mystery movies leave the explanation to the viewer. To have everything explained is boring. If this confuses you and you can't handle that, then you should consider not watching any more fantastic movies. (One commenter honestly criticises: "Imagine watching Star Wars with little or no explanation of "The Force" - things just happen, and you move on." As a matter of fact, it is explained in more detail what the mushi are than Star Wars ever bothers to explain about the Force. Anyway, it doesn't matter what the Force is or what the mushi are; in the film's universe, they exist, end of story. Same applies for any fantastic movie.)
This movie is not the eye-candy, roller-coaster ride that a vehicle like Star Wars is. If you want to see CGI overkill, this is not for you. But the visual effects of this movie were all convincing, beautifully done and served the cause. So what if the mushi are not fire-spitting dragons or undead creatures with horribly distorted faces? Furthermore, it is true that this movie is slow-paced. But I was never bored at any point, because there was always a plot that was being pursued - yes, the ending left me wondering as well, but as I said above, there's nothing wrong with that, because I like movies that trust in the viewer's intelligence and ability to cope with "sense of wonder". The plot being, among other things, about a search for the inner self, it's obvious that this doesn't take place in a straightforward manner. To have hectic cuts and a fast-moving plot in a movie that is about nature and human, the way they interact and how they can co-exist wouldn't fit.
... a look inside the machinations of the international illegal (which means, not official and therefore sanctified) arms trade. It's worthwhile watching it for that, although the plot is quite foreseeable. For example, the first time Jared Leto appears on screen, it is clear who will be plagued by pangs of conscience and get shot in a deal gone awry. Same thing with wife (gorgeous) and child of Nicholas Cage. The visual and narrative style are somewhat ironical, seemingly cynical at times. I guess in the end morally thinking people will never be able to really understand how there can be people like the anti-hero of the film, and possibly that is the reason why this movie ultimately fails to draw you in on a personal level. Or maybe it's lack of psychological depth.
What you see is the story of a demise. While this may have been interesting at the time when this movie was made, today it is somewhat dull to watch a young, clueless German guy go to Paris, then Ibiza with an ex-junkie girl who first turns him on to marijuana, then to horse (heroin). In between, they also try out LSD. The music by Pink Floyd is psychedelic, however, the drug experiences of the two protagonists are never visualized for the viewer, so you couldn't really speak of a psychedelic movie here. Also, there is no real plot, as the couple gets more and more irritable due to their drug consumption. For people who are not familiar with drug culture, it may be interesting to watch the authentic and detailed depiction of how various drugs are consumed. Also, there are some very beautiful shots of Ibiza.
Apparently this movie set out to make its viewers feel bad, and it certainly worked for me. This is one of the dullest scripts I have seen turned into movie lately. Having read sk4ek's comment on this, maybe it would be fair to add that it was made from a novel, and I watched the subtitled version (and I don't understand Japanese), so it seems I probably didn't get a lot of what made the novel good. Anyway, the script is all about what a gargantuan a**hole Kitano's character is, but whatever else happens just doesn't add much to the story. Just imagine the worst things a father could possibly do to his family, sequence them on a timeline, and you have the plot of this movie. But there simply is no character evolvement, no turning point, nothing that gives an interesting twist to things, they only keep getting worse.
***mild spoiler below***
Once I thought the story was going to take off, when another illegitimate son of A**hole Father moved in with the family, finally someone who had the potential to give a swerve to the plot line. After being defeated in a fistfight, he tells the boy who narrates the whole story to study hard, walks away and gets shot ten days later off screen. Segue boring story continued. The cinematography is alright, but not outstanding, and not enough to save this movie.
When I saw the rating this movie received here, I was disappointed. Admitted, there's no plot worth talking about, but technically, this movie just swept me off my feet. The editing, the use of music and the camera-work are simply incredible. Every frame fits perfectly. Also, the humorous approach this movie takes to its fight scenes is something out of the ordinary. Two men fighting on a rooftop, they go into a clinch, no-one seems to be able to wrestle the other one down, so they stumble around like this, and just when you think, "this looks almost like a dance", presto, the music changes to a waltz. In the next shot, we see the two men hitting each other with things lying around, but we only see their shadows, just like in the Indonesian shadow puppet theater. This movie challenges its viewer to break up with the habitual way of perceiving action in film, maybe some folks don't like that.
As Sean Choi put it in his comment: All style, no substance? yes, but what style!
This is one of the very few movies I will never get tired of watching and it makes me laugh although I already know all the jokes. Every time they show it on TV, I somehow end up glued to the screen. No winter is perfect without at least one viewing of this lovely winter tale. Although it's not about Christmas, it has this very X-masy feel about it. The way Bill Murray plays the cynic is great, and it is very moving (and funny at the same time) to watch how he gradually gets purified by his ordeal, until by the end he is ethically almost "superhuman". Also it is so funny because you know what's going to come next and you can't wait to see how he tries out different ways of dealing with the same situation. Although there never is an explanation about why and how the repetition of this one day comes about, it is obvious from the way the movie ends that God (or someone else up there who wants us to become good people) takes a hand in this. Of course there are a few things in the plot that can't stand up under scrutiny (people seem to remember things they shouldn't) - but that is not the point.
The visuals are all very nice, the production design is fantastic, yes. But never during the whole movie did I care the least bit about the fate of the characters, because they were flat and cliché and everything seemed just as "we've seen that a hundred times before, only better done". 5/10 only for the effects & design