At its heart Kamui is a story about a man trying to find himself, searching for the freedom to live life as he chooses, bound by the rules of his clan. It is said that he who is born a ninja, dies a ninja. So Kamui spends his life on the run, avoiding the other ninjas chasing him down. He trusts nobody, he cares for no one, and it’s the rules that he lives by that keep him alive. Then one-day fate comes a calling, leading him to a small fishing village where he meets Hanbei (Kobayashi Kaoru) and his family.
Co-scripted by acclaimed screenwriter Kudo Kankuro, this adventurous fantasy picture is based upon Shirato Sanpei's manga about a fugitive ninja hunted by his former comrades. Which means an intriguing blend of fantasy, action and adventure. A star-studded cast is on hand to support Matsuyama, including Koyuki (Blood: The Last Vampire), Ito Hideaki (Umizaru), Tsuchiya Anna (Sakuran), Ohgo Suzuka (Into the Faraway Sky) and Ekin Cheng (The Storm Warriors). I can’t see a single storm cloud in the sky but I sure can smell the rain…
The CGI effects peak at courageous and plummet to downright embarrassing. Ordinarily I would never base a review on special effects, but director Sai Yoichi doesn’t really give you any other option. The polite description would be ‘adventurous’, but in harsh reality they stink. You can’t fault Yoichi’s imagination or intent, but when all is said and done, you have to make the best of what you’ve got. Don’t just throw your lack of finance at the screen and hope it sticks, there’s a good chance it won't. The computer imagery is daring but rarely convincing, diverting yet laughable all the same.
Just when you think the film is finding its feet, waves of ridiculous effects wash over you. Kamui has special moves at his disposal in battle, and I'm sure these feats of strength work really well in comic book form, but on the TV screen it’s a whole different sword fight. I’ve already used the word ridiculous, right? The CGI sharks make Bruce from Jaws look like documentary footage. I realise we’re watching a fantasy picture about ninjas here, but truthfully, when Kamui joins a band of pirates on a shark hunting mission you’ll probably lose the will to live. Fantasy doesn’t have to be believable of course, but when the special effects become a distraction rather than a tool, it’s very hard to invest in both the characters and the picture.
The storyline is nothing new, and few characters make a lasting impression. Chief culprit is local fisherman Hanbei, played by Kobayashi Kaoru. He takes a little getting used to, and at one point Kamui actually threatens to kill him if he carries on laughing. You will echo that thought entirely. The rest of the characters don’t fare much better (the villains at least); they cackle and titter like it's going out of fashion. A love story - of sorts - is thrown in for good measure, but the characters involved lack the chemistry and depth to keep it engaging. The ‘shocking’ finale loses impact as a result, and the final face off wouldn't feel out of place in an episode of Scooby Doo.
Over ambitious, over reaching and overlong, Kamui fails to captivate in the manner it should. You’ll want to get to know the characters at first, you’ll probably want to follow the plot, but the annoying character traits, shoddy CGI effects and lack of true heart will be your ultimate undoing. Ninjas usually hide in the shadows, waiting for the right time to attack. Kamui comes out all swords swinging and it’s not a pretty sight. For once, hiding in the shadows doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all. AW