Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Starring: Oguri Shun, Masaki Suda, Hashimoto Kanna, Yuya Yagira, Hirofumi Arai, Masaki Okada, Nagasawa Masami, Jiro Sato, Domoto Tsuyoshi
Based on the wildly popular Shonen Jump manga, the Gintama franchise has seen a number of appearances in video games, books, and is one of the longest running anime series ever. With millions of fans and an absurdist sense of humor, Gintama is among the most important manga series this millennium. Its pure cultural penetration in Japan is immense and while it hasn’t made as significant an impact internationally as say its other Jump compatriots such as Naruto or Dragonball Z, it has remained popular and intrinsically Japanese.
Enter the new feature film, star studded with a bonafide hitmaker at the helm, and me; someone with next to zero knowledge about the source material aside from its cultural impact. While not familiar with the series, seeing the talent involved had me more than intrigued and an interesting trailer sold me on an out of town trip to see the film theatrically, thanks to a limited release by newer distributor Azoland Pictures.
Set in an Edo, Japan where aliens have descended and taken over mankind, things haven’t really changed aside from the ban on swords and the influx of modern technology and convenience. This doesn’t mean things like lasers, holograms or the like, but more like things such as appliances and electronics typical of present day Japan. Following a former rebel fighter Gintoki Sakata (Oguri) and his team, Shinpachi Shimura (Suda) and Kagura (Hashimoto), Gintama features a number of seemingly unrelated comedic interludes before settling on a story about a group of former rebels, led by a former friend (Domoto) planning to throw the now peaceful society into war once again.
It should go without saying, especially if you’ve seen the trailer to the film, that things skew towards the absolutely ridiculous. Fourth wall breaking comedy, self referential humor, manga and film related references; Gintama holds nearly nothing sacred. While this doesn’t mean that it pushes things in the way that American series like South Park or Family may, it does show a fearlessness in dropping references. From newcomer Hashimoto’s storied past as a Japanese idol, to Oguri’s own history as an actor in famous manga to film adaptations, the film sometimes requires a strong understanding and familiarity with popular Japanese culture at times. Indeed, a number of jokes were more like Japanese variety programming than anything else and can easily go over the head of viewers unfamiliar with this flow. For those that have a good understanding however, you’ll find lots to laugh at and at good measure. Those with less of an understanding will still find much to enjoy with it’s pot shots at other anime/manga franchises and strong absurdist Japanese humor.
Oguri is fairly good as Gintoki; he’s aloof and has pretty good comedic timing. He also handles his fight scenes well thanks to Korean choreographer Chae Woo-young. Suda Masaki has some very entertaining presence as the slightly nebbish Shinpachi; he’s a bit in the background but shines when he is on screen alone. Newcomer Hashimoto Kanna continues her expansion into film with a meaty role that both pokes fun at her previous idol career and gives her a chance to showcase some very un-idol-like behavior. Pretty and funny she seems to have a bright future. Strong supporting appearances by Nagasawa Masami, who delivers my favorite scene by far in the film, Jiro Sato, whose mumbly but outlandish brand of comedy seems to hit my sweet spot, and the very cool Yagira Yuya who channels some real ridiculousness competing against more seasoned comedic actors. The rest is fairly good but the large amount of characters introduced promises limited time in which for each to get their appeal.
Director Fukuda crafts a deftly funny and self aware film that is full of non sequitur and showcases some strong fantasy action. With energy that isn’t like many other adapted manga, Gintama stands above most with its willingness to stay fully true to its source’s tone, even if it doesn’t always seem to adapt it 100% accurately. While not anything really special, I did find the film immensely entertaining and wouldn’t hesitate to see it again. Recommended.