Director: Yuji Shimomura
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Takumi Saitoh, Yura Kondo, Mariko Shinoda, Akio Otsuka, Orson Mochizuki, Yoshitaka Inagawa
After faking his death to leave his military unit, former elite soldier Toshiro (Sakaguchi) lives a quiet existence as a convenience shop clerk and spends his time caring for his only family member, a young girl named Sachi (Kondo). When his former commanding officer discovers that he is alive, he sends his current wave of trained killers to finish the job. The streets of Kaga turn into an ultraviolent bloodbath that exists just below the public eye and Toshiro must take up his former codename of Ghost to keep Sachi and himself safe. Things escalate when Sachi is kidnapped and Toshiro must use his formidable skills to get her back.
In production for a number of years, RE:BORN marks the return to film by Japanese martial artist and cult action film star Tak Sakaguchi. Conceived of as an action film meant to revitalize and inspire the future of Japanese action films, Shimomura and Sakaguchi have both said that the project was spurred on by as a desire to showcase physical stuntwork and the return of pure action filmmaking in the country. Utilizing a fighting system called Zero Range Combat (ZRC) developed by coordinator and JSDF instructor Yoshitaka Inagawa, who also plays the badass named Abyss Walker in the film, the action carries a mix of both realistic and stunningly fast hand to hand close quarters combat as well as the flourishes that must be done in the presentation of an action movie. From hand to hand to bladed weapon work, the film is truly delivers in the action department; already well paced in the first half, the picture goes into overdrive with an action-laden second half that borders on exhausting that seems to continually up the ante with each subsequent sequence. Inventive and rarely seen to such good effect in film, the military style martial arts is both unique and inventive in a way that even frequent martial arts film watchers will find themselves surprised.
Sakaguchi carries with him his effortless onscreen charisma as well as a formidable physical presence that gets highlighted by his ready stance in the use of ZRC. Sharing good repore with his young co-star Yura Kondo, Sakaguchi surprisingly creates a number of sweet moments with his interactions as Toshiro with Sachi. Kondo herself is a hugely sympathetic and endearing child actor who brings both a strong independence as well as an empathetic streak to her character. She somehow avoids the ‘annoying child’ trope so readily present in many action films and she was truthfully enjoyable to watch. The supporting cast is rounded out with a number of solid performances including former idol Mariko Shinoda as a killer trained in confined quarters combat, Takumi Saitoh as a former colleague of Toshiro, the prolific voice actor Akio Ohtsuka as Phantom, extremely good physical performances by young actor Makoto Sakaguchi as well as Orson Mochizuki, Masanori Mimoto, and Hiroko Yashiki.
Set up almost like a live action video game, the action comes fast and furiously which will undoubtedly satisfy adrenaline junkies. While the story honestly feels a bit like a pastiche of multiple popular Japanese properties like Metal Gear Solid crossed a bit with Tsui Hark’s Tima and Tide, it adequately serves up a film with enough subtle acting nuance that it never feels like a rehash or an exercise in violence. While the film won’t necessarily satisfy a viewer looking for gravitas, RE:BORN delivers in every aspect where it counts for those looking for gutsy action filmmaking; strong lead performances, solid direction, and some of the most exciting action I’ve seen in a film in years. Highly recommended.