Saturday, April 21, 2012

GARO: Red Requiem

Heralding the return of Keita Amemiya's popular and beloved golden knight to television is another Garo film---this time in 3D, where fans of the series can find our brooding hero roaming the city streets in search of a horror who evades capture by slinking into mirrors and preying on patrons of a techno club, made up mostly of cosplayers and goth chicks. Garo: Red Requiem has a protagonist who looks like he just stepped out of an anime feature fighting alongside a priestess with legs for days, in what can only be described as a Xena outfit. It also has a demon goddess with nothing on but pasties and a tulle skirt, a mystical blade, and a passing mention of a patriarchal system under question---in short, it has all the material that one needs (to borrow Chris Hardwick's words) to induce a nerd erection.

Strictly made for fans of the 2006 series, this film offering cuts to the chase with the introduction of disciples Kurusu (Shinji Kasahara) and Shion (Hiromi Eguchi) setting up shop at a club where their master, Karma (AV-idol Saori Hara), can entice and devour as many souls as possible. On the other side of town, Makai knight Saejima Kouga (Hiroki Konishi) is put to action by lending assistance to Makai Priests Akaza (Masahiro Kuranuki) and Shiguto (Yousuke Saito), albeit with some interference from headstrong priestess Rekka (Mary Matsuyama), in slaying an Apostle Horror whose true essence looks like a cross between a prehistoric dinosaur and a raging bull with a snout made of a rotating flat blade.

Disturbingly dark and at times laugh-out-loud funny though it may be, there's something about the Garo series that is uniquely Japanese yet universally appealing. It's as close as one gets to having a supernatural/horror-fantasy manga or anime series come to life without the blockbuster treatment.

With the exception of flashbacks, some "expository" discussion on the existing order of Makai knights and the role of its priests/priestesses, the film can boast of back-to-back action at par with the ones that can be seen in the television series. It's crammed with extended fight sequences where you see our heroes battle it out with the villains under strobe lights and a leering crowd, and for once, audiences get an extra treat seeing more of Hiroki Konishi  (yes, I'm not that big of a fan of the armor) in his long coat that flaps in the breeze when his clunky golden armor gets magically nabbed into another dimension.

The special effects used are a combination of CG monstrosities [care of Omnibus Japan], rubber suits, and costume marvels with the better images seamlessly blending in, deriving inspiration from visuals of the same genre; while the more conspicuous flaws---like the use of scale models and  visible matte lines---showcase the limitations of its budget. For fans of the series and any tokusatsu in general, this aspect is a non-issue, but for those expecting the type of special effects usually produced in Hollywood, expect this film to be more of the kitschy-supernatural/fantasy sort. That being said, Garo: Red Requiem still has oodles of what makes it irresistible to people who enjoy stories that center on good versus evil and the darkness that exists within the human soul. 

Another thing that has remained consistent throughout the years is the show creator's knack for creature design and character visuals; the styling detail and imagination used in conceptualizing these supernatural horrors and their humanoid counterparts is impressive and truly out of this world. Add to that dark-cloaked phantoms, demonic winged creatures and a powder-white little person scurrying in the dark, and you have for yourself an eerie, other-worldly prelude to the last quarter section of the film.

Saejima Kouga stands as an archetypal romantic hero who's quiet and inexpressive, and has recently learned the importance of asking others for support. It's nice to know that he gets to pass on this wisdom to Rekka, along with some drivel about it being a Makai knight's duty to seal horrors and how saving one person's life is the same as protecting the lives of countless others. Ah, the great fabric of life... Heroic platitudes aside, the Kouga of late retains his cool demeanor, however, no longer bellicose or as disagreeable as the one introduced six years ago. Whether or not you buy this new and improved version of the golden knight, take heed that despite this newly-acquired gravitas, the writers of the film are not above having him defend scantily clad women strewn across a dirty club floor (now that's something you don't see in your typical Sunday sentai or toku).


As mentioned earlier, the film introduces two new allies for Kouga who will eventually make an appearance in the Garo: Makai Senki series. Though slightly hardheaded and recklessly bold, Rekka is a welcome addition to the list of strong and capable high-flying female protagonists that one sees in the Garo universe, whereas before, one can only think of Jabi in contrast to Kaoru, who's more of a damsel in distress. The priest Shiguto doesn't really get much to do except be a lackey but he does get to handle a prototype of the gouryu which is the equivalent of a supernatural proton pack and ghost trap combo used by the priesthood.

And since the show is also about human frailty and redemption, the film attempts to capture the precise moment when humans give in to evil as depicted by Kurusu's transformation from a middle-aged artist (as played by Akira Naoko) to Lady Karma's stout devotee and on the flip side, elder Akuza's fall from grace and path to salvation. The Makai Priest's sacrifice is apt yet predictable, however Kurusu's love and obsession with Shion lacked the kind of tragedy that screamed heaven-be-damned to match the beauty of its snow white feathery conclusion.

As a precursor to the show's second coming, Garo: Red Requiem fits in nicely with its previous offerings; personally, it's far more watchable than the Garo Special: Byakuya no Maju  and probably more  of a mainstream project than the spin-off Kiba: The Dark Knight Gaiden. In terms of storytelling, tone and visual effects, it has elements to it that fans of the series are familiar with, but essentially it's designed to be a standalone film---so as not to alienate people who have yet to discover how awesome the series is.     


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