Gintama (2017)

What a strange film.

And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Gintama is the live action film adaptation of one of the many anime series out there, this one about an Edo era Japan where space aliens have come to Japan.  While they originally came as visitors, that slowly changed and the Samurai rose up against them.  However, they lost and now it is illegal for them to wear the swords that were their badge of honor.

Now, if any of this sounds familiar, that’s because that is essentially what happened in real life when the Europeans came.  Except without the flying ships, super swords, and occasional ray gun.

Now, before we go any further, we need to note that these are some of the least convincing aliens ever seen on film — mostly, they are guys wearing big, fleecy animal heads, like a Disneyland Mickey Mouse, only with a smaller head.  Some of the more ambitious creatures like the heroes’ pet dog are CGI, while one of the main characters, Elizabeth, is clearly a big suit — and not a very convincing one!

But, after we’d more or less got used to this, and we have been introduced to the hero, Gintoki, and his pal, Shinpachi, the film suddenly shifts to a strange, oversimplified (and very annoying) animated style, like what you’d see on the leader board at a Major League baseball game, which appears to be a reference to some Japanese show or other.

And then, when it returns to live action, our heroes all go off for a day in the woods to hunt beetles, like the characters in a kid’s anime.

Somehow, in the midst of all this nonsense, with a detective who’s obsessed with eating mayonnaise, Policemen looking for the Emperor’s lost golden beetle, and lots of smug, fourth wall references to Japanese Pop culture, the film suddenly gives us sword battles, sinister events, a mysterious murderer, and the familiar anime themes about friendship, the past, and seeking to avenge one’s dead master.

It all builds to an epic finale — complete with sword battles, more sword battles, a “magical” AI sword, a disgusting monster, gangs, a shipboard battle, the glider from Nausicaa (literally), a giant mecha that doesn’t do anything, and, of course, more sword battles — where Gintoki confronts an old friend, and a dead character returns at a critical moment.

Perhaps this sort of thing would work better as an anime (and, let’s face it, there are a lot of anime with this same, jokey, post-modern schtick!), although I suspect that  it would still be far too much (I know I found the similarly post-modern Martian Successor Nadesico equally hard to watch).

I do find it an interesting bit of culture shock that one of the running gags in what would appear to be a children’s show involves their giant puppy’s proclivity towards…ummm…”mounting” females.  You just don’t find that in your typical American Saturday morning kiddie fare.

Well, at least you didn’t when I was a kid.

But what is most frustrating about this, is that, after all the silliness and weird humor (the live action version of the cute piggish girl sucking down whole bowls full of noodles at one go has to be seen to be disbelieved…), somehow the ending reverts to the more serious mood of the opening and turns into an exciting steampunkish sword fighting movie, complete with flying ships and only minimal silliness…

…Now why couldn’t the whole movie have been like that?

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