The hit manga by Hideaki Sorachi has a live action adaptation and it caters to both fans of the source material as well as newcomers to the title, thanks in part to some over the top antics that work quite well.
Twenty years ago, Edo was invaded by aliens and the government, calling them Amanto, ended up in war with the aliens. However, when the war was over, the Sword Prohibition Act was passed, forbidden all samurai to unleash their swords. As a result, the aliens and humans are now living in peace. One known as the White Demon, former samurai Gintoki Sakata has resorted to being more a lazy bum who does odd jobs with Shinpachi, a one-time budding samurai and heir to a martial arts dojo; and Kagura, an alien girl who has both a strong will and appetite.
Gintoki’s now peaceful life is soon shattered with childhood friend Katsura is killed by a mysterious stranger Nizou Okada, who has possession of a mysterious sword known as the Benizakura. To make matters worse, he learns that Okada is working with Shinsuke Takasugi, who had fought alongside Gintoki and Katsura in the Joui War that led to the Sword Prohibition Act. Now deemed a traitor, Takasugi intends to make his intentions known by unleashing his sword and destroying Edo. With help from the siblings whose dad created the deadly blade, Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura must stop Takasugi, Okada, and their allies to save Edo and make it peaceful again.
Having only recently begun watching the anime based on the hit Shonen Jump manga, this reviewer kind of knows what to expect. Yuichi Fukuda wrote and directed this live-action adaptation that may or may not make fans of the original source material, depending on their taste, but will surely be a delight for newcomers who are curious about Sorachi’s story of a lazy samurai and his friends in an alternate Edo where aliens and humans are apparently living in peace despite the normalcy of crime and everyday life.
The cast of the film are great to watch. Shun Oguri brings the character of Gintoki Sakata to life and does so with some hilarious antics. This especially is prevalent in a hilarious “opening credit” sequence where only his name appears and it appears he is singing from a karaoke song only to be interrupted by a cartoon version of Shinpachi and Kagura. While Oguri handles the action quite well, he proves with his role here that he has a flair for comedy and brings it full speed ahead in the role.
When it comes to live-action manga and anime, no one has recently done it like Masaki Suda. The former one-half of Kamen Rider W had been known for his role as Karma Akabane in the Assassination Classroom series but goes a full 180 with his role of the very timid yet determined Shinpachi. Suda has that comical flair necessary to make a role such as Shinpachi work. From his surprised expressions to getting knocked in the face in super slow motion by ally Kagura and with an emotional range, Suda is truly stands out in the film while his Assassination Classroom cohort Kanna Hashimoto, who played the automated Ritsu in the two films, here plays the alien Kagura and from what was seen so far in the anime, pretty well and faithful.
While the trio of Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura make up the driving force of the film, the supporting cast is quite fun to watch. Notably the introduction of the bumbling police Chief Isao Kondo, played hilariously by Kankuro Nakamura, who appears in just his underwear covered in honey. Kondo has a major crush on Shinpachi’s sister and gets his comeuppances on a few occasions when she shows no interest in him. This includes hitting him with a baseball bat and it becomes a home run. The duo of Ryo Yoshizawa and Yuya Yagira play Okita and Hijikata, members of the Shinseigumi, a police force, who seem to dislike Gintoki but when they are faced with the common enemy, find themselves teaming up with him. And yet, these two are not exactly the smartest duo either. They are almost but not quote on Kondo’s level. Ken Yasuda also brings some comic relief with his overpowering performance (and that’s voice-wise) as Tetsuya Murata, whose father created the Benizakura blade with Akari Hayami complementing Tetsuya’s shouting as the more reserved Tetsuko Murata.
Hirofumi Arai brings the character of Nizo Okada as a deadly warrior who is fused with the very deadly blade that Gintoki must track down. Arai emulates a sort of Zatoichi-like performance with assistance from Jiro Sato’s self-proclaimed “feminist” Henpeita Takeuchi and Nanao’s gun-slinging Matako Kijima. However, the real villain is that of Takasuki Shinsuke, played by Tsuyoshi Domoto, which brings the sometimes clichéd “best friend turned enemy” portion of the action genre but Domoto gives such a harrowing performance that it stands out quite well here.
There are plenty of comic gags, from slow motion hits to the “kabuto beetle chase” scene and even references to other popular anime and manga that stand out in the film and for some reason, it works. The swordfighting action is quite fun to watch as well as Oguri’s opening scene where he resorts to using unarmed martial arts against two annoying cat-human hybrid aliens who purposely harass Shinpachi in a “prologue” sequence. For the most part, the CGI is quite good, that is until when we see Okada in true fusion form as this is where the CGI looks a bit sub-par. It does reach borderline ridiculous, but the fact that this is an action-comedy of this element, it can be somewhat forgiven.
With room left for a sequel, apparently due this coming summer, whether or not you’ve seen the anime or read the manga, if you want a good fun Japanese action-comedy, then Gintama is recommended. The cast is great, taking elements from two arcs, and some mostly good CGI and some good action in the mix of the comic elements.
WFG RATING: A-
Warner Bros. Japan presents a Plus D production. Director: Yuichi Fukuda. Producers: Shinzo Matsuhashi and Susumu Hida. Writer: Yuichi Fukuda; based on the Weekly Shonen Jump manga by Hideaki Sorachi. Cinematography: Tetsuya Kudo and Yasuyuki Suzuki. Editing: Jun Kuriyagawa.
Cast: Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Masaki Okada, Yuya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Ken Yasuda, Akari Hayami, Masami Nagasawa, Hirofumi Arai, Jiro Sato, Nanao, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kankuro Nakamura, Tsuyoshi Domoto, Seika Furuhata, Seiji Rokkaku.