Saturday, 26 June 2010

Battle League Horumo

Title: Battle League Horumo
Director: Katsuhide Motoki
Released: 2009
Staring: Takayuki Yamada, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gaku Hamada, Sei Ashina, Takuya Ishida, YosiYosi Arakawa, Tamiyasu Cho

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Plot: Participating in the ancient game called “Horumo” the Kyoto University Azure Dragons, play their part in the game in which players control sprites called “Oni”, battling against rival teams of trainers. Akria Abe (Yamada) a freshman student, falls for classmate Kyoto (Ashina) and blindly joins the club in a bid to get closer to her, while continuing to play the game as tensions with the group continue to rise.

Review: It’s hard to not get over whelmed by the whirlwind of splatter,horror, kung fu and art house movies, which seem to make up the majority of Asian cinema titles to receive releases outside of their native countries, with the movies which fall between the cracks of these genre’s occasionally turning up for an obscure showing at film festivals or art house cinemas, but rarely getting the release they deserve, which is a shame as it’s releases like “Battle League Horumo” which prove that Asian cinema is so much more, than the main genre’s which have without a doubt helped boost it’s popularity in recent years and while it's true that it might be a flawed film in places, it still makes for a refreshing change in pace, while attempting at the same time to pull of an insane premise.

I guess right from the start, it’s clear that something isn’t right about the Azure Dragons, which it's also true could be largely down to club president Makoko (Arakawa) insisting frequently that it is a “Normal club doing normal things” or perhaps it’s more to do with the huge piles of boxed raisins which line the corridors, either way things start out normal enough, with the new members being taken on nature hikes and rafting trips, with things growing slowly stranger as the newest recruits, start their training for the thousand year old ritual known as Horumo, which despite seeming strange to them at first, somehow keeps them hooked despite the majority of this training consisting of some very ropey looking disco dancing, with it’s mixture of thrusts and gestures, accompanied by various commands which explode onto the screen, every time someone shouts one. Still it’s when they are finally introduced to the Oni, that they realise the importance of these moves, essential in controlling their army of sprites as they wage battle for the entertainment of the gods.
These early training scenes provide a number of great physical comedy moments, with the majority coming from the double act of Akira and his friend Koichi (Hamada) and while the comedy is mainly over the top and physical in style and might not be to everyone’s tastes, it is certainly a style which Hamada excels at, while it also certainly helps to keep an element of fun to things, with the gods at one point taking control of Koichi's hands and forcing him to cut his hair into a top knot, as punishment for wetting himself in battle which really is just one of the numorous random moments which appear throughout, but when you look at the plot, it is probably for the best that things are kept fairly surreal, especially as how can you really make a serious movie, about high school students battling each other with adorable looking sprites? Yamada meanwhile continues to build on his reputation as the lovable loser, even if he is slightly cooler than in his previous roles such as “Train Man” (2005)

The battle scenes which after all are the main draw here are a definite highlight with the cutesy sprites, taking on the personality of the student controlling them with the nerdy Fumi’s (Kuriyama) Oni all wearing similar style thick rimmed glasses to her own, were as the dominating Mitsuru (Ishida) finds his Oni more bulked up and dressed in sleeveless shirts.
It's true in traditional folk law have more in common with the Mogwai from “Gremlins” (1984) the Oni are a far cry from this, being created by Studio Gonzo, who are probably best known for their work on “Samurai 7” (2004) and “Afro Samurai” (2007), here once again showcasing their seemingly limitless creative talent, with the Oni battles as they proceed wage war against each other under the commands of their respect trainers, with their souls being shown rising towards heaven every time one of their number falls, in a style I found heavily reminiscent of that seen in “Big Man Japan” (2007). These effects used to animate the Oni, not only help to add character to the Oni, but also make their battle scenes a clear highlight of the movie, especially when each of the sprites has been designed with so much attention to the smallest of details and while the idea of cutesy creatures hitting each other with blunt instruments, might be a major turn off for some viewers, they have still managed not to overload on the cuteness to the point were these battles loose any form of power, which could be also down the seemingly rubber nature of their skulls.

Sadly the action surround these epic miniature battles, is were the real faults of the film lye with director Motoki struggling it would seem, to fill the running time as frequent additions to the storyline pop up seemingly at random, including a love triangle whose sole purpose it would seem is to only increase tensions in the group, while despite Akira frequently pining after Kyoto, never actually attempts to act on these emotions, while the majority of these various storylines, fail to go anywhere making it at time a pretty jumbled mess of a film, as plotlines go either no where or stall completely, with Motoki leaving it to the viewer to pick out the relevant parts for themselves.

Despite being hugely flawed and feeling in need of some serious cuts to bring down it’s running time, it is still an enjoyable enough movie to watch, while also being another prime example of how to utilise CGI effects properly, which is something that western cinema especially could do with learning, in these times were more directors are moving away from old school techniques and instead opting for CGI. On the plus side it is yet another excuse to watch Kuriyama, who gives us something different from her usual psycho schoolgirl style roles, proving herself to more than versatile enough as an actress to pull off the geek chic required to play Fumi.
I wish I could like this movie more, as there are so many good moments, but sadly the sheer amount of flaws prevented me from liking it more, while at the same time possibly being a movie, which grows on me over time as I learn to forgive it for those flaws, though in the meantime it provide an enjoyable enough waste of time as well as a reminder that Asian cinema on a whole has a lot more depth, than we sometimes give it credit for.


  1. It's random as hell, but if you like Stephen Chow movies, you might appricate the humour here.
    Still it's funny to know that this film, would never have been made outside of Japan which is just another reason to love Asian cinema, for taking the most random of ideas and finding a way to make them work.


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