This week, for my anime review, I’m going to take a look at the anime film that is credited for inspiring the classic independent comic Elfquest. The film – Dagger of Kamui.

Cast and Crew

Gentaroo Ishida as Tenkai
Hiroyuki Sanada as Jiro
Kazuyuki Sogabe as Sam
Mami Koyama as Oyuki
Mikio Terashima as Genjuro Fujibayashi
Takeshi Aono as Sanpei
Yuriko Yamamoto as Julie Rochelle / Chico
Eitetsu Hayashi as Shinban no Kikusa
Hidekatsu Shibata as Koozunosuke Oguri
Ichirô Nagai as Shouzan Andoo
Iemasa Kayumi as Mark Twain
Kaneto Shiozawa as Shingo
Kazumi Tanaka as Magohachi
Kôichi Kitamura as Iga Chief
Masako Ikeda as Oyaruru
Masato Hirano as Kinsaku
Michio Hasama as Tarouza
Mitsuko Horie as Chiomapp
Naoki Sugimoto as Uraka
Ryouichi Tanaka as Jakal
Ryudo Uzaki as Okinba

Directed by Rintaro
Written by Mamoru Mazaki
Animation by Madhouse
Music by Eitetsu Hayashi and Ryudo Uzaki

Available on DVD from Amazon.com and RightStuf.com

The Premise

Jiro is a half-Japanese, half-Ainu (Indigenous inhabitants of the Japanese island chain) foundling. When his adoptive mother and sister are murdered by a ninja, Jiro must take up the only clue to his identity, the Dagger of Kamui, discover his identity, and claim his revenge. All of this occurs around the time of the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration.

High Points

Some of the fight scenes here are extremely well animated.

Low Points

The animation for ninja running is extremely silted, with very little leg and arm movement, and has a very unnatural look. Basically, imagine someone running, but with no arm or torso movement, and the legs only moving up and down, but extremely fast – as if they’re not moving at all. I understand that certain things are “iconic” for anime ninja movement, but it just doesn’t look right, and looking at lots of it doesn’t help.

The film’s animation in general is extremely uneven. Sometimes fight scenes are done in front of a proper background, giving the fight a sense of place. Sometimes they occur against a blank black background. Sometimes they occur against a sort of acid-trip abstract background. In city scenes, sometimes we have animated people in the cities, sometimes they’re painted but stationary figures, sometimes they’re paper cutouts doodled on in pencil. Occasionally characters’ mouths don’t move during conversations.

Additionally, there is the whole matter of how the film treats its female characters. In short, I’d figure that there is one woman stuffed in the fridge in this film every 26 minutes, averaged out. Jiro’s step-mother and step-sister are killed at the start of the film, without any backstory at this point, to set the plot on its way. We do get backstory for them after their death through flashbacks, but, frankly, that doesn’t make it better. The old woman in the village is murdered off camera when the bad guys wipe out Jiro’s home village. Jiro’s birth mother is then murdered for apparently no reason other then because Jiro had stopped moving for a few hours. Then the girl who saves Jiro from death from hypothermia kills herself to save herself from interrogation, and to provoke an audience reaction. Then Jiro’s birth sister is killed by the bad guy’s body double for the same reason. Finally, our last female character is introduced as a fanservice character and nearly raped. Fortunately, she gets shunted out of the film with the rest of the supporting cast before someone actually succeeds at killing her as well. Those characters also account for all the female characters in the film with speaking parts.

The music is also incredibly grating. Either it goes for some odd sort of rock disco mix, or it instead favors some high speed repeated “atatatatata”, like Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, slowed down a little and stretched out longer.

Also, the film just has no sense of place. Jiro bounces all over Japan with incredible speed considering the geography. In some cases the scenery makes little sense. One sequence has Jiro taking a rowboat away from what is modern day Hokkaido (in the period called Ezo), and then later appearing at a camp somewhere in what I presume is Russia with no explanation – in winter. When we first see Jiro in North America, where’s he’s come seeking the island of Santa Catalina (off the California coast), we first see him in Nevada, where he meets Mark Twain, who says he works for a Sacramento paper.

If the geography problems were simply limited to places outside of Japan, I might be a little more forgiving. Even I have little grasp about how close or how far places are on the East Coast, for example. But I can’t even get a sense of place even in the sections in Japan.

Content Notes

There is plenty of bloody violence here, and some rear nudity.

The Scores

Originality: The film is based on a series of 5 historical novels, all clumsily collapsed down ungracefully into a 2 hour movie. 2 out of 6.

Animation: As mentioned under the low point, the animation ranges wildly to quite impressive to “trippy” to pathetic. 3 out of 6.

Acting: To the film’s credit, all the acting performances here are very well done, particularly for the roles of Jiro and Tenkai, the villain. Both roles are played by experienced stage and screen actors, and I’m kind of disappointed that they never worked in anime again, as they were very good at it. 5 out of 6.

Story: This felt like someone was trying to stuff 20 pounds of flour into a 5 pound bag. A lot of stuff was wasted in the process of the conversion, and I really think that if they’d adapted this as a TV series, or a series of films or OVAs, the story would have made more sense. 2 out of 6.

Emotional Response: After they killed off Chiomapp for essentially no good reason, I really stopped caring about the supporting cast, and I had no sense of suspense for Jiro, as you know he’s not going to die until the final confrontation. 1 out of 6.

Production: Some of the sound design was very good, particularly the rain during on sequence. However, the music is terrible, and several of the sound effects are uninspired. 2 out of 6.

Overall: This movie has moments of sheer brilliance surrounded by gigantic amounts of crap. I cannot for the life of me see what the Pinis saw in this film to inspire them to make Elfquest and, to be blunt, my opinion of Elfquest is lowered by the comparison with this film. 1 out of 6.

In Total, The Dagger of Kamui gets 16 out of 42.