When Kiriya unleashed Casshern onto the masses he divided the audience like a real pro. Those of you hoping he learned from his first film will do good to lower their expectations before sitting down to watch Goemon. On the other hand, if you loved Casshern, brace yourself for another two hours of Kiriya goodness.
With Goemon Kiriya confirms his style. He makes it clear that Casshern wasn't just an accident coming from an unskilled freshman. As many "faults" his first film might have had, many of them were intentional and based on mere taste, rather than bad film making. Now I know many of you won't agree with this, but it is the simple truth.
Kiriya is not one to tell a story straight. Of course his films need a storyline, as they are over-the-top epic and he's in dire need of dramatic moments to play around with, but as a director he has other priorities. His films are extremely visual, but even visual storytelling is not really on his list of things to worry about. Just forget about the story. It's there, it's used for its hooks, but that's about it. Goemon is about the direct link between visuals and emotion. It's visual film making, not storytelling.
The Goemon character is a Japanese Robin Hood. A thief that steels from the rich and gives to the poor. A popular figure that even featured in some videogames (remember Ganbare Goemon on the SNES?) and who's name is often misspelled as Goeman or even Geoman. The film borrows a couple of other historical figures and throws them into a mix of betrayal, struggle for power and superhuman mysticism. Nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before, so I was happy enough to settle for the somewhat underdeveloped story.
Kiriya is a man of visuals. It's true that he regularly aims way to high and completely misses the mark, but those moments hardly compare to the times he does hit the spot. The first big fight scene was a pretty big let-down, so were the scenes that involved horses and ninjas running around. Whenever the scenery was supposed to flash by the CG faltered, revealing its cheap texture. The second action scene (on the boats at night) easily made up for this, so did the grand ending. But the most beautiful moments are those when the camera remains static and the exuberant details of the costumes and backgrounds can be enjoyed to their fullest. This is where Kiriya truly excels.
The soundtrack is little more than wallpaper decoration for the dramatic and epic moments. It's not really bothersome and never too present, but could've been a tad better as a whole. Acting is decent enough too, though it takes a little time to get used to the comedic interludes of Eguchi. Supporting cast is nice, with good work from Hirosue, Osawa and Okuda. But in the end, I enjoyed the role of Terajima the most. Even though it's another submissive role, he must've been quite happy to play a guy like Hanzo Hattori.
Goemon is a film where the great parts easily outshine the lesser. But only if you appreciate it for what it is. Kiriya is aiming for sensory overload and tries to connect his epic chaos directly to the nerve ends of the audience. This is a film that doesn't need brainpower, but thrives on good old-fashioned primordial thrills. If you expect the story to pull you in, either narratively or visually, you'll have little to be excited about. Seen from that angle, Goemon plays like a 2 hour recap of the whole LOTR saga with twice as much epic moments and half the emotional involvement (at least, if you're capable of that while watching films like LOTR).
Kiriya serves a roller-coaster ride, but one that makes sure that the better moments can be relived late at night while lying in bed with your eyes closed. Not everything works, it's pretty chaotic at times and it feels quite out of control. It's up to you to decide whether these are good or bad characteristics of a film. I enjoyed it a lot. With ever-improving techniques and cheaper budgets I'm sure Kiriya still has a masterpiece hidden inside of him. Until that time comes, he can keep making films like this, I'll be there to support him.
Check the trailer for a good taste of Kiriya's style.