REVIEW: Goemon (2009)

Goemon discovers a conspiracy that resulted in the murder of his former master. The legendary thief sets off on his quest for vengeance.


By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Goemon

Original Title: GOEMON
Year: 2009
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genres: Action, Historical
Director: Kiriya Kazuaki

Ishikawa Goemon (Eguchi Yosuke) is an extraordinary thief that steals from the rich and gives to the poor. One night, after robbing a mansion, he finds a small and empty box among the riches. Seemingly worthless, he disposes of it. The theft of the box sets off an official search led by Ishida Mitsunari (Kaname Jun), a samurai serving under the tyrannical ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Okuda Eiji).

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Being informed by his servant Sarutobi Sasuke (Gori) about the box, Goemon goes to find it. He encounters the shinobi Saizo (Osama Takao), his brother-in-arms from his days of training in the ways of the ninja. Upon escaping the confrontation with his former friend, he discovers a hidden secret inside the box.

It’s a secret that links to Goemon’s past, connecting Akechi Mitsuhide (played by director Kariya Kazuaki) and Hideyoshi in the murder of Oda Nobunaga (Nakamura Hashinosuke), Goemon’s old master. Goemon thus embarks on a quest for vengeance.

Goemon is one of those names that anyone who’s a fan of ninja lore knows (or should know). The name has appeared in video games, literature, kabuki dramas, and heck, even Lupin III. Though traditionally he was known as merely a thief, it was contemporary pop culture that changed his background to that of a ninja.

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The film brings in other big historical names into the mix, which would excite any history buff. We have Japan’s three legendary unifiers (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu), other big names in ninja lore (Sarutobi Sasuke and Kirigakure Saizo), and many other key players in Japanese history (Akechi Mitsuhide, Ishida Mitsunari, Sen no Rikyu, and more).

Although the key thing that the history buffs will notice is that many of these characters are, just like the Japan the story is set in, re-imagined and resemble very little to how history has depictsthem.

For instance, Oda Nobunaga is traditionally depicted as a clever, but cold warlord – even portrayed as a villain in many mediums. However, in Goemon he is a kind and just leader who had the potential to lead the world into peace.

So that being said, the film should not be watched with the idea that it is intended to portray history accurately. Rather, it should be watched as a fantasy, action-adventure, using many references to historical names to build the world it’s set in.

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After all, anyone who knows Sengoku Period Japan, or even anyone who has indulged in pop culture work set in the era, knows that the country didn’t have castles that look like something out of Arthurian legend, filled with knights that look more European than samurai.

There also weren’t any brothels that had girls in very revealing half-kimono, shaking their booties in hip-hop fashion. Hell, back then men sported chonmage, the top knot hairstyles usually shown in samurai films. However, characters in Goemon sport hairstyles that people of today have, even bleached and dyed.

But once you’re taken into this re-imagined Japan, the film draws you in further with its titular character. Goemon, played by the charismatic Eguchi Yosuke (who also played Saito in the live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin), is a character who has run away from his past, effectively escaping the shackles that shinobi are traditionally bound by.

However, the free spirit is forced to confront it all over again upon the realization of the conspiracy behind the assassination of his beloved leader and father figure, Oda Nobunaga. It’s very hard not to be drawn in by Eguchi’s charm, which will make you love the character Goemon completely, and cheer for him until the end.

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Eguchi is supported by a whole slew of amazing actors. The most notable are Osawa Takao and Okuda Eiji. Osawa, previously seen in another chanbara film Ichi, does amazing work as Goemon’s rival and brother-in-arms Saizo. Osawa’s presence makes Saizo fear-striking whenever he comes on screen.

Far from being a villain, Saizo is essentially the cool and cold rival that usually contrasts the cheerful and colorful lead. He’s basically Sasuke to Naruto (although a million times more likable).

Okuda’s Hideyoshi is an excellent villain, giving the presence of a tyrant with more than a few screws loose. He really brings to life a character that can easily snap if things don’t go his way. Hideyoshi is easily a character that one will hate to see squirm away with his life, and love to see finally get his just desserts.

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Of course, the film’s testosterone has to have something to balance it out, and we have that in the form of the beautiful Hirosue Ryoko. Though indeed a character who could have been developed a little bit more, she is enough to make sure the film doesn’t stay a sausage fest.

Goemon is loaded with fantastic ninja battles that are rivaled by the best ones seen in anime. The ninjas run and jump over rooftops, swing through trees, and even the traditional windy grass field. The action melds CG-assisted visual effects (the film was filmed primarily in a digital backlot) and slow motion to present action that can be described in one word: epic.

Though admittedly, it does get over the top a bit when Goemon is shown to fight off hordes and hordes of bad guys alone like some sort of Dynasty Warriors video game, one can’t help by get absorbed into the action.

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So, if you’re in the mood for a film with some of the most epic fight scenes and charismatic characters, this Goemon is the film to watch.


Watch this film…

…if you want to see Japan’s answer to 300.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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