Kumamoto Monogatari
(a.k.a. Kikuchi-jô Monogatari-sakimori-tachi no Uta)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic & Entertainment Value

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Kumamoto Monogatari consists of three separate narratives, each of which is set sometime in the past. The first story revolves around a young woman who summons a magical being to defeat an invading army. The second tale reveals the lazy days of two frustrated soldiers posted as sentries on a lonely island, and the third tells of how a band of rebels trapped by a vast army defend themselves against their attackers.

Takashi Miike's Kumamoto Monogatari is a truly dreadful movie. Those unfamiliar with the director's work will, very likely, be so astonished by the ineptitude he displays that they will subsequently do everything possible to avoid watching another of his films, and those who have enjoyed some of Miike's other efforts will, almost certainly, be genuinely dumbfounded to see that he has created a work this bad.

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There really is very little in Kumamoto Monogatari for which the movie can be recommended. The stories Miike narrates are all filled with such a plethora of overdone and maudlin moments that, instead of arousing in the viewer a sense of the characters' ideals, hopes, discontent, or sadness, they are likelier to make him cringe. What is more, not only are the stories infused with an almost painful sentimentality and an intrusive didacticism, they are, more often than not, horribly boring. As grating as the viewer may initially find the director's attempts to touch him, and as annoyed as he may be to see how Miike preaches to him about the importance of family, country, loyalty, or what have you, it is very possible that the film's soporific narratives will eventually so dull his mind that he will fail even to notice these diverse inanities that are being foisted upon him.

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Not only are the movie's stories absolutely atrocious, but its production values are amazingly low as well. Some of the costumes are decent, but many others are less than inspired. Even the worst of the costumes are, however, far better than are the film's scenery or special effects. Using either incompetently realized computer generated landscapes or ridiculously shoddy sets, the director has created an imaginary world that is just painful to look at. In fact, for most of their duration, the first and second stories are each performed on a handful of small stages which have been cluttered with truly substandard props. Both, consequently, look more like school plays than they do like any other movies the viewer is likely to have seen. It is rare to discover a film that is this poorly made.

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Having said all this, I should note that the movie's final tale does have a number of engaging elements. The presentations of its characters' loyalty, traitorousness, courage, and pride can be affecting. Unfortunately, even this narrative is so burdened with low production values, sentimental moments, and a tendency to preach that it is, ultimately, unsatisfying.

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Kumamoto Monogatari is a genuinely terrible film. Moreover, it is not so bad that it is fun to watch. It is just bad. I actually felt embarrassed for Miike when I saw it.

Review by Keith Allen

Note: Kumamoto Monogatari is available on DVD at Asian Cult Cinema.

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