Spriggan (1998)
Directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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When several of his friends are murdered, seventeen year old Yu Ominae demands answers from his superiors in ARCAM, a secret organization that guards ancient artifacts possessing mysterious powers from falling into the wrong hands. He is then told that Noah's Ark, the vessel of the biblical legend, has been found but is coveted by a dangerous faction of the US military. Setting out for Turkey, where the ark is being studied, Yu soon comes into conflict with several agents working for his enemy, including a psychotic young boy with paranormal powers, who wants to use the ark to destroy the world.

Hirotsugu Kawasaki's Spriggan is a technically well made, exciting, and generally attractive film. Sadly, it is rarely distinctive, somewhat amorphous, and never realized with any great aesthetic sensitivity.

This is not to say, however, that Spriggan is not worth seeing. The director has managed to craft such an exhilarating story of adventure that the viewer is almost certain to be frequently enthralled by the experience of watching it. In fact, the movie includes a variety of action sequences, many of which are extremely well realized and wonderfully thrilling. One such sequence that occurs immediately after Yu's arrival in Istanbul, for example, is particularly nicely choreographed and genuinely rousing. The director has filled it with impossible physical feats, breathtaking chases, and martial arts battles that are all truly electrifying to watch. It is, moreover, hardly the only exhilarating scene in the film. Admittedly, several of the action sequences in the movie's second half are not as engaging as are those that came before them, but, even so, the film is able to maintain a feeling of tense excitement throughout.

Regrettably, the story the director tells is far less stimulating than are the fights he depicts. Although Kawasaki does incorporate a number of intriguing details into the film, many of which are reminiscent of elements from the Indiana Jones movies, Spriggan's narrative is generally very loose and often seems to exists only to provide excuses for its action sequences. Even the characters around whom the story revolves are little more than faces with some special power or function. None have any real personality.

Whatever Spriggan's faults, I will concede that the animation used in it is always skillfully realized and technically accomplished. The viewer is very likely to be genuinely impressed by the fluidity and detail of the animated world with which he is being presented. Unfortunately, the director usually makes use of unnecessarily realistic images which, as impressive as they may be, are not infused with any noticeable sensitivity and are, consequently, never particularly interesting.

While I cannot say that I was ever awed by Spriggan, it is an enjoyable and exciting film. If the viewer approaches it hoping to engage with a complex narrative, developed characters, or beautiful images, he is certain to be disappointed. On the other hand, if he wants to see an exhilarating action film brought to life with detailed and realistic animation, it is very likely that he will enjoy the movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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