The Legend of Zipang
1990, 95 min. Directed by Kaisho Hayashi. Starring Masahiro Takashima, Mami Yasuda, Mikijiro Taira.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Sept. 15, 1995
I can sum up The Legend of Zipang in a simple, one-syllable word: Fun. Yes indeed, this 1990 Japanese swordplay fantasy is a real blast, a wild, exciting, and hilarious 90 minutes of unpretentious fun. No, it's not perfect, but its faults are easily dismissed in light of the overall entertainment value of this cartoonish epic. The story is one of mythic proportions: Our hero, master swordsman Jigoku, and his motley entourage attempt to escape the clutches of vicious bounty hunters and high-flying killer ninjas, while also trying to uncover the mysteries of Zipang, a magical, otherworldly kingdom that supposedly houses untold amounts of gold, jewels, and other riches. Not unlike Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, The Legend of Zipang is a go-for-broke fantasy with all the stops pulled out, serving up a palette of action, comedy, and special effects that should prove irresistible to fans. While ultimately this picture isn't the equal of Hark's classic, it's certainly not for lack of trying -- there's almost always something crazy happening on the screen, with generous helpings of fabulous swordplay (one amazing scene has Jigoku taking on and defeating at least 40 sword-wielding enemies as he makes his way across a bridge, all shown in one impressive, unbroken shot) and some cute in-jokes for fans of Japanese action cinema. As mentioned before, there are some problems, the most obvious being that many times the movie's ambitions are infinitely larger than the budget the filmmakers have for realizing them. But while this occasionally results in some rather slapdash effects work and stumbling photography, it doesn't really hamper the high spirits of this particular adventure and even manages, in a few choice moments, to heighten the movie's sense of cheesy euphoria. If you're looking for a quiet, somber drama with plenty of telling, insightful performances, then stay away from The Legend of Zipang. If, however, you're looking to switch off your brain and simply have a good time, then don't miss out on this kinetic roller coaster of a movie... it's a real hoot.