Sunday 9 February 2014

Movie REVIEW: Garo: Lament of the Dark Dragon

Garo Soukaku no Maryu movie poster

As those who have been regularly reading this blog probably already know, I love Garo. Granted that all of the other tokusatsu series I tend to watch are made for children and this one isn't, but there's just something that really stands out here compared to the rest. So it's great that over the last couple of years Garo has made the jump from a standalone series to a full on franchise, with a recent spin off last year and another two coming in 2014, along with an anime series too! But before we welcome more new characters to the world of Garo we must first say goodbye to the chapter that started it all - the story of Kouga Saejima. Starting in the original 2005-06 series before carrying on through the Red Requiem movie and Makai Senki sequel series, Kouga's story ends here with the movie Soukoku no Maryu (which roughly translates as Lament of the Dark Dragon), released in Japanese cinemas back in February 2013.

Kouga's new friends in the movie
Kouga's running with a new crowd now

Carrying on from the agreement Kouga made with entity Gajari at the end of Makai Senki, Kouga is ordered to travel to the Promised Land in order to retrieve a missing part of Gajari - the Fang of Sorrow. Upon his bumpy arrival there, Kouga finds himself without Zaruba and his magic coat. To make matters worse, his Garoken then transforms into the Red Dog and runs off - leaving him without any of his mystical Makai Knight powers. As Kouga ventures through this strange new world, where forgotten objects from the human world come to life, he meets strange new friends as he journeys to defeat the Maryu - a demonic dragon that will create nothingness in its part and may hold the Fang of Sorrow. However Kouga isn't the only one after the creature, as others wish to merge with the demon to travel to the human world and seek revenge of those who have forgotten them.

One of many trippy sequences
The drugs are strong with this one...

In my previous Garo review I commented that one of the most fascinating aspects of the show was how it evolves from a macabre horror affair into something more fantastical and with a rich backstory. Kament of the Dark Dragon really feels like the culmination of this, as the horror aspect is abandoned completely in favour of fantasy. Although this is a completely different kind of fantasy to what's come before. To put it into a Western perspective for better understanding, if Makai Senki's fantasy elements were more akin to something like Lord of the Rings, then Lament is more like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Hell, there's even a scarecrow character in it!

The Promised Land is made up of vibrant CGI landscapes not quite like anything you'd see in reality, along with bizarre and fantastical characters than inhabit it. Garo creator Keita Amemiya has always done an amazing job of making his universe look superb onscreen, but limited budgets can only get you so far. With a proper feature length film budget behind him, Amemiya can really go nuts. Visually Lament is undoubtedly the best looking tokusatsu film I've watched, and certainly among the top films I've seen in general when it comes to imagination. There's so much CGI going on in the film, but the actors themselves act so seamlessly with them that sometimes it's easy to forget at certain points they were acting to nothing.

Garo's showdown with the Maryu
I can't think of a way this image could be improved

With the film documenting Kouga's journey through a strange new land, other than him the cast of characters is all-new and unique to this. Kouga is still very much the stoic Garo we all know and love, but the development the character has received (i.e. not being standoffish to everyone around him) is still very much intact. Banter with Zaruba is unfortunately at an all time low, leaving most of the interactions (when Kouga has something to say that is) to be with the new cast of characters. Sadly there isn't a whole lot of Garo suit action in the film, with the armour itself not appearing until the last half an hour. But it's very much worth the wait - Garo riding Gouten battling against a giant mechanical dragon? Yes please!

Unfortunately outside of appearances, the new characters introduced don't really serve as worthy replacements for the characters we all know and love. They all have their own stories and in some cases memorable moments, but ultimately annoy just as much as they entertain. There's also a pretty bizarre twist with Meru, Kouga's blue-skinned guide/damsel in distress, which comes out of nowhere and may leave you scratching you head a little.

Kouga and Rei prepare for a friendly battle
That' unfortunate beard you have going on there Rei

However if you're a fan of the other characters that appeared in the first two Garo seasons, you may end up being a little disappointed. Rest assured Kaoru, Rei, Tsubasa and Reo are all featured but their appearances are very fleeting. The Makai Knights do not appear transformed, and seem to be in the midst of a competition where the winner will be permitted to speak to a deceased person of their choice. It isn't something that's particularly expanded on, but it isn't hard to follow and does end with a nice (if inconclusive) scene where Kouga and Rei battle it out to continue their now friendly-rivalry. Kaoru's appearance comes as a brief post-credits scene, and continues Garo's tradition of showing their relationship as more emotional than physical (i.e. a fond embrace is the most romance you're going to be getting). The best return of all is Taiga, appearing as a spirit and rounding off the daddy issues Kouga has had thoughout the show's run.

Kouga meets his deceased father once again
Parental ghosts!

Lament of the Dark Dragon is undoubtedly the best Garo has ever looked and a fantastic film in its own right, but at the same time a very different beast than what came before it. It's stark jump into colourful visuals and fairytale-like fantasy may seem off-putting to some, and at the same time sadly doesn't act as a very definitive conclusion to Kouga's story. In fact its more or less some elaborate item quest. Still, it's a very enjoyable item quest at that and do we really want Kouga's story to end? With the Zero Black Blood mini-series coming up very soon, there's still plenty of story potential in the old beast yet.

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