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Overall Rating
3.75

Awesome37.5%
Worth A Look: 12.5%
Average37.5%
Pretty Bad: 12.5%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings


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Dragonhead
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by Jay Seaver

"It's the end of the world as we know it and the kids are alright."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: How does one top the end of the world? The answer to that question is, generally, "it's not possible", so the decision to have it happen off-screen would be the wise one even if "Dragon Head" were about how and why the world ended and what could be done to set things back right. It's not, though - instead, it's about how someone deals with a strange, threatening new world. And on that count, it does OK. The subject's been handled better, but it's also (and more frequently) been done worse.

The world ended with a flash of red light, but Teru Aoki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) doesn't know this when he regains consciousness at the start of the story; he just thinks something has happened to his train on a class trip to Kyoto, and that he'll soon be rescued. Aside from killing everything it hit, the red light must have packed a heck of a wallop, because the tunnel his train is in has collapsed at both ends. Only a few others are left alive - classmates Ako Seto (Sayaka) and Nobuo Takahashi (Takayuki Yamada), along with one injured teacher, whom Nobuo kills in a mad rage. Teru and Ako escape before the tunnel completely caves in, but as they soon discover, what has happened is not just limited to the immediate area. Only some of the survivors they encounter are as overtly hostile as Nobuo, but that generally means that they are even more dangerous.

We never learn exactly what hit Japan to leave it a devastated wasteland. It doesn't appear to be nuclear, chemical, or biological; no-one is sick. Teru, Ako, and Nobuo all appear to have survived because they were completely enclosed and unable to be touched by the light, but the bodies don't appear burned; they're just dead. If anybody knows, they don't tell Teru and Ako, and by extension us. It may or may not be dealt with in the manga that the film is based upon; if so, it likely happens in a later chapter. Which is fine; he and she have more pressing matters to deal with.

The problems are often life-threatening; aside from Nobuo and the tunnel collapse, there are looters, lobotomized children, and dehydration. There's non-perishable food that has a disturbing effect on those who eat it. It's somewhat frustrating that there are these other science-fictional elements on top of the initial cataclysm; there's an old saying that the audience will accept one big lie, but once you start adding to that, you're kind of pushing your luck. On the whole, it's okay, as they seem to be at least thematically connected: The story is about how Teru (and, to a lesser extent, Ako) react to crisis - will they give in to madness like Nobuo, numbly accept their doom like other characters they meet, or stand up for themselves?

That's the challenge to which the cast tries to rise, and they don't rise quite as high as one might like. Satoshi Tsumabuki isn't bad as Teru. He's a decent, likable young man who does not initially seem extraordinary, which is probably what writer Minetarou Mochiduki and director Joji Iida intended. After all, survival is not as much of a triumph if Teru's an Eagle Scout, and it's not credible if he's a clown. The thing is, Tsumakuki's portrayal of Teru doesn't seem to change much over the course of the film. I buy him as a random survivor of the initial disaster, but I'm not so sure about him as a guy who can thrive long-term on his wits and pragmatism. Sayaka's Ako doesn't even seem to adapt that much, remaining a crying damsel in distress throughout most of the movie. They should be different people by the end, but the cast doesn't quite sell it.

The action, on the other hand, is pretty well done considering the likely rather low budget. It's a curious dichotomy: There are some big set-pieces and good-looking sets, along with some adequate CGI, but the movie is shot on some pretty nasty-looking digital video. I couldn't read the credits to tell what type of cameras were used, but given the current state of the art, I figure the look of the picture is a deliberate decision on Iida's part, but it's a questionable one. The first segment and many others take place in relatively dark settings, which digital doesn't seem to do well at all. Much of the rest has been manipulated to be brownish-red and have an abundance of simulated film grain. The idea, I suppose, is to give it a bleak, gritty look, and maybe cover up some places where the budget falls short. It does, but it also makes the film something of a chore to watch. The running time is a hair over two hours, and though it's got the scope for its big-action-movie length, it does occasionally feel a bit drawn out.

"Dragon Head" is the epitome of "not bad". As an action adventure, it does what's expected even if it doesn't have the moments of greatness to push it more solidly to the positive side of the ledger. But if you're looking for teenaged post-apocalyptic adventure, well, it's a whole heck of a lot better than renting "Night of the Comet" again.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8945&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/04/05 11:41:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/27/05 Edgardo G. Salomon A disturbing view on survivalism 4 stars
10/12/05 Edward Written like what a 14-yr-old would like was "deep" 2 stars
12/11/04 Mark I enjoyed it. 4 stars
5/21/04 Your mom 1hr 40 min yawn fest 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  DVD: 27-Sep-2005

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