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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 33.33%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.56%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"Duel Project #1: “Ninja stars are for losers.”"
5 stars

When I first perused the schedule for this year’s SF Indie Fest, the first thing that caught my eye was the DUEL PROJECT. The project’s first film, ARAGAMI, promised to be an action-packed Samurai showdown – and it did not fail to deliver.

What is the DUEL PROJECT? For the long explanation, click on the link: . For the short one – it’s a contest of one-upmanship between directors to see who can make the best film about an epic duel to the death. For his film, Director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) chose a traditional Samurai template with the twist of a demon in human form looking for a worthy opponent.

When an unnamed Samurai (Takao Osawa) and his companion drag themselves to the shelter of a remote Buddhist temple after suffering numerous wounds in battle, they are greeted by a beautiful but silent woman (Kanae Uotani). The Samurai passes out from his injuries, only to awake a few days later to discover that his companion is dead, but he has somehow miraculously recovered. He is greeted by the mysterious woman and her companion, a man named Aragami. As it turns out, Aragami is a master swordsman and world traveler, having access to the finest of western liquors and weapons. As the Samurai enjoys Aragami’s hospitality and drinks his Gaijin hooch, Aragami confides in the guest that he is not really human, but a demon in human form who, while not quite immortal, is still more than a match for any mortal man.

But alas, Aragami is tired of living – especially since he lacks the ability to sleep or dream. He hopes that the Samurai is up to the challenge of dispatching him, and after some initial laughter and incredulity, the Samurai accepts the challenge. But before the big showdown takes place, the two form a kind of friendship, discussing philosophical matters well into the night over dinner and drink. It’s kind of like My Dinner With Andre’ with a Katana smack down at the end.

Abiding by the rules of the Duel Project, Kitamura makes excellent use of his three actors and one set. Despite the limits imposed by the contest, the film never feels claustrophobic and the dialogue is mostly quite excellent and only occasionally strained with redundancies or overly-pregnant pauses. The film also has a bit of fun with the legend of Musashi Miyamoto (Japan’s most famous historical/mythical swordsman). The dynamic between the two leads is strong, each giving the audience an equally likeable character to cheer for.

But most importantly, the action simply rocks. After a humorous prelude in which Aragami offers the Samurai a multitude of weapons to choose from, then berates each of his choices, the final duel begins - culminating in a brilliant sequence of fighting in a dark room, the opponents illuminated only in flashes of the sparks flying from their clanging swords. Kitamura showed us in Versus that he knows his way around an action sequence, and he remains in top form here.

But while VERSUS gave us some great action sequences but draggy bits of filler, ARAGAMI goes the extra mile by actually taking the time to develop a story and characters that are much more than just set pieces against which the action can take place. Aragami lives up to the aspirations of the DUEL PROJECT by delivering a thrilling showdown worthy of the prize.

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originally posted: 02/10/04 11:20:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Indie Fest. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/12/11 Josie Cotton is a goddess Decent movie, but a disappointment after 'Versus' 3 stars
4/22/07 Jim This movie both hilarious and awesome. Kitamura is the best action director around 5 stars
1/16/07 Elspeth I hated this film, found it really tedious 1 stars
5/25/04 ak kick ass 5 stars
3/22/04 Bingo was his name-o Pretty cool, but no classic. 3 stars
2/18/04 Michael Andrew This movie is straight up wicked! Kitamura knows how to shoot action scenes explosively. 5 stars
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  16-Nov-2004 (NR)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2004



Directed by
  Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by
  Ryuhei Kitamura

  Takao Osawa
  Masaya Kato
  Kanae Uotani

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