Director Takashi Yamazaki’s latest effort makes the supernatural mundane by telling a story about a town in which creatures of Japanese folklore live side by side with humans. However, by inundating us with the mythological, the film risks losing a sense of wonder in the process.
Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) Masakazu are newlyweds settling into Isshiki’s ancestral home in the town of Kamakura. Isshiki is a renaissance man: a folklorist rushing to finish his stories before deadlines, a train hobbyist, and a paranormal detective. Akiko is just your energetic, doting housewife, and it does feel that she has been shortchanged by not having as many interests or hobbies as Isshiki. The love between them becomes a focal point in the story later, and I didn’t feel as if they always had great chemistry together.
Within the first few scenes, the supernatural has a habit of intervening. Whether it is a water spirit crossing their path, or the Night Market filled with enough creatures to make George Lucas happy, Kamakura is just one of those villages that is apparently on the line that divides our physical plane from the spiritual realm. With all these fantastical happenings, I would have appreciated more time to reflect on what exactly it means for one’s life to be a magnet for these otherworldly creatures.
At first, I was gravitating towards the film’s use of Japanese folklore in that I was imagining Destiny becoming a movie like Big Fish or Secondhand Lions, which are personal favourites of mine, but as time went by, I felt alienated from the happenings on screen. I was no longer able to follow the logic – once made so clear (since Akiko was learning about the supernatural herself), but later on, the supernatural seemingly became a device for anything to happen. Sometimes the mythological is used to comedic effect, as a touching scene between the Masakazus and a jinx (bad luck god) demonstrates, but later, scares and emotional weight – when both are seemingly needed – are nowhere to be found due to the rushed (yet lengthy) nature of the film’s plot. In the film’s climactic scenes, it is mentioned often that time is running out, but I wasn’t aware there was a time limit.
For all the challenges this film presents, it has a heart and a love for the zany elements of Japanese folklore which are well worth a visit. I do believe that more stories about Kamakura (just like Stephen King’s Castle Rock) are a good thing.