Fantasia 2010: HIGANJIMA Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
[With action-horror Higanjima having it's Canadian debut, we now re-post our previous review.]

Akira is a boy with issues.  Yes, this could be said about virtually any high schooler and while it is true of Akira for the typical reasons - the girl he loves is in love with his best friend, for one thing - in his case the issues run a bit deeper.  You see, two years ago his elder brother Atsushi went away for a romantic weekend away with his fiance and simply never returned.  And though Akira does a good job of presenting a brave face in public the reality is that his family has never recovered from the loss, the continued absence of Atsushi slowing gnawing away at their souls.  And so, when a strange woman arrives in town claiming to know Atsushi's whereabouts Akira has no choice: he must follow her wherever she may lead.  And when where she wants to lead is to a mysterious island over run with vampires, vampires which Atsushi has spent the past two years battling, Akira's friends have no choice, either: they must come to protect their friend.  And so a small group of high school students set off to battle hordes of the undead.

Kinetic and enormously bloody - Atsushi makes his first appearance by smashing a vampire's skull to a pulp with the end of a log - Higanjima marks the return of Volcano High director Kim Tae-Gyun to the sort of energetic, manga inspired action with which he first made his name internationally.  A Japanese language film, Higanjima is darker by far than Volcano High - bloodier, too - while still showcasing the sense of style that made Kim's earlier work such a treat to watch. 

Though the Higanjima formula is familiar - the charismatic villain, dark antihero, mysterious femme fatale, and everyman lead all hit every note you'd expect them to - Kim introduces enough surprises, enough clever set pieces, to keep things moving at a brisk pace.  While Akira is somewhat milquetoast as a leading man and overly prone to running and crying, and his friends are almost entirely wasted by a screenplay that gives them precisely nothing meaningful to do, Higanjima compensates with a host of strong secondary players and continuous, well executed action.

In many ways the strengths and weakness of Higanjima mirror those of recent martial arts fantasy hit Dororo, the concept of the film somewhat weighed down by a script that lacks in some areas and some flawed special effects but the plentiful number of things the film does very right ultimately winning out.  And on the subject of those special effects ... though the effects work is quite good through the entire film it almost seems as though the producers ran out of money when it matter the most and were forced to use incomplete work in the big finale, the end result being some truly horrible composite work and a thoroughly unbelievable monster.  It's quite bad and, had what came before not been so damn entertaining, would have been enough to spoil the entire film but as it is it simply leaves you hoping that they get that part corrected for the inevitable sequel.
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