REVIEW / FANTASY COMEDY
131 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars
The story: The film is set in an alternate reality in which late Edo-era Japan has been conquered by aliens called Amanto (literally, sky people), who have outlawed the carrying of swords. The devil-may-care samurai Gintoki Sakata (Shun Oguri), nerdy Shinpachi Shimura (Masaki Suda) and teenage alien girl Kagura (Kanna Hashimoto) are drawn into hunting down a serial killer with a powerful sword - one which can possess the person who wields it. Based on the ongoing manga series of the same name by Hideaki Sorachi.
Gintama is a mash-up of both genre and tone, gleefully mixing elements of a period drama with science fiction and stirring in self-referential comedy along with more serious (melo)drama about resisting the enemy, the greed of man and even the tenuous bonds of childhood friendship.
One suspects the resulting concoction is more palatable in manga and anime form than as a live-action movie. Indeed, the manga that started in 2003 is still going strong, with two animated big-screen outings and several anime television series in its franchise.
This film adaptation does not take itself seriously, which is a good thing, but, on the other hand, it can come across as scattershot.
The randomness of a sidekick character inexplicably named Elizabeth, which looks like a simply sketched penguin, is better suited for the page and in animation. (But at least the movie openly acknowledges the fact that Elizabeth has to be a guy in a costume.)
Oguri as the uncouth man-child samurai who is constantly digging his nose and ear is mildly engaging, even if he sometimes comes across as being part of an elaborate cosplay session.
Maybe it is because the film is constantly winking at itself and indulging in meta shenanigans. There are multiple references to other manga/anime programmes, including the pirate-themed One Piece and the sci-fi fantasy Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind.
In the cheesy introductory sequence, the characters actually voice their concern about the need to draw in new viewers. It is a valid concern since this live-action adaptation of Gintama probably works best for those who are already fans.