Did you know that Mt. Fuji erupted in 1707? I didn't, but I learned that it did from this Japanese film, Sakuya: yôkaiden / Sakuya: Demon Slayer. Another thing learned, a tad less factual perhaps, is that when Mt. Fuji erupted, it released all sorts of demons from the inner depths of the earth's intestines. For years thereafter the demon plague spread across the country, kept at bay only by the forces a family of warriors wielding a magical sword. But the magic sword also sucks the life out those that yield it, and whenever the candle of life of the demon slayer burns out, the next must meet his or her destiny and swing the blade against the evil demons crawling across the landscape.
Sakuya: Demon Slayer begins with the death Sakuya's wig-wearing Dad (Hiroshi Fujioka). Sakuya (Nozomi Andô, the love interest of the indefinitely more enjoyable Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden [2004 / trailer], seen here in her skivvies) accepts her destiny and promptly dispatches the river demon that killed her father. But wait! In the reeds does cry a baby demon and Sakuya, her maternal instincts awoken, promptly adopts it to raise as her brother, Taro.
A year later, Taro looks like a normal ten year old but for the green dome on the top of his head and Sakuya must finally do her destiny and go kill some demon. Accompanied by her adopted bro and two "ninjas" (that spend most of the time reminding her that she is a girl, insulting her, or trying to goad her into killing her adopted demon sibling), she travels to Mt. Fuji to kill the Spider Queen (Keiko Matsuzaka of The Happiness of the Katakuris [2001 / trailer]). Along the way to Mt. Fuji she and Taro stop to pay respects at every Buddhist shrine in Japan and have a brief fight with a man who likes to turn teenage Japanese girls into Japanese Barbie dolls, and to battle a demon cat with two tails. There is also a short interlude at one shrine in which a bunch of "good" paper-mâché demons dance around trying to invite Taro to return to them – at that point in time, he still does not know his origin and is not yet truly confronted with conflicted loyalties.
The big showdown with the Spider Queen ends up being more of a tacky take on the typical scenes of Godzilla tearing a model of Tokyo apart than anything else, only this time around it's the Spider Queen stomping through a model of some small Japanese town. Before and in-between: betrayal and loyalty, fights with demon minions and human freelance criminals, passable and truly laughable special effects all come into play as the nubile Sakuya swings her sword this way and that, looking sorta sexy in that typical samurai stance. Come here, young lady, I got a sword I want you to play with…
Oh, we did have high hopes for this one. Sakuya: Demon Slayer is the second film of Japanese director Tomoo Haraguchi, the man behind the insanely stupid but hilariously entertaining werewolf samurai films Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden and Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden 2 (2004). But instead of the total psychotronic gobshite weirdness of the aforementioned duet of high, gore-laden inanity, Sakuya: Demon Slayer delivers mostly weirdness lite with very little gore – and much like Lite Beer is good enough when there ain't anything else around to drink but really doesn't cut the mustard, neither does this film.
Which isn't to say the film doesn't have occasional scenes of entertaining nuttiness or wild ideas or even nice film work (i.e., sets, makeup, costumes, cinematography, etc.), it's just that it doesn't have enough of it and what it has is interspaced with way too many moments of boredom. Fans of Japanese monster flicks might enjoy it as a mildly interesting alternative to the normal Godzilla flick, but others might find themselves looking at their watch instead of the TV screen.
On the other hand, Sakuya: Demon Slayer could function well as a "training film" to introduce any young-and-impressionables you might have to the world of gonzo film: Though full of demons, ghosts and swinging swords, not only is the realistic blood level remarkably low, but the film also has moralistic messages concerning loyalty and love. (Nonetheless, some of the concepts and one or two scene might scare the crap out of the younger kiddies, despite a filmic execution that is oddly inept and an obviously fake style that is so typical of many Japanese fantasy films.) Were the film only a tad quicker and the storyline streamlined of its extraneous details – particularly all the sexist grief Sakuya gets for being a girl – it would be a far more enjoyable flick.
The ending of Sakuya: Demon Slayer is also particularly unsatisfying. Even if one overlooks the Godzilla homage, the sudden revelation of a secret super-power of the sword is riotously laughable and renders the entire prior fight as illogical – but then, had Sakuya simply used the super-power from the start, there would never have been the extended, climactic fight scene.
Sakuya: Demon Slayer: mondo-weirdness lite from Japan – sort of like sushi with no fish. Good for the kiddies, but not anyone else.