Friday, March 04, 2011

Kurozuka – review

Director: Araki Tetsuro

Release date: 2008

Contains spoilers

This is another anime series and it is going to be a difficult one to explain without blowing the plot completely. Despite being 2008 I had the feeling of an older animation in the style and I assume there was a deliberate retro feeling to the animation.

Every episode begins with a Noh Play scene, from episode two this serves as a recap of the previous episode and is intercut with scenes from the previous episode. This is not simply an affectation, however, and the Noh Play appears within the final episode.

arrow  avoidance
The first episode, proper, begins with a broken world, skyscrapers fallen and tilted, and a young man, who is Kuro (Miyano Mamoru), running and jumping through the scene. Arrows are fired at him, that he avoids, and when he lands it is in a forest and we have gone back in time 1000 years. Kuro is being pursued by samurai but they seem zombified.

He fights against them and destroys all but one when he suddenly stops, gripping his head. The zombie is about to strike when it is destroyed by Kuro’s servant Benkei (Nakata Jôji). We notice a distinctive sign on the armour of the zombie and then the body crumples into dust. Benkei notes that these warriors are not from Kuro’s brother’s forces but then other groups may be after the fugitive Kuro.

Benkei spots the light of a home in the forest and they head towards it, finding a house. Inside they meet a woman, Kuromitsu (Park Romi), who offers them shelter but they must not go to the room behind the house or peek inside. They agree but Kuro is feverish and stumbles. Though Benkei is using Kuro’s name and pretending to be the master – to protect Kuro – Kuromitsu can see through the ruse due to Kuro’s noble demeanour.

nursing Kuro
The next day Benkei leaves to get medicine and Kuromitsu nurses Kuro with a tenderness that betrays an attraction. Once his fever breaks their attraction grows and he becomes amorous at one point. Kuromitsu breaks away but then suggests that it is because they should not give in to their mutual attraction they are not meant for each other.

Kuromitsu feeds
Kuro awakens at night and senses that someone is there. It isn’t Benkei, he rationalises, as Benkei would have announced himself. Kuro moves through the house and eventually reaches the forbidden room. He peaks inside and sees a man stung up, blood in rivulets down his body and Kuromitsu feeding on the blood. She seems almost relieved that he has seen but that relief is short lived as they are attacked by creatures bearing the same sign as the zombie warriors.

turning Kuro
Whilst Kuro defeats the attackers both he and Kuromitsu are gravely wounded. She, of course, is immortal and we notice that Benkei is watching the attack, stood with the instigators. Kuromitsu wants to take Kuro with her into eternity. He agrees and, out by a tree in the forest, they swap blood whilst naked. What becomes confusing at this point is that we see a scene in which a robber samurai attacks a couple, clearly Kuro and Kuromitsu, and kills them – taking Kuro’s head. It is also clear that Izo – the attacker – is Benkei but he doesn’t know his own name. We then see that this is a vision suffered by the actual Benkei who seems confused as to whether he is himself or Kuro. It appears to be conditioning or brainwashing. Kuro and Kuromitsu are attacked by the tree – as Kuro is turning – and it is Benkei who saves them. However he sports a tattoo of the symbol we have seen the enemies wear and suddenly takes Kuro’s head. It is this circular repetition that becomes a theme in the series but I can’t explain why without spoiling too much.

dystopian future
As it is, Kuro awakens (whole again) in a post-nuclear war, dystopian Japan and searches for Kuromitsu. He is hunted by the Red Army – an organisation that sports the distinctive symbol we have seen so much of – and becomes involved with a revolutionary movement called Haniwa. He is searching for Kuromitsu, and both organisations seem to have accessed her blood, Haniwa holding and guarding it whilst the Red Army have enhanced their elite warriors with it. His memories, returning slowly, indicate that he has not slept for a 1000 years (as first appears) but has interacted with, loved and lost Kuromitsu on numerous occasions.

Kuromitsu cannot die
There isn’t much lore. Kuro and Kuromitsu are vampires but they seem generally impervious to the normal tropes. Of course injury stops them but it does not seem to kill them. There is a specific piece of lore concerning Kuro that I won’t spoil. He does show fang at one point and feeding seems to heal them. The enhanced warriors do not seem like vampires but more like mutants. The enhancing effects of the blood does not work with everyone and they die – one we see explode into a puddle of blood.

I enjoyed this but the circular route of the storytelling made it more of a challenging watch and this may be off-putting. I liked some of the art motifs but – as I said at the head of the article it seemed older than it was. The series had a lot of action and quite a bit of blood but this did not overwhelm the story – on the contrary the unusual narrative structure sometimes threatened to overwhelm the action. An interesting anime. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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