Moon Over Tao (1997) Movie Review

You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger cinematic amalgam than “Moon Over Tao”. As an odd mixture of the past and future, the film is only partially successful in what it tries to accomplish. Moviegoers will probably find “Moon Over Tao” an interesting curiosity, but not worth investing personal time in watching it.

“Moon Over Tao” introduces us to a perplexing dilemma: the discovery of a sword made of a metal not found on Earth. Indestructible and able to easily slice through solid rock, an army equipped with this particular sword would be unstoppable. As a result, a retired and disgraced former soldier is dispatched along with an eager young swordsman to find the source of the metal and obtain it for their lord. But there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye, as three one-dimensional travelers soon arrive. We’re informed that the metal is from a shell that surrounds an alien creature — one that must be found and contained before it wakes and destroys humanity.

Once again, director Keita Amemiya shows he’s a visual master. Under his guidance, “Moon Over Tao” is a beautifully shot and artfully executed picture, with a pace that transcends the sound barrier and action scenes liberally injected with nitroglycerine. The film is mesmerizing to watch, and if eye candy were all a movie needed to be successful, than “Moon Over Tao” would be the greatest film in cinematic history.

Unfortunately the script is where the film falters. Director Amamiya, Hajime Matsumoto, and Toru Tanaka present an inventive idea, but fail to properly execute it. It all becomes hard to follow, as “Moon Over Tao” devolves into a confusing mess of a movie. The script also has difficulty reconciling different time periods. The movie is supposed to take place in the 16th century, yet the alien and travelers appear to be from far in the future. The writers can’t mesh the two periods, and as a result the two elements seem out of place. Frequently, it seems Amamiya wanted to make two entirely different films, and since he couldn’t, he just combined the two scripts and hoped for the best.

The cast does a decent job and is convincing enough to make the audience believe the peril the Earth faces. There’s no point in singling out a particular actor or actress, however, since no one manages to shine. That doesn’t mean they perform poorly, quite the opposite; but when the entire cast plays their parts with equal conviction, it’s only right to appreciate them in their entirety.

The alien effects by co-writer Matsumoto are excellent and rather eerie looking. Especially bizarre is the Makaraga; if that thing ever shows up on your doorstep it’s best to call a legion of exterminators. The musical score is credited to Shinji Kinoshita, Hirokazu Ohta, and Koichi Ota, and you’d think between the three of them they’d somehow manage to get it right. But they don’t, offering instead a generic and uninspiring compliment to the events onscreen. Perhaps if a fourth and fifth composer were added, they might have pulled it off.

The best way to describe “Moon Over Tao” is a promising but failed effort. It has great direction, an able cast, and good special effects, but they’re all undercut by a bad score and a haphazard script. Fans of the genre may appreciate this abortive effort, but others would be wise to try some of the director’s later works.

Keita Amamiya (director)
CAST: Toshiyuki Nagashima …. Suikyou
Hiroshi Abe …. Hayate
Yûko Moriyama …. Abira/Marien/Kuzto

Buy Moon Over Tao on DVD