Kaizo Hayasahi’s “Zipang” isn’t bad, it’s just irrelevant. There isn’t really much to say about “Zipang” other than that you will either like it or you won’t. It’s one of those movies that defies category, not to mention logic, because it’s just so in a world of its own making that criticizing much of it is an exercise in futility. Written and directed by Kaizo Hayashi, “Zipang” mostly resembles a feature length version of “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”, only there’s bloodshed when you least expect it. More often than not, the film is a PG-rated Samurai and Ninja film, but without any respect for either genre.
Here’s the deal: Jigoku (Masahiro Takashima) and his loyal band of merry men (including what I think is a plastic baby elephant?) are running from bounty hunters when they come across a golden sword that can magically transport its user to a City of Gold in some other dimensional plane or whatever (does it really matter?). Along the way, Jigoku falls for the lovely Pistol Lily (Narumi Yasuda), who is also after the bounty on Jigoku’s head. Lily got the nickname because she usually hunts her victims with a two-shot pistol, although why she doesn’t use a 6-shot revolver (another character in the film wields two of them) and thus make herself 3 times as deadly, I don’t know.
In the nonsensical City of Gold, which is actually just a Castle of Gold, there’s an old guy whose skin is covered in gold, and he’s apparently also made of gold. Here, the Gold King (my name for him) is keeping prisoner a woman whose love he cannot have. The woman’s true love was locked away along with the golden sword, but since the sword has been librated, so too is the guy. One silly encounter with a bunch of ninjas after another, and Jigoku and company ends up in the City of Gold to fight King Gold. And since “Zipang” has as much need for realism as the aforementioned “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”, everything ends hunky dory — except for the bad guys, of course.
“Zipang” takes a lot of getting used to. The movie starts off as a joke, with Hayashi throwing in every Samurai and Ninja stereotype/clich’ that he can think of at the screen. The ninja are armed with some incredible (re: impossible) weapons, including a portable ninja throwing star that is also a photo camera! There’s also a series of encounters where Jigoku kills about 100 or so bounty hunters and ninjas in a row with not a single drop of blood spilled on either side. Because the sequences are shot to be parodies, Jigoku’s opponents all take time out to wait for him to finish killing a victim before lunging into the fray. And of course they always slash at Jigoku with their swords raised high, telegraphing their status as next-in-line-to-die.
But here’s the rub. While “Zipang” plays it all for laughs in its first 40 minutes, the rest of the movie gets surprisingly more graphic. The first blood splatter shows up at around the time the City of Gold is discovered. We also get a gruesome scene of the golden sword meticulously digging into a victim’s chest. All of this will throw many viewers off, and why shouldn’t it? Hayashi declared his intentions to make a parody out of his movie in the first half, only to throw us completely off balance with the appearance of blood. It’s not necessary, and I would have much prefer the movie to remain a joke.
“Zipang” makes the same mistake that so many films in the action-comedy genre do. It wants to be too many things, but ends up being uneven instead.
Kaizo Hayashi (director) / Kaizo Hayashi (screenplay)
CAST: Masahiro Takashima …. Jigoku
Narumi Yasuda …. Pistol Lily