Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura (Japan, 2017) [Japan Foundation Film Tour 2019]
Kamakura is one of the old capitals of Japan and the most magical place in the country according to Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. In this CG-heavy adventure, a young woman discovers her new husband’s titular hometown is where the borders between life, death, fairytale and reality are blurred when she and her beloved embark on a fantastical adventure.
The film takes place in an alternate reality where the historic coastal city of Kamakura is where ghosts, demons, yokai and humans live side-by-side. Tokyo girl Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) is the freshly-minted wife of the mystery novelist Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and she gets a surprise every day when she meets her supernatural neighbours who are more familiar to her from books on folklore. Thanks to her positive attitude, Akiko soon takes everything in her stride including seeing her husband help the local police investigate difficult cases involving spectres but she soon gets caught up in a case of her own when her spirit is separated from her body. It is down to her loyal husband Masakazu to figure out what happened by venturing into the afterworld if he wants to unite Akiko’s corporeal and ethereal self.
The story comes from a manga by Ryohei Saigan and has been adapted for the screen by Takashi Yamazaki. He was the best choice for the job considering he has helmed three of Saigan’s nostalgia-packed Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005/07/12) stories as well as making CG-orientated films stretching back to the early 2000s, such as the Takashi Kaneshiro vehicle Returner (2002), an entry in the Doreamon anime franchise and, more recently, the live-action adaptations of the manga Parasyte (2014/15). Nostalgia and CG feature prominently in Destiny as Yamazaki blends the real and fantastical into a heady confection.
The first half of the film settles for the gentle scene setting of a world which is similar to ours but, due to props and set design, feels a decade or two off. It is as if the setting is moored closer to the 50s. While some people dress in contemporary fashion, modern technology is mostly absent and Akiko and Masakazu’s sartorial style, car and home decorations look old-fashioned. These anachronisms allow the fantastical and mythical creatures of the story to gracefully materialise in this world through CG and people in prosthetics as supernatural beings like kappa and mischievous jinx deities drink in bars and lodge in houses and some even work local government.
This melange of Japanese folk tales, iconography, culture and infrastructure is all playfully deployed and goes from little details like the names of characters to something big like seeing our more familiar reality and the fantastical afterworld linked via Kamakura’s famous nostalgia-inducing Enoden train. Everything works in harmony as the fantastical blends in with the background before popping to the front when needed for plot purposes.
The plot is made up of little vignettes full of details that gradually stack up to create a fuller world and a deeper insight into the characters just in time for a satisfying second half of the film which is a CG extravaganza as the afterworld is explored and mysteries are cleared up. This section is where the creatures and environments become more fantastical with animation allowing action to take place in a beautiful vertiginous village in an exaggerated version of Japan. What keeps the film grounded is we get a true insight into the romance of the central couple which forms the beating heart of the film.
For all of the dazzling CG, audiences will be left more in awe of the double-act at the centre of the film as Takahata’s soft-hearted angelic Akiko and her slightly geeky but equally kind husband Masakazu display and delve into their relationship and discover it is something even more magical and timeless. The lead actors have an easy chemistry together and an uncomplicated relationship based on somewhat traditional roles but they perform them with utter sincerity and dedication. Their individual characters soften each other and display a loyalty, love and energy that will make viewers long to be in a relationship like theirs especially if it comes with some safe supernatural shenanigans in a place as beautiful as Kamakura.
The film may be packed with mystical creatures but when the credits roll, audiences will have been charmed more by the performances of the actors who sell the idea that love is the most magical thing. Love conquers all. This charming film is the perfect sweet shot of sugar called for by dreamers. Since it is delivered through fun acting and CG, audiences will find it easy to devour.
Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is part of the Japan Foundation Film Touring Programme 2019, which is showing at selected UK venues from February 2 to March 28.