Toyoda is back! At one point unsure whether he would even go back to feature-length film making, he returns with a blistering vengeance. I can only hope Blood of Rebirth [Yomigaeri no Chi] is just the first in many to come, generating enough momentum for a true resurrection. Whatever happens next though, Toyoda delivers a pretty impressive come-back film, worthy of your complete and submissive attention.
Up until five years ago Toyoda's career plan was perfect. Cashing in on his potential, he kept on making one great film after another. That is, until the day he got caught with "illegal substances", apparently considered a pretty serious offence in Japan. Toyoda forcefully retreated from the film scene and went on to direct concert visuals for Twin Tail. A smart move as five years later Toyoda resurfaces with Twin Tail front man Nakamura in the lead role and the band doing the soundtrack for his new film. Talk about turning a setback into an opportunity.
It's easy to start drawing parallels between Toyoda's film and his own recent background, but what did you expect with a comeback film titled Blood of Rebirth. It's the story of a masseur killed by poisoned sake, then taken to a revival spring to have his revenge on the ones that killed him. Those looking for symbolism and hidden parallels will have a field day with Toyoda's latest film. Luckily there is more to Blood of Rebirth to keep all of us other film fans happy as well.
Toyoda tells the tale of Oguri, a freelance masseur traveling around Japan. When he happens to stumble upon an evil lord his days are numbered. He is drugged and left for dead by the side of the road. Oguri is eager to get his revenge though and decides to ignore the paths to heaven and hell for the time being. He returns to the world of the living, searching for the spring of revival which will grant him the means to revenge his death.
Toyoda's visual style hasn't changed much. Grim and dark colors, smart camera work and impressive slow-motion shots make up most of the visual impressions. Good stuff, but it only becomes truly great when paired with the amazing soundtrack. This kind of 70's-influenced rock isn't my thing, at all, but together with the visuals and long-stretched scenes Toyoda creates a mesmerizing effect that pulls the viewer right through the middle part of the film. Absolutely stunning stuff.
The acting is pretty remarkable too. Nakamura proves a superb lead, though his acting skills are mostly restricted to the start and finish of the film. He is assisted by Shibukawa and Kusakari who both put in terrific performances. Toyoda has a way with actors and even though the personalities here are quite standard, they are acted out with much energy and individuality. Even smaller roles (like the gatekeeper) make a pretty lasting impression.
The film is split into three separate parts. The first part is mostly narrative and follows the introduction of Oguri and Lord Daizen. From the moment Oguri returns from the dead the film switches gears. The middle part is almost completely carried by the soundtrack and contemplative visuals of rural Japan. Oguri's trip through various landscapes is an almost meditative journey which more than once reminded me of Apocalypse Now.
After Oguri's resurrection (a smashing 5-minute slow-motion scene) the film switches gears again and revs up for a crazy finale. Saying anything more would be spoiling but the stand-off between Oguri and Daizen is pretty far out there. Take it as you will, but scenes like these actually hint at the benefit of Toyoda's little time-out.
Blood of Rebirth isn't a very easy film, even for Toyoda fans. The middle part is extremely slow and even though his style hasn't changed too much the themes, setting and characters have. It's almost impossible comparing this to his earlier work, so people expecting a peaceful reunion might be in for a shock. On the other hand, if you're ready for a new kind of Toyoda (and you don't mind atmosphere-driven cinema) there could be plenty to look forward to.
I still need to see Hanging Garden and Unchain, that said I believe Blood of Rebirth belongs to Toyoda's best output to date and could be the start of something beautiful. I pray he continues on this path and I hope he isn't put down by some of the negative critiques this film will definitely wield. Come prepared and be blown away.