Bôkoku no îgisu
- Out of This World (2004)
- Another Battle (2000)
- The Last Samurai (2003)
- The Twilight Samurai (2002)
- Ringu (1998)
- Casshern (2004)
- Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)
- Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003)
- Owls' Castle (1999)
- 47 Ronin (1994)
- Battle Royale 2 (2003)
Available on DVD from YesAsia:
"Die Hard on a ship". That's the most simple way of describing "Aegis", it's also the most inaccurate, because this film is everything "Die Hard" isn't. For better or worse...
The Japanese Destroyer Isokaze is heading out to sea to take part in a naval exercise. The Isokaze is unique because it possesses the impenetrable defence system known as Aegis - Aegis was the shield of the Greek God Zeus. This shield protects the ship from any kind of attack, from either air or sea.
Meanwhile the Japanese intelligence community is on high alert. Recently an American made chemical weapon, code name GUSOH, has fallen into the hands of a know terrorist, Major Pao Yeung Fan.
The crew of Isokaze is blissfully unaware of these events as they embark on their mission. One of the key players on board is Chief Petty Officer Senguku. He's the man responsible for the crew. While the other officers spend their time looking at the big picture, Senguku deals directly with the young seamen on board. He knows the crew by heart and monitors their well-being like a concerned father.
One of the kids that captures his attention is Kisaragi, a troubled kid recently assigned to the ship. He's a bit of an outsider, but somehow Senguku manages to reach him and they develop a mutual understanding. Still, the other crew members notice that Kisaragi is behaving a little oddly now and then. Senguku thinks nothing more of this, when suddenly he learns that Kisaragi has barricaded himself in the engine room and plans to blow up the ship. He's told by the other officers that Kisaragi is a foreign agent, but Senguku nonetheless volunteers to enter the engine room and confront the young sailor.
Kisaragi, however, tells a different tale. He claims to be a government agent, assigned to this ship, because the entire officer corps, save Senguku, is in league with the terrorist Pao Yeung Fan, who is in fact already on board with his men and the shipment of GUSOH that he stole. They plan to launch an attack on Japan itself! Senguku doesn't believe him, but the moment he opens the door he realises his mistake. Everything Kisaragi said was correct.
The XO Miyatsu has taken charge of the ship and the terrorists reveal themselves. They capture Kisaragi and force the crew to leave the ship at gunpoint. But before the ship leaves, Senguku makes a quick decision. He jumps out of the lifeboat and swims back towards the ship.
As the darkened ship sails into the night, Senguku makes his way back on board. He is now the only thing standing between the terrorists and the destruction of Japan...
"Aegis" takes its sweet time to build up any kind of excitement or sense of danger. The first act moves along very slowly, marred down by that ever-present Japanese courtesy, which is a bit hard to shallow, considering the lives of millions of people are at stake.
"Dear Mr. Senguku, are you sure you want to learn the truth and have this heavy burden on your shoulders?" asks one of the intelligence officers, and then proceeds to explain that there are secret agents on the ship and that everybody could die...! Is it just me, or shouldn't that kind of info be shared without asking? It's a little too neat and pretty for my taste.
The philosophy, however, is more than a bit shady.
The reason for the officers mutiny and their deal with the terrorist is that they believe Japan has lost its way. I won't go into details because it'll spoil too much of the story, but their logic goes something like this: Japan has been at peace for 60 years. That means the country is weak and has no right exist. But, if we drop our bombs on Tokyo, reducing the capital to rubble, the nation can find its way again and return to its previous glorious state... Say what?
I just don't buy that a group of highly trained professional soldiers could somehow manage to convince themselves that this is a righteous path, no matter how frustrated they are about the state of the nation. A single mentally disturbed individual, or even a group of fanatics, sure. But an entire group of ordinary soldiers? Nope.
Furthermore, I'm not sure what they hope to accomplish. Look at the changes in America post 9/11- without making a political statement or judge the actions of anybody - it's safe to say that in the wake of those terrible events, the whole nation got on its feet. Laws were passed that could never have passed before. Foreign nations were invaded. Things definitely changed.
Now imagine 9/11 was the brainchild of a handful of disgruntled American soldiers. Would it still have had those international ramifications? Would the country's attitude have been the same? Would those foreign nations have been invaded, and those laws passed? I doubt it.
Since the soldiers of Aegis never make any attempt to hide their nationality, I don't see how they could ever hope change Japan in the same way. I can see how an attack from the outside could strengthen a nation, but being attacked by your own countrymen would simply not create the same effect. Not in my opinion anyway. The logic just doesn't hold up.
One thing that does hold up 100 percent is Hiroyuki Sanada. He is quite simply fantastic in the part of Senguku. At first he's the quiet guy who just wants to get along with everybody, but then all hell breaks lose and suddenly Senguku has to step up to the plate and be a regular John McClane! Is there even a Japanese word for Yippee-ki-yay? A big reason that the film still holds up as well as it does, despite its problems, is the character of Senguku. At first he's the quiet guy who just wants to get along with everybody, but then all hell breaks lose and suddenly Senguku has to step up to the plate and be a regular John McClane! Is there even a Japanese word for Yippee-ki-yay? A big reason that the film still holds up as well as it does, despite its problems, is the character of Senguku.
It the midst of hazy political motives and terrorists with broken logic, he's a shiny beacon whose motives are simple and easy to relate to. He constantly surprises with his dedication, and at the end of the day he saves the film single handily! Whether he saves his ship, is another matter.
And speaking of questionable politicians: I was really surprised that a Japanese film would present such a harsh view of its own leaders. The government is portrayed as a bunch of incompetent endlessly bickering old men, who want nothing more that to blame others for their mistakes, so they can save their own skin. "Aegis" paints an unflattering picture of the Japanese decision makers, which is both highly unsettling and fascinating to watch.
Now, there's nothing wrong with the film visually. The cinematography is very competent and the film doesn't look cheap at all. However, there were a few technical aspects that bothered me.
First, it doesn't feel like the film takes place on a real working ship. Every camera set-up is rock solid, without a hint of any waves and except for a few establishing shots, there's no shots that show both the ship and the sea at the same time.
Also there's hardly any sound to support the idea of being on a ship. Often there doesn't seem to be any sound of waves or water, and whenever we're inside the ship there's only a faint hum to indicate that an engine is running.
I'm not sure if a modern warship moves that much with the waves, and it could be that the engines are very quiet in real life. If that's the case, this may just be a deliberate choice by the filmmakers. But this is a film, and the illusion has to work ON film! Instead this looks and feels like it was shot on a dry stage on dry land.
Second, the action scenes are not very energetic.
With the impressive amount of Korean and Kong Kong action movies available these days - hell, even the Americans have caught on - it's little jarring to watch a film like this, which looks like it was shot 20 years ago. Come to think of it, I'd be hard-pressed to come op with more than a handful of Japanese produced action films that come even close to the films emanating form Korea or Hong Kong.
Now, don't get me wrong. When the story does get moving, it's pretty cool. We get shootouts in the ships narrow corridors, battleships firing at each other in the night and all sorts of cool sequences, but I just wish these things were presented in a nicer package, so to speak.
"Aegis" ended up being a good film experience, which is not to say that it's flawless, or even that good. Either way, this definitly isn't "Die Hard on a ship", it's too tame for that. However, this might be one of those rare instances where a seemingly innocent action movie can actually spark a genuinely interesting debate about the political aspects of the story. I for one could easily imagine many heated discussions with my friends, based on the ideologies proposed by this film.
Now, if only the next Jean Claude Van Damme film could start a debate about hunger in the third world, we'd be on our way...