Looking back on this story now I can see that it’s just,oh, maybe a tad cynical about the subject. I acknowledge and own this, but I’m not going to apologize for it. You have to write from the place you are at the time, even if, apparently, in 1997 I was being a bit of a smart-ass.
Late last night I was watching a rather obscure Japanese movie (though filmed in Hong Kong in 2007) called Dororo. It’s based on a manga series by Ozamu Tezuko (he of Astro Boy fame). Here’s the pitch/teaser: “A female warrior who was raised as a man joins a young samurai’s quest to recover 48 of his body parts from 48 demons and to avenge her parents death.” There’s a longer version, but it’s still a variation on this basic premise, and as the movie played I realized that I had a problem with the way it was pitched. It’s not that the pitch was inaccurate—as a capsule summary it covers the basics of what they movie’s about fairly well. The premise is, of course, ridiculous. No one’s going to lose 48 body parts (some fairly important like, say, the heart) and still survive long enough to be discovered by just the right magic shaman who knows how to replace body parts. Even in a pure fantasy like this one it stretched credibility past the breaking point.
Regardless, I didn’t come here to review the movie, as such. I am here to make the point that, despite the nonsense premise, despite the rather gruesome imagery of the pitch, I liked the movie quite a bit. Which was when I realized that I had a problem with the movie’s pitch itself. It wasn’t that, as I said, it was inaccurate. No, I think it’s mostly that it managed to be both accurate and very misleading. Why? Because the movie was so much better than that. The hero’s plight manages to be both grotesque and sympathetic at the same time. The heroine in her own way is as much damaged as the hero, and yet is just as heroic, plus by turns poignant, amoral, and laugh out loud funny. The cgi is a bit lacking at times, but it captures the esthetic of the Japanese monster tradition beautifully—the group soul ghost baby is almost worth the price of admission itself. And yet the pitch, brief as it has to be, conveys absolutely none of this. Pitches tell you what a movie/story is about and simultaneously tell you almost nothing.