Reviews

The Book of the Dead (Austin Film Festival ’06)

If there’s one thing that American movie consumers are clamoring for, it’s a tale of ancient Japan told with puppets in stop motion animation. For the most part, the only exposure to puppets that America’s had has come in the form of the satirical Team America, and stop motion comes in the form of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
By  · Published on November 9th, 2006

Release Date: TBA (festival circuit)

If there’s one thing that American movie consumers are clamoring for, it’s a tale of ancient Japan told with puppets in stop motion animation. For the most part, the only exposure to puppets that America’s had has come in the form of the satirical Team America, and stop motion comes in the form of The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, while The Book of the Dead probably wouldn’t win against Tenacious D’s Pick of Destiny on opening day, it’s a brilliant film that will end up on the favorite’s lists of those industrious enough to dig through the underground for it.

Set in the Nara period, a time of change for Japan and its religious and social values, a young girl named Iratsume becomes entranced by Buddhism. One night, after hand copying an intense amount of religious tracts, she is led to a temple in a daze. There, she encounters the ghost of Prince Otsu who has mistaken her for the last person he saw before his execution. With the same dedication that Iratsume has for religion, Otsu begins visiting her, his spirit unable to rest. As she takes refuge from the visits in a temple, she takes the steps toward saving Prince Otsu’s spirit and herself.

The Book of the Dead is a piece of artwork. It is detailed and beautiful which only adds to an incredible tale. Director Kihachiro Kawamoto uses the styles of Noh theater and Kubiki to create something new that uses the magical realism of Japanese culture and creates a memorable film.

One downside to The Book of the Dead is it’s length. At just over an hour, the story could have been much more complex with another hour to tell it. And, in typical fashion, the film leaves a lot of blanks for the audience to fill in. However, it’s artistic without being pretentious, which might just be reason enough to give it the hour it takes to watch it.

Overall, The Book of the Dead is a good story brought to life by gorgeous visual techniques. It’s a fun movie to watch, especially for fans of Japanese cinema. Kawamoto doesn’t challenge too many conventions with this film, but it’s an impressively crafted piece of art that shows the dedication and love of its maker.

The Upside: Beautiful stop motion animation.

The Downside: It expects a lot of its audience.

On the Side: The trailer for this underground, Japanese art film is available, along with everything else, on YouTube.

Final Grade: A-

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