'Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura' Review: Love Conquers Death and Giant Monsters (Fantasia 2018)

Imagine a playful blend of What Dreams May Come and the cantina scene from Star Wars.

Destiny Kamakura

Imagine a playful blend of What Dreams May Come and the cantina scene from Star Wars.

There really aren’t enough contemporary fantasy films set in the “real” world. Not to take anything away from movies that wholly take place in fully imagined lands, but there’s an extra appeal to seeing the familiar immersed in the fantastic. From The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter, the interaction between the normal and the unreal often affords opportunity for thrills, humor, and a more engaging dramatic conflict, and the sweetly romantic, funny, and exciting Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura takes glorious advantage of it.

Isshiki Masakazu (Masato Sakai) is a writer experiencing two big changes in his life. He’s at a loss for work, and he’s newly married. His bride Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) is a good decade younger, but the pair hit it off so completely that they marry soon after meeting and move together to his home in the small town of Kamakura. Married life is new to them both, but Akiko’s also on a steep learning curve as to this very special town.

Magic, creatures, and supernatural shenanigans are the order of the day in Kamakura, and as she’s introduced to the odd and surreal nature of the town and its inhabitants the wonder comes paired with danger. Something is after Akiko and won’t rest until she’s secured into the afterlife, but that might not be enough to separate two people in love.

Director Takashi Yamazaki is no stranger to fantastical intrusions on reality, but while his two-part Parasyte adaptation is a terrifically grisly slice of sci-fi/horror his latest is far sweeter. Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is as much a romantic comedy as it is a fantasy/adventure, and the various elements combine into something thrills and delights in equal measure.

Yamazaki’s script, adapted from Ryôhei Saigan‘s manga, devotes plenty of time to the relationship between Isshiki and Akiko, and it’s here where viewers will fall in love with the pair. They’re goofy both apart and together, but their quirkiness never crosses the line into obnoxiousness. Instead they’re just irresistibly endearing in their playfully exaggerated reactions to each other’s foibles. The fantastic elements slip in naturally with an early appearance of an imp — casually explained away by Isshiki to a flabbergasted Akiko — and the growing appearance of background creatures.

Akiko’s the audience surrogate here, and she reacts with varying degrees of fear, surprise, and glee at this new world. Takahata sells it beautifully — seriously, if you don’t love Akiko as much as Isshiki does I question your ability to be charmed — and both her affection and wonder work to make the fantastic believable. The unreal becomes the norm, and soon we’re caught up in the town’s goings on as if we live there too.

Yamazaki’s experience with visual effects gets a heavy workout here as creatures and magical occurrences play out on the screen in big and small fashion, and it all shifts into overdrive later in the film as the action moves to the afterlife. Gorgeously rendered worlds and thrilling set-pieces unfold around our very human protagonists, and it’s a ride that puts too many of Hollywood’s fantasy excursions to shame.

As big, colorful, and fantastical as the film is, though, the core running through it is the relationship. There’s love to spare, but their humor and personality shines through in every frame and competes with the special effects for our admiration and attention. They’re a special pair, and little touches in their interactions remind easily of the loved ones in our own lives and the private moments we share.

Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura introduces viewers to a world of magic, monsters, and the occasional mishap, but it’s a very human love that holds it all together. It’s a world you’ll want to revisit too.

Follow our Fantasia 2018 coverage here.

"Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."