I had no idea when I selected "Dororo" from the Comcast-on-Demand "Free Movie" section that it would become an obsession. It's a very clever combination of elements from the Biblical story of Moses, the Pinocchio fairytale, the classical Frankenstein novel and the Highlander movies. The premise is that Hyakkimaru's father, a powerful warlord, sold 48 of his body parts to 48 demons for power over his enemies before he was even born. A young man now, Hyakkimaru must kill each demon to retrieve his true body. I can truly say that I've never seen a film as bizarre as this and yet with so many emotional layers. This film upon the first viewing will leave you gaping and you'll become mesmerized by the concepts used in the movie.
The director's vision is chock full of issues surrounding abandonment, and the effect of warmongering on children, most specifically our two main characters. In the prelude to the first battle Hyakkimaru has in the movie with a demon, several caged sad-eyed children roll by in wagon. Later, we see the remains of an orphanage consumed by a fire that killed all the children. At the orphanage, Dororo berates a couple who abandoned their child to the orphanage.
The two lead characters are fully formed characters, and their personalities evolve plausibly in this highly implausible movie as their relationship morphs and changes. The interaction between the two lead characters, Hyakkimaru and Dororo is fascinating to watch. We learn as an old storyteller tells the brash and inquisitive Dororo, who claims status as a master thief, how Hyakkimaru has "lost heart" after his 3rd demon kill. Of course, as I suspect the old storyteller knew, with Dororo as his companion, his depressive state could not continue. She simply becomes a force of nature in his life as she voices honestly to him that once he's done with the sword given him by the old story teller, especially designed to kill demons, that she will steal it from him. There is no way she's going to let him ditch her and she is not phased at his oddly working body parts, and thing that cannot be said of certain of the villagers he's encountered in his quest, which is reminiscent of the Frankenstein story. Her first act of theft with him is to steal one of his names, Dororo. The two even have their own theme music to commemorate their "bumpy" first meeting and relationship. Music very different from the depressive dirge we hear when we first meet Hyakkimaru, the man. What Dororo doesn't know is that she's stolen a name that literally means, "Little Monster," so her theft was actually a comforting gift, because like Pinocchio, Hyakkimaru longs to be a real human.
The secondary characters are important also, especially the shaman, Jukai, who, like Dr. Frankenstein and Geppetto, create from something new from something imperfectly formed. Jukai adopts Hyakkimaru and the scenes show both his adoring affection and his firm hand. It's an odd miracle that the only person on earth that could help such a pitiful, limbless creature should be this man. An odd dichotomy in father figures in the story, as one tries to make whole what the other divided. One is a warmonger and the other abhors war.
It is because each character has such a rich emotional life that you can ignore the CGI creatures, though I found them wildly creative. I like the fast paces scenes as well as the slower paced ones. I found no scene boring, not even the ones where the two main characters "seem" to be idly looking at flowers. The deeper and longer you look, the more cinematic gems you'll find. The participation of Dororo in Hyakkimaru's battles with the demons is substantial and very interesting to watch. Both fierce and brave, she is his true and tenacious friend and while she can call him "lunkhead" and "fool", no one else better try it. During the film she sacrifices something of extreme emotional importance to her for the sake of Hyakkimaru, which is a act of great weight, because she is quite stubborn, willful and headstrong, but it is here where the emotional layering gets even more intriguing.
It's telling that Dororo should be on the scene when Hyakkimaru recovers his voice, hearing and sight. Before her he had no one with whom to celebrate his victories, but does rather boisterously with her. She starts off with him much like a bossy, bratty, annoying little sister and ends up being more. And yet this happens with no overt romantic acts, but rather in the way the two respond to one another during crises. Of course, as I've said, I believe the old story teller arranged this circumstance, and, of course, he appears on the scene again during a major rupture between the two of them.
The reason I keep watching it over and over again is because it's one of those films where with each reviewing you see something you missed the first, fifth, twentieth time. Check out how demon blood spatter is handled and the shaman's oddly sterile "laboratory." Check out the wonderful acting of the actors who play his biological parents. Those scenes are palpable. Because of these, though I can not condone what Hyakkimaru's father did, I completely understand his motivation.
As for how a baby could survive without a heart or other organs, it makes sense to me that for the demons to get actual "living" human body parts, they had to set in motion some kind of life-sustaining field around the body, else the baby would expire with each theft. I believe this is also the reason for his other other worldly abilities. Be sure to savor each time Hyakkimaru regains a body part, because with the same interest I had whenever the Highlander would receive power after a beheading, I also had each time Hyakkimaru regained one of his stolen body parts. Satoshi Tsumabuki can act his behind off.
And the soundtrack -- is awesome. It lays the foundation for the emotional resonance throughout the film, whether it's whimsical or dark.
To avoid expository dialogue, we see the two main characters' history in several flashback scenes. Oddly, several are without the traditional introduction, but while this takes some getting used to, it does not detract from the movie.
The only problem I had was with certain of the English subtitles. When Hyakkimaru "senses" danger, as he his both blind and deaf, the subtitles translate his saying what I interpret as "I sense danger" as "I feel murderous." It took seeing it a second time to get what was really meant. Spiderman's Peter Parker would have said his Spidey senses were tingling. If you end up watching it as many times as I've had, you won't need the subtitles, you'll actually begin to become fluent in understanding Japanese.
Can't wait for the sequels "Dororo 2" and "Dororo 3" so as to learn more about Dororo's own intriguing past and the wall she carefully keeps up between Hyakkimaru and herself while still keeping herself close.