Today I watched Ryuhei Kitamura’s Aragami (2003)
This film is part of a two part series called the duel project. This was a challenge laid down to two film makers by producer Shinya Kawai for them to make feature films with only two principle actors fighting in a single location over a period of time no longer than a week. Kitamura’s entry somehow takes this minimalist setup and still delivers his trademark maximalist style of action cinema. The setting is a strange mountain temple and the two characters are samurai, one having lived there for some time and the other arriving with grievous injuries from a nearby battle. There are only three other characters in the movie, one in the first scene, one in the last scene, and a mysterious woman who never really speaks.
She acts as a maid and cook to the samurai who lives in this strange temple, her food being good enough to grant immortality of a sort. The samurai who lives here soon reveals that he is the titular Aragami, a war god, and the warriors who arrive here he has chosen to duel him. Of course a whole hour of sword fighting would be tedious, so first they eat, drink, talk, and joke. That is a big part of what makes Aragami work, it cuts action film making to it’s most bare bones and focuses on the essentials, like character and world building.
Despite it all taking place in a single room, the discussions our two characters have about the nature of immortality and divinity does build a setting beyond simple historical Japan. Thankfully it doesn’t get bogged down in exposition or details, it’s all vague but very evocative. The characterization on the other hand is much more distinct, and quite interesting in and of itself, a human warrior sharing drinks with a war god is a fascinating idea fully realized here. It’s also a Ryuhai Kitamura movie, so when the swords are finally drawn, the action is great, so definitely check out this brilliantly creative exercise in film making. 5/5