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The Deer King (15)

Cast: Hisui Kimura, Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Ryoma Takeuchi
Genre: none
Author(s): Taku Kishimoto
Director: Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji
Release Date: 27/07/2022 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 120mins
Country: Jpn
Year: 2021

A decade after a brutal war decided by the military might of the empire of Zol, the people of Aquafa are enslaved but not defeated. Van, last surviving member of Aquafa's most ferocious protectors, the Lone Antlers, endures back-breaking toil in a salt mine controlled by the ruling empire. A pack of wild dogs, infected with a deadly contagion, attacks the subterranean facility, massacring 600 slaves and soldiers. Van and orphan girl Yuna are mauled but miraculously survive.


LondonNet Film Review

The Deer King (15) Film Review from LondonNet

For more than 35 years, Tokyo-based Studio Ghibli has been a standard bearer of emotionally rich, hand-drawn animation including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, still the only foreign language winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Two of the studio’s alumni, Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, honour the storytelling traditions and aesthetic of their artistic training ground as co-directors of a fantastical odyssey based on the novels written by Nahoko Uehashi…

Adapted for the screen by Taku Kishimoto, The Deer King owes an obvious debt to Princess Mononoke with its dreamy mysticism rooted in the natural world and an unexpected hero with a profound connection to majestic, hoofed beasts. Visually, Ando and Miyaji’s picture is a treat, employing earthy palettes for sweeping forest scenes and snow-laden vistas, and explosions of retina-searing colour for otherworldly visions emboldened by composer Harumi Fuuki’s orchestral score.

Unfortunately, screenwriting perpetually lags behind the sensory delights, slowly piecing together a tangled tale of scientific endeavour and political brinksmanship with the same urgency as the film’s two Machiavellian characters, who discuss underhand schemes over a game of chess. Alas, there is no rousing checkmate for Ando and Miyaji – just characters moving around in predictable patterns, making obvious sacrifices to nudge along a pedestrian plot.

A decade after a brutal war decided by the military might of the empire of Zol, the people of Aquafa are enslaved but not defeated. Rebellious spirits are buoyed by the re-emergence of an incurable disease, the mittsual, which only afflicts Zolians and is supposedly the retribution of dead Aquafaese. Van (voiced by Shin’ichi Tsutsumi), last surviving member of Aquafa’s most ferocious protectors, the Lone Antlers, endures back-breaking toil in a salt mine controlled by the ruling empire.

A pack of wild dogs, infected with the mittsual, attacks the subterranean facility, massacring 600 slaves and soldiers. Van and orphan girl Yuna (Hisui Kimura) are mauled but miraculously survive. They seek sanctuary with friendly Aquafaese en route to Fire Horse Village, fabled source of the contagion. Meanwhile, Zolian lord Yotalu (Atsushi Abe) urgently seeks an antidote to the mittsual for his ailing elder brother Utalu (Yutaka Aoyama), who sits on the throne. Sacred doctor Sir Hohsalle (Ryoma Takeuchi) believes Van holds the key to a cure, “if we had his blood and luck on our side.” A tracker (Anne Watanabe) is despatched to capture Van alive.

Released as the original Japanese version with subtitles and an English language dubbed edition, The Deer King lacks a spark of magic to meld impressive elements and tug heartstrings. Vocal performances are understated, some to the point of forgettability. A lovely end-credits sequence choreographed to Japanese singer-songwriter Milet’s bilingual pop ballad One Reason outshines the film’s official denouement. One reason to see Ando and Miyaji’s film? The breath-taking animation.

-Sarah Lee


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