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[The latest from Japan's Toshiaki Toyoda has just had its world premiere as part of Montreal's Festival de Nouveau Cinema.]

After a lengthy hiatus Blue Spring and Nine Souls director Toshiaki Toyoda returns to the big screen with The Blood of Rebirth, his first feature since being hit with drug charges in the lead up to the release of 2005's The Hanging Garden.  Shot fast and cheap and in near-total secrecy, The Blood of Rebirth continues Toyoda's constant reinvention of himself, pushing in to new territory while still remaining obviously his own.

It is Japan's feudal age, a time when gods and demons still roam the earth, and Oguri - a famed masseur - is summoned to treat a feared warlord.  Suffering from a venereal disease, the tyrant is desperate for relief of any sort and Oguri must watch his step to avoid either failing at his task - which will result in certain death - or performing it too well - which will lead to his permanent enslavement.  But this dilemma soon becomes secondary for Oguri when he meets the beautiful Terute, a slave girl whom he helps escape - help which Oguri pays for with his life.  But Oguri refuses to remain dead, his love for Terute is too strong, and so he returns to earth in a sort of nether-state, his full resurrection possible only if someone can dip him into a pool of healing water, a task that Terute takes upon herself although the evil tyrant is still in pursuit.

Toyoda's progression as a film maker has been a steady one, beginning as a young man driven by a brash sort of kinetic style and gradually developing into something more confident and assured, a film maker no less stylish now than he was in the early days but one much more willing to let an image linger.  Shot impossibly quickly, The Blood of Rebirth is both Toyoda's most gorgeously realized and most meditative piece.  It is a film in which very little actually happens - the main body of the picture is simply Terute dragging Oguri to the resurrection spring on a sled - but it is the manner in which very little happens that will determine your response.

Edited with a deliberate, hypnotic rhythm and the entire film set to the post-rock sounds of Twin Tail - a guitar / violin / drum trio whose records Toyoda produces while providing visuals for their live shows - the entire film is designed to exist in the same sort of nether state that Oguri dwells in, all of it playing almost as a sort of waking dream. Fans of Toyoda's work will be pleased to see several of his regular players dotted throughout the proceedings and will see a sort of direct line progression in tone from Nine Souls to The Hanging Garden to this film.

The Blood of Rebirth is almost a sort of tone-poem, a piece that you're meant to experience more than to think about or dissect - a film about mood and emotion more than it is about story.  And for the most part, Toyoda is remarkably successful in his task, the film thoroughly engrossing until a badly out of place and poorly executed CGI sequence - part of which you can see in the trailer below - intrudes and badly jars the momentum of things.  The shift to CG is a clumsy one, poorly considered and badly out of place with what has come before and - even worse - it comes at a crucial point of the film.  Is it enough to destroy things?  No, but it definitely does a good bit of damage to what is otherwise a very strong piece of work.

The Blood of Rebirth

  • Toshiaki Toyoda
  • Hangan Oguri (based on his play)
  • Toshiaki Toyoda (screenplay)
  • Tatsuya Nakamura
  • Mayû Kusakari
  • Kiyohiko Shibukawa
  • Hirofumi Arai
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Toshiaki ToyodaHangan OguriTatsuya NakamuraMayû KusakariKiyohiko ShibukawaHirofumi AraiDrama

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