DVD Review: THE GARDEN OF SINNERS Is Insanely Demanding Yet Rewarding
A (now out-of-stock), limited edition DVD box set of the anime movie series The Garden of Sinners (Kara no Kyōkai) recently hit the shelves in Australia. What would prompt a purchase of this expensive lavish set? Perhaps some background is required first for all those curious about why this is a big deal.
Originally a light novel omnibus, this dark exercise in storytelling was adapted into an anime film series, the first of which premiered across Japanese theaters on December 1, 2007. The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters were released shortly after. A new limited edition DVD box set was released in late 2012 and has sold out worldwide. Now it is Australia's turn as Madman Entertainment have recently released the series in its entirety.
After spending two years in a coma caused by a traffic accident, Shiki Ryougi awakens with amnesia. Inexplicably, she finds, in turn, that she has also obtained "Mystic Eyes" in which she is cursed to see the invisible lines of mortality that hold every living and non-living thing together. Working for a small independent agency, Shiki attempts to unravel the baffling mystery behind a series of abnormal, horrifying incidents and murders, but are they a foreshadowing that leads to something even more tragic and ominous?
This is a modern occult-action thriller where Shiki must tackle supernatural incidents with her special abilities while searching for a reason to live. Throughout the tale she develops a bizarre connection with Mikiya, an investigator from the same agency whose link may be her only saving grace.
Like a good long series such as The Wire, The Garden of Sinners requires a hell of a lot of commitment. Throughout my reviewing of these seven theatrical works I had to re-watch two of the movies again. Set aside a slow day and power through this dark and twisted epic and you will be rewarded in kind with an intelligent plot that leaves you in deep contemplation afterwards.
The story and films themselves are not even in chronological order, forcing the viewer to recount previous events or predict future ones. Even if you lose attention, the films are imbued with such luscious production value it hardly seems a problem that it makes no sense. I felt hypnotized at times by the length and presentation.
Despite the running time of over 500 minutes, the tale begins to gel and time slips away as you are immersed completely into this fascinating macabre world. The series actually begin to haunt and there is a compulsion to keep on watching. The films are also extremely violent and confronting so at no point did I actually feel comfortable submitting myself to this series, but I did feel rewarded.
The first film is frankly quite conventional and the shortest of the bunch. In hindsight I now think of it more as a primer. Bizarre suicides happen and Shiki and Mikiya investigate and defeat the evil causing them. This is simple enough and in fact a basic plot for a lot of Japanese fare.
Films two to seven however slowly but surely expands the world, all of its characters and their deep connections. Sometimes it feels like a soap opera, other times a Shakespeare tragedy and it is this tonal shift that keeps the films interesting.
Attention is the most important point here; a small bit of dialogue or a minor event now, turns into something of huge importance later and this may confuse and upset. My emotions skyrocketed and plummeted when watching this series - one moment I hated it, the next I could not look away. Regardless of what you have or have not picked up from the story, the conclusions are definitely epic, draining and tie everything together for better or worse.
However, other times I felt like I was in an experiment. The series would push buttons with long scenes of nothing really happening, apparently moments of contemplation and reflection on the protagonist's screwed-up state. If you can deal you might be less successful with the wailing, screaming and violent shifts in personality of each character. The series painfully goes out of it way to disconnect and reconnect you to it, and this bizarre alienation put me on edge.
Upon consideration The Garden of Sinners has a pretty hefty price tag. $150 for a box set that contains only movies and in DVD format may seem steep, but there is plenty here to gladly justify it. Firstly it trumps the $400 the American Blu-ray set came to, and secondly, it has all the same features and similar bonuses. An eighth bonus disc is included and the discs come in slim cases housed in a gorgeous art box. This box also includes a 36 page booklet and 14 deluxe postcards.
The default audio track also comes with an optional 5.1 mix. The soundtrack is by anime scoring legend Yuki Kajiura and her intense score comes to life through the clear audio. The disc menus are simple and include pre-show reminders which make for a cute theatre-like feel.
As of writing this review it is sold out across Australia, so clearly there is a demand for such an exceptional anime viewing experience. This is a 'no pain no gain' situation, and The Garden of Sinners is plenty painful. Ultimately though I welcomed the intensity a viewing like this could bring, highly recommended.