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Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura
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by Jay Seaver

"More grandly imaginative than romantic, but that's plenty."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura" is a cute fantasy romance that does a pretty nice job of building a magical world around its laid-back setting, but which is maybe too slight for its finale. The filmmakers never quite build up the connection between its husband and wife enough to convince us that the revealed scale and the big, epic confrontation at the end is justified. Then again, maybe asking for justification is snobby - an elaborate fantasy doesn't need earth-shattering stakes to be a big deal for those involved.

That would be writer Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and his new wife Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata), who have come to Masakazu's home in Kamakura after a whirlwind romance in Tokyo, Akiko not having been informed that the border with the spirit world is thin to non-existent in this quaint town, so the first water imp she sees causes her to freak out. Soon she has made friends with Kin (Tamao Nakamura), who has been working for the Isshiki for decades, as well as a friendly grim reaper (Sakura Ando), although it takes a while to learn what products humans should not buy from the Night Bazaar. Masakazu, it turns out, is something of an expert on local folklore, consulting with the police when crime appears to have a supernatural element and researching the work of mysterious fantasy author Istuhiro Kataki. These connections may come in handy when a few less-friendly supernatural entities take an interest in Akiko.

Though the ultimate thrust of the plot is right there in the title, writer/director Takashi Yamazaki does not exactly push ahead with a singular focus, instead opting for an approach that likely comes from Ryohei Saigan's original manga, an episodic structure where smaller adventures have some useful bit of lore buried in them that will prove useful later. The main issue is that the most important ingredient, the True Perfect Love between the Isshikis that will inspire a unauthorized trip to the afterlife and which makes all the other romantic subplots resonate all the more, is kind of taken for granted. The audience never sees the love at first sight and courtship that brings Akiko to Kamakura, and much of the first half of the movie has Masakazu treating Akiko as something less than an equal, with unexplained rules about which rooms in the house she must not enter and the like. They're likable people, but this is the sort of movie and town that is filled with likable people, and this couple has a hard time becoming indivisible rather than individually nice.

As a collection of smaller stories, though, it works quite well, with fanciful and good-natured episodes that make this a place I could see visiting regularly. Those not expecting something quite so fantastical will likely be pleasantly surprised; Yamazaki's previous adaptations of a Saigan manga, the Always: Sunset on Third Street trilogy, was nostalgic but not literally magical, and the filmmaker is good at making his setting feel supernatural without either seeming overwhelming or like corners are being cut. He's got a fine cast working with him, with Masato Sakai steady for much of the film and than rising to the occasion while Mitsuki Takahata is a delightfully flustered but always upbeat Akiko. Sakura Ando, Tamao Nakamura, Jun Kunimura, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and plenty of others fill out a charming, on-point ensemble.

The effects work is also top-notch, especially toward the end, where Japanese fantasies often start breaking down because they can't quite afford that step up to something even bigger. Not a problem here, as the film does a nice job of building up rather than going too big too fast, and if Yamazaki has not exactly hoarded his CGI budget so that he could splurge late, he and his effects crew do a great job of expanding the whimsical stuff in the corners to something huge, gravity-defying and dazzling in the last at. If the last battle wears a bit, it is not the fault of the eye candy being served up but a story that could maybe choose trims to be made to the source material and a little more obvious chemistry leading up to it.

Even if that's the case, "Destiny" has charm to spare and the sort of effects budget that seldom gets spent on a light, sentimental romance rather than a planet-shaking action epic. Fantasy can use a few more movies like this and a few less where the fighting is more important than the affection.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32421&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/25/18 19:19:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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