Not just a love letter to the cinematic underdogs who pull off amazing things with sheer sweat, it is one of those amazing things pulled off with sheer sweat
Despite the wretched condition of the current reissue, this idiosyncratic and allegorical fusion of live action and animation has black comedy and deeper meanings alike
A prime case study for how a film can be an fine adaptation of beloved source material, while also being breathless, overcrowded, and tangled as a story
Among the many reasons Osamu Tezuka's work has been so canonized with manga readers is its revisitability. Some of his titles have not aged as well (Swallowing The Earth's sexual politics are, ahem, iffy), but many more remain perennials because they have something new to offer every generation that encounters them: Black Jack, Astro-Boy, Buddha, Message To Adolf, Ode To Kirihito. It helps when the story is either decoupled from the moment or outright timeless. Dororo has the timelessness of a fable and the rousing immediacy of a fantasy action film, and in the space between those two it grows something that draws on the best of both story modes. I sat down with it once more, as preparation for the new TV anime adaptation airing as I write this, and while I found it more of a jumble than I remember (especially its hasty conclusion), it's also a showcase for all the ways Tezuka still distinguished himself as a storyteller.
A line of telegraph poles go on parade; a fox betrays a hapless tree and gets his comeuppance from a lonesome earth god; a cello player receives lessons from nature. Kenji Miyazawa's idiosyncratic mixes of fable, children's stories, fantasy, and surrealism are a staple presence in Japan, but little known in English, and any chance to know them ought to be taken up. Once And Forever, a collection of his work in this vein translated into English by John Bester, came back into print last year thanks to the good graces of New York Review Books, and it is a good alternative to his afterlife allegory Night On The Galactic Railroad as your first introduction to Miyazawa. In fact, given how it shows off more sides of the man's talent and personality, it may well be the better all-around choice, despite the limitations of what a translation can convey about an author's work.
The hardest part of adapting anime or manga to a live-action medium is not determining what to leave out but what to tone down. The live-action Rurouni Kenshin understood how the camera is a magnifier, not just a lens, and how the wild excesses that work on paper can be reigned in greatly and still work as live action. Kamui Gaiden, the live-action adaptation of Sanpei Shirato's manga (released in English as Legend of Kamui), doesn't seem to understand this. It assumes that because other martial-arts stories, especially ninja-action ones, worked as wire-fu extravaganzas gassed up with CGI, so will this. Bad assumption, even if the parts of Shirato's story that don't need to be glitzed up still come through very nicely.