Ah yes, the classic go-to monster of japanese folklore for when a regular hydra just won’t cut it, and a name that will be immediatly recognized by anyone with some dedication to videogames, manga and cinema, especially if they involve the classic mediaval fantasy japanese settings, as he’s often the big bad monster like in Okami, or has an entire subseries of Warriors crossover titles with him as the catalyst of chaos. Or more close to the bone, being the ispiration for the classic Godzilla monster, King Ghidorah, since we’re going into the Toho territory of giant monsters once again.
But it’s not quite that, as this one isn’t a science fiction film as many giant monsters from the Godzilla series were, but instead is a straigh-foward old fashioned magical fantasy film that picks various mythological characters and story pieces from the ones about the formation of the Shinto religion, in this case being the tale of Yamato Takeru, his encounter with the Yamato-hime priestess, receiving the holy sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the Tree Treasures, Susano’o, the fight with the god Tsukuyomi….
…and a lot more names that most likely don’t mean jack if you’re not familiar with japanese mythology, like at all, so it makes a bit more sense that they didn’t release it overseas under its original title of “Yamato Takeru”, despite it being more apt.
It might sound a bit overwhelming, but the movie doesn’t really require you to know all of this beforehand, and it helpfully explains enough so you don’t get lost and have a basic understanding of the cosmogony, power struggles and roles of the various gods, and if you – like me – pieced some of it together by osmosis but not the myth themselves… it does really help, and overall you won’t be confused right out of the gate, the story it’s quite easy to follow.
And like most great myths involve attempted infanticide at the beginning, obviously.
Just hoping you weren’t banking on this being an extensive detailed introduction to the myth, since the narrative goes at a breakneck pace, going by Takeru being a boy, then immediatly seeing him as a grown man coming back to the imperial palace, getting caught in the schemes of the evil wizard residing as counselor to the emperor, getting sent into a quest to subdue a bandit-ridden region, meeting gods, monsters, fighting with mystical weapons people that can jump and shift mid-air wuxia style, when they don’t use magical spells, fated encounters and romance, etc.
All goes by pretty quickly, which makes sense as japanese audiences were more than “overly familiar” with the material by 1994, it’s kinda necessary since there’s a lot to ge through, and it has the side-effect of making it quite easy to follow, as you’re not given a single chance to lose interest.
Despite being a mid-90s release, the movie it’s indeed a throwback to the even older style of magical fantasy tales from the 60s, where unfettered, untainted optimism and unwavering belief in how the power of the good and pure alone would save the day, without any of the cynicism that the 90s and its products would inherently, often subconsciously, let seep through.
There’s no passive aggressive snarking or questioning of the power of goodness, not even some mild poking fun at the cliches or tone of those old movies, let alone stuff like considering if mankind it’s worth saving after all, none of that stuff, the hero is good and pure, the villain is evil with no interest in redemption or anything, the emperor is a tool (basically), the quest it’s mighty and honorable, and that they managed to capture that kind of “magical fantasy adventure” spirit in earnest it’s impressive indeed.
The only thing that it’s indicative of the decade the movie was made it’s in the aesthetic, with some strangely robotic-clad-like puppets, suit and props for what are purely magical/divine creatures, ad most likely it’s due to the Toho special effects department and how it repurposed, reused or reworked props from the Godzilla series for this context, at least some of the effects-props gave me that feel, but i’m nitpicking, since it’s very minimal (some of the monster roars do feel somewhat familiar), there stuff like the God of Kumaso, a pretty cool looking fiery volcanic god with shapeshifting arms he crafts into weapons, a dragon-squid monster with laser eye beams, so the monsters and the special effects are honestly pretty good overall, even if some of the special effects have aged notably better than others, but what can you do?
I mean, it’s obvious Orochi it’s a buffed up King Ghidorah costume/suit with more heads and a slightly different “skin”, heck, they even have him erupt lightning (and also fire this time) from its heads, but i don’t necessarily mean that as a diss, and of course it makes sense since even Ishiro Honda said King Ghidorah was a modernized design based off the legendary Orochi creature.
The only drawback is that Orochi isn’t the main focus, but comes up only at the end, basically, he’s shown near the 1 hour mark “kaijuing”, but still, he’s reserved for the “final boss true form” encounter at the end, so the international english title might come off as a little “misleading” in that regard, but if you know what you’re getting into isn’t a kaiju film per sé, but an old school magical fantasy adventure about the gods and monsters of japanese mythology, Orochi The Eight-Headed Dragon it’s a blast, plenty of good effects, good creature designs, lots of actions, magic duels n stuff.
The characters are the weakest part of the package, having very little in the way of personality or complexity, but it’s kinda to be expected since it’s a mythological story meant to justify the nobilty of Japan itself, and consider this: it has a light-saber, beam struggles and a giant divine mecha-man fighting giant monsters on the moon.
Pure old fashion japanese entertaiment.