[One Piece Film Retrospective] #6: Baron Omatsuri and The Secret Island (2005)

Oh yes, this one, you’re in for something absolutely special and one hell of a treat.

And i mean “special”, because it sound absolutely absurd in retrospect that Mamoru Hosoda directed an One Piece film early in its career, but did so with a script written by Masahiro Ito of Silent Hill fame. Heck, i can imagine it sounded like a bonkers proposal even back in 2005, and time here ages everything in Baron Omatsuri and The Secret Island like fine wine.

Most of these movies based off long-running shonen series are fairly formulaic, it’s just how it is and it often is, for a gaggle of various & obvious reasons that most of my readers won’t really need explained, so you don’t need much to make yourself stand out.

In other words, this movie didn’t need to go as hard as it did, but i’m so glad for it.

The premise itself (or the cover art for the home video releases, for that matter) sounds fairly standard, formulaic enough: the Straw Hats learn of an island that invites pirate crews that believe themselves to be the best of the best of the best to revel in the spas, recreational activities and deluxe buffets at Omatsuri Island, so they travel there to enjoy the festive offerings of the place.

They are greeted by Baron Omatsuri, who challenges them to various games and competitions before they can fully enjoy the resort activities, but as the Straw Hats start distrusting and fighting each other, the horrific secrets behind the facade start showing, as some of the crew get informed by a misterious information of a flower called “Lily Carnation”, and how its linked to the strange palm trees that every island resident has growing on their heads…

The first noticeable and obvious change it’s the art style, very different from the usual for One Piece but also quite indicative of the director in charge, as it’s similar to one seen in Hosoda’s works, with some relative roughness to the designs and the animation, which its still handled by Toei and it’s excellent. A bit scrappy at times, but captiving and distinctive, coupled with excellent photography and Hosoda’s stylish visuals.

Already quite interesting, but the kicker is in the script, that’s also very different from the norm for One Piece, choosing to tell a story with darker themes that eventually turns into outright horror, i mean, it makes sense when you call Silent Hill’s famous artist Masahiro Ito to write your script.

Obviously the final result it’s not that graphic, with extreme gore, disembowling or disturbing imagery that would have them age-gate a One Piece movie, you know they would never go ahead and make the crew confront a psychich hellplane borne out of the Hellraiser movies, and they don’t, but without spoiling the entire movie, there’s some proper horror visuals and creepy revelations to be found, especially about the Lily Carnation itself and its purpose.

And honestly the script i feel does manage to balance the darker visuals and themes with One Piece’s comedy (here with a noticeable gusto for some old timey slapstick) and its theme of friendship, or in this case, distrust. Also, the descent from silly party games and competitions played for fun into the more bitter side of things is far from sudden, and there’s a good atmospheric build.

The villain too its pretty memorable, as Baron Omatsuri sports a strong design and it’s a tragic villain, a welcome change of pace from One Piece usual arrays of inhuman tyrants, silly but despicable usurpers, or stupid goofballs with more evil than sense.

One whom you can symphatize with to some extent, but also fully deserving of his final fate, and the other original characters are quite odd, likeable and memorable, especially the Baron’s subordinates, from the frog themed quartet of old people to the kappa boy. Could have done without the japanese “Sir Lipton” style explorer’s infortunate “toothbrush third reich” style mustache, but no one is perfect.

I understand that this direction and script will not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s inevitable, but it’s undeniable this is the most artistically bold and ambitious One Piece film ever, a rare occurence where an auther director has the chance to work on a popular anime franchise and it’s no afraid to go with a completely different approach to the material, even more when its marrying a more melancholic take on One Piece with horror, of all things, without straying totally from some of the series main themes, or going uber extreme in order to dare censors not to condemn it.

But in the sea of formulaic iterations and overly familiar adventures, the tale of Baron Omatsuri and its Secret Island stands memorable, strong and iconic, a rarity that must be treasured, and one if – if the not THE best – One Piece movies, no doubts about it.

Personally i think it’s terrific, a masterpiece even, and a must see for everyone, not only fans of the series.

Again, mileage will vary, but that in itself it’s a sign of how strong the film resonates either way. This is something else.

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