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Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.
Written by Sadayuki Murai.
Starring Jo Odagiri, Yu Aoi and Makiko Esumi.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  1/31/07


Man, was I pumped for "Bugmaster", based on a Japanese manga of the same name and directed by the man who gave us "Akira" so many moons ago.  Sure, "Akira" is a cartoon and "Bugmaster" is a live-action film, but talent is talent, and I was certain this would be one of my highlights for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.


This turn-of-the-era story follows Ginko (Jo Odagiri), a "bugmaster" who walks the earth like Caine from "Kung Fu" in search of people who need his assistance in healing afflictions caused by mushi (bugs), which in this context are not insects but in fact small supernatural things that can bring life or death, depending on the situation.  Most people can't even see these mushi, but Ginko has special powers (and, one less eye than us normal folk) and his abilities make him one of the most cherished contributors in Japan.  While he is trying to determine his roots, his adventures lead him to Tanyu (Yu Aoi), a slightly-crippled bugmaster who has captured many of these mushi in scrolls that she keeps in her home...but when some of these mushi escape and try to attack Tanyu, Ginko has to take action.

After a strong first 30 minutes, "Bugmaster" drags to an almost-complete halt and was literally painful for me to sit through over its remaining 90 minutes as it moved to completion.  As it muddles through a few sideplots and the time period where Ginko was a child and something called The Darkness and Ginko's real mother and a guy that Ginko meets on his path to glory, I was fighting to stay afloat...and, this was the FIRST movie on my schedule that day.  Wow.  "Bugmaster" made me openly wonder, to anyone within shouting distance, about the programming process at Sundance; could this really have been one of the best 100-or-so films to be submitted out of more than seven or eight thousand???  Who is responsible for picking these films?  If this is done by committee, how is it possible for a collection of filmies to pick so badly?

The talent of director Katsuhiro Otomo is legendary, so my advice is to see his other films, certainly all of his anime films.  But, in the case of "Bugmaster", you are probably better off skipping it.  So much unfulfilled potential here!

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09