Japanese Title: 伏 鉄砲娘の捕物帳
Romaji: Fuse Teppō Musume no Torimonochō
Release Date: October 20th, 2012 (Japan)
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Masayuki Miyaji
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi (Script), Kazuki Sakuraba (Original Writer),
Starring: Minako Kotobuki (Hamaji), Katsuyuki Konishi (Dousetsu), Mamoru Miyano (Shino), Hirofumi Nojima (Iesada Tokugawa), Hiroshi Kamiya (Makuwari), Kanako Miyamoto (Meido), Maaya Sakamoto (Funamushi)
I have been interested in this title for a while. How interested? I was reporting about the trailers constantly last year. I was excited at the prospect of this historical fantasy anime movie which reminded me of the Korean film Duelist. I have finally watched it and the comparison is pretty apt since this is a lovely slice of historical fantasy that is easy to watch and provided me with genuine pleasure.
Hamaji Ooyama (Kotobuki) is a young independent hunter.
Up until recently she was living with her grandfather Bokuhei Ooyama in a mountain until he was eaten by a bear. She is highly skilled at hunting with her rifle, but she now lives alone maintaining her lifestyle and knows little about the world outside.
Then she receives a letter from her brother Dousetsu (Konishi) who lives in in Edo, the capital of Japan, who has heard of Bokuhei’s death. He asks her to join him in the city so they can be together again. With little keeping her on the mountain and desperate to see her brother, Hamaji heads off to Edo with her rifle.
What she finds is a city that is bigger and far more bustling than she had ever imagined.
It is also full of intrigue because the streets are stalked by Fuse. They are half-human half-dog, werewolf-like people who devour souls. Eight recently showed up in Edo and they have been killing people. Hamaji has entered town as the sixth has just been hunted down.
Hamaji soon witnesses an attack by a Fuse named Shino (Miyano). This same creature saves her when she gets caught between him and hunters and leads her to her brother Dousetsu who introduces her to his world.
In their five years apart Dousetsu has been working as a Ronin. He lives in a beat up row-house by a river and scrapes by with friends and Funamushi (Sakamoto), a woman who sells food by boat and is romantically involved with him. As Funamushi says of existence in Edo, “those who don’t work, don’t eat,” but Dousetsu has a plan: hunt Fuse.
The Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada, has offered a massive reward to anybody who can bring in the head of a Fuse (because decapitation is the only thing that kills them). Hamaji joins her brother Dousetsu in hunting Fuse in the Yoshiwara district of Edo but can she bring herself to kill the one she has made a connection with, the mysterious Shino and are the Fuse really as villainous as the authorities make out?
Fuse A Gun Girl’s Detective Story has seemingly passed by the west mostly unnoticed since its release in Japan last year and it’s a shame because the film is packed full of historic detail which gives it a lot of weight and beautifully animated with charismatic voice acting.
The movie is based on the novel Fuse Gansaku: Satomi Hakkenden which was written by Kazuki Sakuraba, author of the Gosick light novels. She was inspired by a 19th century epic novel series named Nansō Satomi Hakkenden written by late Edo Period popular author Kyokutei Bakin which followed eight samurai during the Sengoku (Warring States) period who served the Satomi clan. These samurai were mothered by Princess Fuse Satomi and fathered by a dog named Yatsufusa in the original legend (which shows up in the film). What Sakuraba does to create a unique story is to create a sort of counterfeit story and place the action in the late Edo period with the reincarnations of the eight spirits and have them interact with/influence various figures of the age including Bakin himself.
The Edo period is a pretty rich time for filmmakers because of all the changes going on in Japan what with the hoards of master-less samurai, Commodore Perry and the “black ships” incident and the uncertain rule of Tokugawa Iesada who reigned at the start of the Bakumatsu period (late Tokugawa Shogunate). The film utilises this time brilliantly by jamming in a lot of history in every frame and in every line of dialogue.
The visual splendour of the historic recreation is intensely detailed and beautiful at times and almost as good something Ghibli working at its best might do. Perhaps a slightly less vibrant Spirited Away. Take a look at the backgrounds and tell me it’s not impressive.
The film is alive with a gorgeous array of colours like dawn purples, cherry blossom pinks, lime greens and powdery pale blues. There are few frames that do not offer a fantastic view of the artistry gone into making the world and it is always coloured with a visually interesting palette.
The film could just use the visuals and place a hollow fantasy action adventure in it and while the story is simple the script takes time to bring the issues affecting Japan and reveal some truths about the era which adds more life to the proceedings. Jobless Samurai roam around town, the Yoshiwara district is seen in its resplendent glory with courtesans draping nearly every frame, severe poverty lurks behind the gorgeous opulence and women are a commodity that can be thrown away. We get snippets of cultural things like wet plate photographs and woodcut newspapers and wakashu-kabuki where men play women and the notion of counterfeit stories that rework original stories (a sly nod to what the film/Sakuraba’s novel is doing).
With encroaching westernisation, the culture on display and the events surrounding the Fuse seem like the last gasp of old Japan. The clash of old and new is reflected in the characters. On the one hand you have the samurai and the shogun officials who cling on to ceremony and officialdom and clan feuds and on the other you have the main cast of characters like Hamaji and her brother Dousetsu who are more rambunctious grifters out to make a buck with their skills.
The clash between the two sides is good-natured rather like Porco Rosso and the pirates than the serious battles in Princess Mononoke although there is plenty of blood glooping around and bodies do pile up. The fights are generally good-natured and cool to watch but there is an edge of viciousness to some with one particular mutilation which is lingered upon. With the clash of old and new it can be hard to see which path to pick but the film settles with a great message of being true to yourself.
Hamaji is a fantastic lead female. Good-natured and resolute, she does not let her gender stop her from doing things and gets to explore every aspect of it.
She starts off the innocent in Edo but gradually wises up to the way of the world without letting her emotions rule over her or discarding them. Her actions and dress convince many that she is a boy which allows her to explore Edo, including the Yoshiwara district. She remains good-natured and is always eager to learn which makes a great protagonist to follow. She is symbolic of a female Japan will encounter in the future, one who finds ways to work around the restrictions that society places on women and remains independent.
Better still is her relationship with Shino, a connection that begins as hunter and hunted, which becomes equal without being too sentimental. Shino is charismatic and beautiful and when put next to Hamaji, their relationship comes across like that of Namsoon and Sad Eyes in Duelist. Miyano and Kotobuki work up a great chemistry but as an older brother I loved the relationship between siblings Hamaji and Dousetsu.
Dousetsu is a bit of a braggart but with a good-heart and steadfast when required. He deeply cares about his sister and treats her with respect and isn’t afraid of being silly around her. He comes across as a less supercilious and scheming Yojimbo but still has the smug look. Konishi and Kotobuki had me in stitches and smiling fondly whenever their characters interacted.
The characters are all loveable in their own way. Everybody from the camp clothes seller to the stubborn officials of the Shogunate to the people Dousetsu lives around is designed and animated skilfully and are full of life. Their faces are very expressive and their behaviour is idiosyncratic to be memorable. I wanted to spend more time with them.
Overall, I am glad that I watched this. The anime is visually wonderful and the story is a great adventure for adults and kids. Some of the sights on offer aren’t fully explained such as the supernatural elements that Iesada deals with and I bet some may feel that the story is slight but I found the story a lot of fun and all of the contextual details and the visuals carried me along without worrying too much. If this got a UK release I would definitely pick it up.