ベルセルク 黄金時代篇III:降臨 「Beruseruku Ogon Jidai-Hen III: Kourin」
Release Date: February 01st 2013 (Japan)
Running Time: 112 mins
Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi (script), Kentaro Miura (original manga)
Starring: Hiroaki Iwanaga (Guts), Takahiro Sakurai (Griffith), Toa Yukinaru (Casca), Aki Toyosaki (Charlotte), Kenta Miyake (Nosferatu Zodd), Takahiro Fujiwara (Pippin)
Studio: Studio 4°C
There are three entries in the Berserk Golden Age Arc and this review follows on from one I wrote in 2012 after watching Berserk: Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King at a cinema. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD alongside the second film, Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey, and third film, Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Advent.
This trilogy of films adapts Kentaro Miura’s on-going manga which has reached 38 volumes at the time of this review. It has already been adapted into a twenty-five episode TV anime in 1997/98 and a new series is going to air in the summer. With this film…
The Golden Age arc is coming to an end.
One year has passed since Guts left the Band of the Hawk and Griffith has fallen from grace after he was imprisoned by the Kingdom of Midland for deflowering princess Charlotte. The Band of the Hawk has been branded criminals and constantly harried by Midland’s soldiers. They are held together by Casca’s leadership and she plots to rescue Griffith but hers is a tough task since she and the troops she commands are relentlessly pursued. When all seems lost, Guts returns from his journey…
Despite initial hostility Casca opens up her heart to Guts and the two finally become lovers. Guts temporarily re-joins the Band of the Hawk and helps Casca who leads a small force to where Griffith is imprisoned, the oldest building in Wyndham Castle, the Tower of Rebirth. The sight that greets them when they reach Griffith is horrific. Beauty destroyed, tongue cut out, body emaciated, Griffith is a skeletal figure who inspires pity and fear rather than love and awe. The escape goes well but Griffith is filled with rage, sadness, and despair as his dreams of ruling the Kingdom seem shattered much like his body. It is these emotions that activate the crimson Behelit, a trinket he has had since childhood. This piece of jewellery summons infernal creatures from a supernatural plane of existence. The God Hand ascends from the earth and a blood-curdling scene of sacrifice is about to unfold as a horde of demonic apostles trap the Band of the Hawk in an evil ceremony… It is time for the Advent. The birth of the fifth guardian, Femto, and the beginning of an age where darkness swallows the land.
An argument can be made that when it came to setting this story up, a lot of resources and efforts were poured into making the third film the gruesome highlight of the trilogy in order to pull off such an important, even legendary part of the story. It works. The series of films has been a tough ride at times, merciless when it came to delivering harsh emotions and violence, showy in depicting deaths and savage in its cruelty, but nothing audiences will have seen will prepare them for what comes in the final film in the Golden Age arc.
The world depicted so far was a terribly human one full of emotions easy to understand, the unbridled ambitions, jealousies and the will to commit brutal and vicious acts. It believably acted as a world where characters forged and shattered feelings for each other in the white hot heat of battle and politics and in the downtime when emotions could unspool, times of great beauty and deprivation (if only the trilogy of films had the time and confidence to build on it more). The characters piled corpses to create cobblestones on the road in heading towards what they believed to be destiny but their actions may have been manipulated by some higher being or story. Exquisite darkness emerged as those characters came to fit perfectly into a jigsaw puzzle dedicated to the dreams of power. Those dreams turn into nightmares in the third film as the destinies of our main characters drop into a fiery furnace of hell and carnage.
We don’t get to this until the halfway point. What precedes it is a rip-roaring rescue as Griffith is freed from the darkest dungeon in Midland by the Band of the Hawk. Guts steals the show yet again, busting down doors and cleaving people in two, throwing hapless guards from great heights into stygian abysses and shedding more blood than ever before, driven by pure rage and guilt over his actions at the tail end of the second film. Throughout the early moments of the third film the script doubles-down on the relationships as well as the action so we get slightly more character-building than has come before. Emotional connections are delved into with side-characters given a chance to vent their frustrations for more than a line or two as previously seen.
More complex desires and ideas finally come into play in the second half of the film and just in time as the eclipse occurs!
There was always a dark supernatural heart beating underneath every event, a sense of a transcendental force guiding everyone to some grim fate which the characters struggle vainly against. The unnerving crimson behelit was a taste, the fight between Guts and Nosferatu Zodd in the first film was a spike of horror (Zodd was a victim of cuts in the second film). It is here, during the eclipse, that Studio 4°C unleashes a literal version of hell on unsuspecting audiences crafting a surreal landscape of tortured faces and disturbing colours, most prominent being blood red which is perfect for the grotesqueries that emerge. Those already familiar with this traumatic event will be simultaneously thrilled and sickened at seeing Kentaro Miura’s hideous creatures brought to life and the violence they inflict upon characters we have spent so much time with. Viewers will not be prepared for the depths of depravity and the visual horror that takes place as the bloodbath begins and the Band of the Hawk are sacrificed.
The second half of the film (almost an hour!) is devoted to this horrifying event and the fallout as all characters have their relationships inverted, chief amongst them being Griffith the saviour who becomes Griffith the despoiler in scenes that go way into disturbing territory. Having written about the lack of emotion felt for the characters in the second film, watching the third makes one wonder how much emotional freight could have been coupled to this visually stunning massacre.
Alas, if only the development of the characters had come sooner because the lack of characterisation earlier on in the first two films hurts everyone. Pippin finally becomes a character just before he meets a sticky end. Corkus had moments that made him sympathetic in the TV anime and manga but after two movies, here he is offensive and his death comes across as a relief – no more whining. More tragically, is the sacrifice of Judeau for efficiency where his love for Casca is barely felt not least because lines get cut(!). Ricket is memorable mostly because he survives. The issues of characterisation, or lack of, is not catastrophic and probably sounds churlish when you consider all that was managed to be packed into three films but fans of the manga and TV anime will agree that these changes take some of the heart out of the final tragedy and yet again, what is left is visual spectacle. What a stunning spectacle it is.
Whatever complaints one might make of the story the film looks good – as long as you can accept the CG used. Although the direction feels unsteady at points – cutting between scenes feels choppy and disrupts the rhythm of the film – it captures the beautiful tragedy at play as characters we care about struggle to survive, get betrayed and fight for all they are worth – or run. Every scene is packed full of motion and detail and there is no reliance on panning across still images. The film achieves moments of great beauty, especially the scene where Casca and Guts have sex. It’s handled respectfully with nudity tastefully done. This stands in complete contrast to the depraved horror show at the end. The combat scenes are a highlight once again and the whole eclipse sequence allows Studio 4°C to engage their 2001 A Space Odyssey artiness for some sequences. While the visuals are on point, one last thing worth mentioning is that Susumu Hirasawa’s music is not surpassed.
Overall, the film holds up the trilogy very well. The three films are never boring or bad but long-time fans will find they lack the time to develop the characters and make the drama more powerful. As a primer for an audience new to the franchise it is a solid work but they should check out the source.