Director – Goro Taniguchi – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 115m
A girl who wants to sing to the world and usher in an era of happiness has been possessed by a dark power which has other plans – out in UK cinemas on Friday, November 4th (IMAX, subbed), Saturday, November 5th (dubbed)
A female voice promises “a great genesis of happiness for all”. There is great anticipation at the prospect of the beloved singer Uta performing live for the first time. Like her “genesis of happiness” sound bite, this teenager’s songs are full of phrases that sound superficially attractive but, for anyone pausing for a moment to think about them, are pure, contentless fluff. As she belts out phrases like, “you can’t stop magic” to adoring multitudes that revere all this like some utopian manifesto (which perhaps is already implied by the name Uta) and the rather more cynical pirate section of the audience (for this is a world in which pirates operate) plan to kidnap her and make a pile of money, a teenager throws an organic looking rope-like extension which attaches itself to a spot near her as if it were as grappling hook and allows it to pull within a few feet of her, to the annoyance of the pirates whose plan it disrupts. It takes her a few moments, but then she recognises him as her childhood friend Luffy.
This is possibly a good moment to mention that One Piece is an enormous, Japanese media franchise spanning manga, animated TV series and films made for both the small and large screen, a forthcoming live action series, trading card games, and more. Luffy and his band of pirates are series regulars, whereas the singer Uta is a brand new character introduced in this film. That means that any viewer such as your current scribe who comes into this film cold won’t be privy to any amount of information already familiar to anyone who has, say, watched 900 odd TV episodes. For example, Luffy apparently has a rubberised body able to perform all manner of amazing feats but there’s nothing in the current film to establish that fact – you either already know it and can therefore tell what’s happening, or you don’t and can’t.
Not, in fairness, that lack of knowledge of such things seems to matter here. In most such films, it would, but here, it doesn’t seem to. The reason is simple. If you’ve watched a little or a lot of anime, the film is stuffed full of familiar tropes of the medium which do much to carry it along even if, to anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, the overall narrative doesn’t make a lot of sense. In terms of anime, the production value here is superb, and the film constantly delights in throwing bizarre, rapid-fire imagery at the audience, with one or another of the numerous characters suddenly momentarily filling the frame. Indeed, there is so much going on visually so much of the time that the film is overwhelming and needs to be viewed on as big a screen as possible.
This review was from a viewing in a small, industry preview theatre which in terms of size is perfectly adequate for the watching the vast majority of live action or anime movies but in the case of this film proved totally inadequate, because of the sheer quantity of visual information hurled at the viewer and the speed of that hurling. There are some films that need to be seen on a really large screen, and One Piece Movie: Red is one of them. It is being screened in the UK at some 270 cinemas and since these include a number of IMAX screens, those are probably your best bet (although if your local cinema has a satisfyingly large screen, then fine. But don’t see it in a cinema with anything less than a massive screen, because you’ll find it really difficult to watch. It needs that vast visual space in order to breathe.)
To get back to the film itself, much of it is based around Uta’s singing, which musical interludes are much more enjoyable than they might so easily have been, as was the case in the recent anime feature Inu-Oh (Masaaki Yuasa, 2021) where the uninspiring and generic music played by a fourteenth century rock band (!) badly let the overall film down. Here though, the songs and the singing have been pulled off much more effectively, which is just as well because there seems to be a new Uta song delivered every five or so minutes. Perhaps because the songs appear in a film about a singer who performs in live concerts, it never sinks into the mould of the animated Disney films of yore where characters periodically burst into song more for reasons of the musical genre than because, say, someone actually sings in the course of their career.
To cut a long story short, for all Uta’s superficial psychobabble about wanting everybody to have fun, she’s actually derived her power from what appears to be a sort of occult book of musical scores, which enables her to pin people onto giant musical staves in the sky. Towards the end of the film, the demonic entity behind these scores is released and a big battle ensues. The plot is actually pretty hard to keep up with, but it doesn’t seem to matter because the music is enjoyable enough and the overwhelming visuals sate the senses. Characters come and go at great speed, but, again, are visually so compelling that it’s never a problem. It’s nowhere near as self-contained as any number of standalone anime movies like Inu-Oh or Belle (Mamoru Hosoda, 2021) though.
To sum up, if – like this writer – you’re new to the franchise, the film is energetic, overwhelming and completely bonkers. In this case, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it, but you will need to see it on the largest screen you can find.
One Piece Film: Red is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, November 4th (IMAX, subbed), Saturday, November 5th (dubbed).