Saturday, May 9, 2015

Video Backlog: “Buddha 2: The Endless Journey”

Publisher: Deltamac (Hong Kong)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional Cantonese Dub and English and Traditional Chinese Subtitles.
Length: 85 minutes
Production Date: 2014
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Following on from the first film (released in 2011, but never on any home video format in English), the second film in the “Buddha” trilogy follows Siddhartha as he renounces his royalty and become s a monk as he is shocked by the poverty in the kingdom. The initial scenes in the film, set 2,500 years ago in India, recount Siddhartha’s birth to the Shakya queen, Maya, and king, Bimisara. Soon after childbirth Maya dies and is seen ascending to the afterlife where she continues to watch over her son. We are also shown the battles between Kosala Kingdom and the Magadha Kingdom near the Ganges River and the Shakya Kingdom attacking the Kosala Kingdom. As you can imagine the resulting battles take a heavy toll on the civilian population. Siddhartha continues to wander the countryside, horrified by the poverty and suffering. He is gaining a reputation amongst the civilians as a man of peace.

We catch up with Tatta, seen as a young child in the first film and Migaila, who we last saw being taken away to have her eyes burnt out as a punishment for scheming to marry King Bimisara. Both are now leaders of a group of bandits. After robbing a group of wealthy traders, Tatta and Migaila come across a monk named Dhepa whom Migaila initially mistakes for Siddhartha. Dhepa believes in and promotes a form of Asceticism where the more you suffer the better your next life will be, a philosophy that Migaila despises as she believes she has suffered enough in her short life. She challenges him to stick a torch in one of his eye and blind himself like she had been blinded. Both are shocked when Dhepa complies.

A little while later we find Siddhartha wandering past a local village when a local huntsman takes him and offers a fresh set of robes and a place to wash himself. Dhepa has also been taken by the huntsman. As they are about to leave, the huntsman asks if either of them would take his young son, Asaji, as their disciple. Both refuse, however the happy go lucky Asaji continues to follow them for days on end until he slips in a swamp and badly injures his leg. Despite Dhepa advising Siddhartha to abandon Asaji, but he cannot and continues to carry him to the pair’s agreed destination; the Forest of Uruvela where they will both take on gruelling forms of self-deprivation to order to reach new levels of enlightenment as part of their ascetic training.

At a small village, the monks meet Tatta and Migaila who help the pair with Asaji’s wounds. While Siddhartha sucks the pus of his Asaji’s leg wound in order to save him, Asaji has a near death experience. Maya tells Asaji to return to his body as he cannot die yet. The following morning Asaji awakes and warns the villagers about an impending devastating whirlwind that will hit. Tatta and Siddhartha are confused as it is a clear day. However as predicted, the whirlwind hits suddenly, flattening the village. Asaji reveals he can prophesise events and predicts King Bimisara’s murder in 30 years’ time by his son’s own hand and his own death in four years. Despite this, the trio of Siddhartha, Dhepa and Asaji continue on to the Forest of Uruvela, where Siddhartha and Dhepa begin their Ascetic training. However Siddhartha believes there must be more to life than endless suffering.

Meanwhile Prince Virudhaka, son of King Prasentnajit, ruler of Kosala, banishes his own mother to the slave quarters when it is discovered she hid her own caste from the King in order to marry him. She becomes a surrogate mother to Yatala, a six metre giant who despite being a slave plays a prominent role in the Kosala army. Yatala may be a little intellectually disabled, but can easily see the injustice in keeping the prince’s mother locked up. He decides to plead with Prince Virudhaka in order to have her released, but is severely punished for it and ends up going AWOL. A tragedy inside the slave quarters and its repercussions forces Prince Virudhaka’s true feeling for his mother to the surface.

This is the second film in a trilogy based upon Osamu Tezuka’s manga of the same name which ran for 8 volumes from 1972 to 1983. Since Tezuka’s death in 1989, Tezuka Productions made quite an effort to get as much of his work made into anime. “Buddha” seems to be one of the last works to get an anime adaption.  Annoyingly there is no English language home video release of the first film in the trilogy available anywhere. It did get an English subbed 35mm print which has been touring the world at film festivals and the like for a number of years. I saw it at the now sadly defunct Arc Cinema which was part of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, back in March 2012. Presented by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Foundation, the audience mostly consisted of Buddhists who brought their children along. Unlike the second entry into the trilogy, the first was quite violent with more than couple of disturbing scenes. Parents were shielding their children’s eyes when overly violent scenes came on. As a result I sort of felt a bit uncomfortable watching the film.

Having said that all that, this film is just as hokey as the first. Now look, I am not a Buddhist. In fact I do not subscribe to any religious ideology. I know little about Buddhism. I am viewing this film just as a piece of entertainment, nothing more and nothing less. However from what I have read from Buddhists in regard to the film, either Tezuka or the makers of the film have taken some liberties in telling the story of Siddhartha Gautama’s life, have rearranged sequence of events and added characters not in the original story. This I can understand as the original story may not fit the narrative or the flow when trying to adapt it into a comic book or film.

The main problem I personally have with the film is that like all religious films it hammers it’s points home about morality about as subtlety as a brick through a glass window. Like Christian films, namely “The Passion of the Christ”, this film also has its fair share of suffering (both the characters and the audience), but as I previously mentioned it doesn’t have the violence of the same film (such animal death, beatings, graphic depictions of war etc.). Instead the worst we are treated to here is the scene where Dhepa burns his eye out, which is done off camera and isn’t graphic at all. There’s also the scenes at the Forest of Uruvela where the monks take on ascetic training which involves mediation while sitting on thorny buses, being buried neck deep in the ground, being hung upside down etc. The monks also starve themselves to near death all the while they are doing this. While you’re supposed to feel sympathy for them, it just felt really silly, like some cheap B-grade schlock film, and sometimes it looked like one of those shitty “Mondo” fake documentaries from the 1970’s or 1980’s.

Speaking of terrible religious films, I couldn’t help make the comparison between this film and those awful Happy Science (Kofuku-no-Kagaku) anime films. Both look really workman-like in terms of animation quality. It’s not that the animation is bad or anything. It’s more than competent. But there’s no love in the animation. You can tell the animators were just doing their jobs. Like the Happy Science films, the overall look of the animation is quite flat. The CG is pretty average too. Well OK, to be honest, most the time it’s not noticeable. The scene where Prince Virudhaka challenges Siddhartha Gautama with a battalion of troops on horseback is pretty bad. While Virudhaka is animated traditionally (i.e. pencil to paper), all of his troops are CG and it looks pretty substandard to say the least. The other big bone I have to pick with this film is the character designs. None of them look like Tezuka’s. The only one which really looks like his designs is Asaji, who is based upon Hosuke Sharaku from “The Three-Eyed One”. Tezuka’s “Star System” strikes again.

So the final word on this film is that’s pretty flat and dull, and at times unintentionally funny. The saving grace is its short run time. Unlike the first film there is little time spent on battles, which for me was a highlight (and there wasn’t that many) of the first film. The other big problem is that there is no home video release anywhere in English of the first film, so unless you caught the first film in its film festival run, it’s unlikely you’d go seeking out this rather obscure disc. Like the ascetic training as depicted in this film. “Buddha 2” is a bit torturous. 5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Nine series, one movie, also waiting for second parts for two shows to be released before viewing them.

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