“There’s a firm covenant: as long as this bell is rung three times a day, the village is safe. The princess is bound by it.”
A teacher (Gakuen Yamasawa) traveling through a drought-ridden Japanese village meets a long-lost friend (Akira Hagiwara) who has remained in the town both because of his marriage to a beautiful local woman (Tamasaburo Bando), and because of his promise to uphold a superstitious legend: he must ring a bell three times a day in order to prevent the nearby pond’s Dragon God (also Bando) from flooding the town.
This unusual movie by director Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide, 1969) is unlike any other fantasy film you’ve ever seen. Buoyed by Isao Tomita’s synthesized score (which draws heavily upon classical Western music themes — most notably, and appropriately, Debussy’s “The Sunken Cathedral”), the film immediately evokes an atmosphere of mystery, magic, and potential harm. Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando is wonderful in dual roles as both a village woman (Yuri) and a sympathetic demon (Princess Shirayuki) longing to join her lover in another pond; you would never guess these characters were played by a man. My main complaint about the film is that the scenes with the pond creatures are over too quickly: since the bulk of the narrative centers on the villagers, we ultimately learn far too little about Shirayuki and her coterie. A more balanced screenplay would have elevated this unusual, visually stunning film even a notch higher.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Tamasaburo Bando as both Yuri and Princess Shirayuki
- Haunting visuals
- The colorful, enormously creative costumes and make-up of the pond creatures
- Isao Tomita’s score
Yes; it’s unlike any other fantasy film I’ve ever seen.