Tao No Tsuki (Japan 1997)

Rating: ***
Director: Keita Amemiya
Cast: Toshiyuki Nagashima, Hiroshi Abe, Sayaka Yoshino, Yuko Moriyama, cameos by the guys who played Camia and Teppei in "Zeiram"

Once again Keita Amemiya is more interested in delivering a visually stunning film with abundant special effects than a film with a strong and coherent story. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. This is an interesting combination of samurai action, magic, and space aliens a la "Cyber Ninja" (1988), but set in historical feudal Japan instead of some alternate sci-fi universe. Three alien warriors (all played by Yuko Moriyama of "Zeiram" (1991) fame) come to Earth and fight each other for possession of some magical relic. A cute young orphan girl witnesses their struggle, and one of the dying aliens passes her power (and the relic) onto her while the other two are still duking it out. The young girl is joined by a mighty swordsman and a fighting monk, and together they embark on an indeterminable quest, while the two remaining aliens carry out their own designs. Of course, they all run into an evil wizard and his minions in the process, who are in possession of an evil egg somehow related to the aliens. The egg finally hatches into a giant nasty blood monster at the end of the film, and our heroes must give it their all to destroy it in a blazing barrage of special effects. Unfortunately, the monster is an awkward combination of a scale model and a CGI critter, replacing the stop-motion creatures of Amemiya's previous films. Also unfortunate is that even though Ms. Moriyama plays three roles, she gets very little screen time and has no dialog (she speaks only through telepathy which, in extended conversations, looks very awkward). Her acting also seems way too stiff and mechanical, but maybe that's what the director was shooting for. On the plus side, the young girl is spunky and adorable, the magic monk is outstanding, most of the effects are good, most of the combat sequences are good, it has a good soundtrack (reminiscent of "Zeiram"), and features a surprising amount of blood, squirting, spraying, and splashing all over the place. It has just enough of these perks to keep you interested in watching the otherwise slow and confusing plot. I liken it most to Amemiya's "Mechanical Violator Hakaider" (1995) in that it's all fluff and no substance.