It certainly cannot be said that the late Satoshi Ito, better known under the pseudonym Project Itoh, lacked the inspiration in facing the evils of today’s reality through the medium of the fantastic. The Japanese writer, who died in 2009 from lung cancer at the age of thirty-four, is known to video game lovers for having curated the literary adaptation of the fourth chapter of the Metal Gear Solid series (saga that sooner or later will arrive at the cinema, with already many fan art dedicate a Oscar Isaac nei panni di Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid). Returning to the master, in his unfortunately short career he published three other novels, which were then transposed into as many animated films.
The empire of corpses, the subject of this review, is the second among them to have seen the light of the Japanese cinemas and it is the work of that Wit Studio that is behind the great success of the anime version of The attack of the Giants. The film follows the forerunner Harmony (you can catch up on our review of Harmony from 2015) and precedes The organ of genocide (and here is also the review of The genocidal organ of 2016), both covered on these pages, but even if they are part of a so-called trilogy each story is disconnected from the others, with only one humanist theme in common mentioned at the beginning. And in the two hours of viewing there are plenty of ideas …
The story is set in nineteenth-century Europe, albeit in a very different historical context from the one we know. A sort of alternative reality in which men have managed to generate living corpses, bringing back to life the bodies of deceased people, with the aim of simplifying life and using them as soulless slaves.
But the soul, as the eponymous film cult by Alejandro González Iñárritu has also taught us, would weigh 21 grams (by the way, also recovered below the our review of 21 grams) and so coroner John Watson is trying to awaken an old friend and collaborator of his. His searches attract the attention of the British government, which hires him by force as a secret agent in his employ. The boy will find himself at the center of a desperate and dangerous mission, which will take him around the world in search of the creature known as the One, originated by Baron Frankenstein over a century earlier. Watson will find valuable allies in his path but equally bitter rivals, in a showdown he could forever mark the destiny of all humanity.
A fruition built on ambition
The pages of the novel, already built on complex dynamics, pour into an at times artificial narrative, which relies on dialogues with continuous sentences to effect concerning ethical and philosophical concepts of various kinds. The protagonist is repeatedly placed in front of his own conscience and the choices made by him risk indelibly modifying the narrative heart of the story.
In its animated transposition The empire of corpses has the demerit of relying too much on its home base and it risks on several occasions to repeat itself in dead times, with a general slowness that characterizes in particular the central part of the two hours of viewing: a length perhaps excessive for what there was to tell, with several passages stretched excessively for the long and accompanied by a constant voice-over. The narrator also characterizes the prologue and subsequent opening credits, with the aim of framing both the main character and the background of this alternate world.
Live or die
A reality unrelated to the historical one it relies on marked steampunk influences, with the balance between past and future, plausible and fantastic, which only partially convinces. The same can be said for the management of the support figures and the villains, which are colder than expected and prevent you from being 100% passionate about their destiny.
The Empire of Corpses – available in the Amazon Prime Video catalog, pays for this coldness also in its animation, with the influences of the aforementioned Attack of Titan which are blatant not only in the character design but also in the tense static nature of some action dynamics, with the aforementioned “living dead” giving life to typical situations of zombie films, without ever arousing that right tensive inspiration that might have been expected. Director Ryôtarô Makihara, on his second work after the unpublished Spring (2013), he directs with diligence but without particular flashes, giving us a sufficient but by no means essential title.