The evolution of action films has come a long way over the years; from cheesy one-liners and over-the-top shootouts, the genre has progressed to slick visuals and epic hand-to-hand combat. Although the old style is still prevalent with fans today, these present-day techniques are vastly superior in displayed skill from both the director and the cast. From the American John Wick (2014), the Indonesian Head Shot (2016) and the Japanese Re:Born (2016) to name a few, all follow similar erratic pacing with non-stop action that surpass this out-of-date approach considerably.
What is it?
Re:Born is a 2016 Japanese action crime drama directed by Yûji Shimomura. Though mostly known for his work as stunt coordinator for films such as Gantz (2010) and Library Wars (2013), Yûji Shimomura has also been in the directorial seat for the films Death Trance (2005) and Crazy Samurai Musashi (2020).
“Toshiro, former Special Ops soldier in an elite unit, lives as a simple shopkeeper in rural seclusion and takes care of his adopted daughter Sachi – until one day a mysterious murder happens: his former officer is behind it, called “Phantom”, who starts a brutal campaign of revenge. When his adopted daughter is kidnapped, there is no stopping Toshiro – his fighting spirit breaks new, even more merciless paths. Opposite him: an army of brutal killers! The body count rises to dizzying heights and accumulates in a showdown that takes your breath away…”
A tour de force of action, the film features amazingly choreographed fight scenes throughout its run time, all performed with impeccable accuracy and skill. Yûji Shimomura’s knowledge of fight choreography shines through in his directing, along with the supervision of Yoshitaka Inagawa as well as an incredibly skilled cast, to create an adrenaline-fuelled romp reminiscent of The Raid (2011) in its frantic display of martial arts violence and break-neck pacing.
Sprinkled in between this rampage are genuinely endearing scenes shared between our protagonist, Toshiro Kuroda (played by well-known J horror actor Tak Sakaguchi), and his adopted daughter Sachi (played by Yura Kondo). Although Sakaguchi plays a relatively emotionless character, Sachi’s performance more than makes up for this, reinforcing their dependence on each other in a candidly captivating way. Consequently, their relationship feels intimately authentic throughout the production, compounding the reason Toshiro is ready to fight back.
An air of mystery surrounds our protagonist’s backstory, with a slow organic reveal that avoids large exposition dumps on the audience. Though this story is somewhat cliched, full of the usual tropes that litter this genre of cinema that border on silly towards the film’s conclusion, guards having zero situational awareness as a well-trained combatant wipes out an entire platoon. However, the story does take a back seat towards this point allowing the action to take centre stage at the cost of believability.
The production makes excellent use of lighting, being well lit opposed to the dreary contrast ratio prevalent in the action genre. That isn’t to say the film doesn’t make use of darkness, with an amazing example of how to use shadows effectively for our protagonist to covertly use to his advantage to dispatch his enemies. Providing an excellent example of how to implement both light and darkness effectively to create an unblemished contrast between the two. Along with the use of unconventional lighting techniques such as flashlights and muzzle flashes, diversifying these darker scenes – breaking up what could have been monotonous and difficult to make out visually as a result.
What Didn’t Work?
The character Max, played by Japanese/American actor Orson Mochizuki, seems to switch between Japanese and English mid-sentence throughout the film. Though fluid in transition, it feels really off-putting and unnecessary to scenes, near on feeling like an improvised addition to the script rather than being in the source material. Undoubtedly, their addition adds nothing beneficial to the production and would have been better off scrapped, keeping with a completely Japanese-spoken film.
A wise man once said, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. This film disregards this entire concept, as our protagonist is an edged weapons specialist limber enough to be able to actually dodge bullets. So why, as a well-trained mercenary hired to kill this one-man army, would you think you had a chance going mano a mano with this near superhuman killer? These mercenaries seem to want to drop their guns and fall back to an edged weapon at the first available opportunity, defying logical belief and just ending up as fodder for the kill count. Although, this certainly increases the overall action featured in the film (let’s face it, that’s why we’re here).
Re:Born is a non-stop action-packed thrill ride, executed with the utmost precision and dedication. Effectively disguising the production’s low budget with diligent effort into creating an interesting world, congenial characters, and eminent set-pieces. Although the story has its flaws, the movie is still a whirlwind of martial arts action sure to entertain the majority and fully deserves its referral as the “Japanese John Wick”.
This review copy was provided by Midori Impuls
Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.