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‘The Cherry Bushido’ Review: That Fighting Spirit

I’m positive I’ve never seen anything like “The Cherry Bushido.” It’s terrible — not even in a way that I tend to want from my demon-studded, karate-chopping, English-dubbed international-warfare polemics. But this movie means every speech about the power of religious faith and the restoration of Japanese might (and boy, are there plenty of those). It’s not kidding about every slash of samurai sword, either, even though most of those are awkward, too. I’m talking about the kind of entertainment where as soon as three young women in martial-arts robes stand poised for action, back-to-back-to-back, on comes a piano-kissed rock song that this stationary bike of a movie suddenly summons the zest to pedal hard to.

Plotwise, the made-up Republic of Sodorrah keeps sending test missiles over Japan. And a band of young spiritualist patriot-activists taps a college student named Shizuka (Yoshiko Sengen; dubbed by Kana Shimanuki) to help save this movie’s Japan from its military past and current governmental fecklessness. Enough with this talk of diplomacy and sanctions; Japan must defend itself in the ways of the old Japanese traditions, she writes in a news editorial about the response to Sodorrah — which, given the arrows that arc from one spot on the movie’s map to Japan, seems a lot like China.

Shizuka suffers nightmares of nuclear Armageddon that correspond with a divine prophecy of Japan’s destruction. But that real-world threat takes a back seat to all the trips to the movie’s spirit realm, where the glowing essences of Shizuka and the gang exit their physical selves to do battle against the Great Demon of Hades and his dozens of masked goons. (Ryuji Kasahara wears a lot of Halloween makeup to play the Great Demon, and he’s the one person here really willing to go for it.)

Now’s as good a time as any for a movie about a bellicose national neighbor and extra-strength patriotism; for a movie with a theme song whose lyrics have been translated as, “It’s not that I hate men/It’s that men are too weak/I can’t find any stronger than me.” But the movie has been written by Sayaka Okawa and directed by Hiroshi Akabane with big eager-pupil energy that needs you to know everything it knows, which includes centuries of Japanese military affairs and how ruthless Japan was to its neighbors during World War II, for starters. The movie rolls out archival footage to imply as much. (Apparently, this is news to Shizuka and her nationalistic pluck.)

So an air of retributive justice hangs over this thing like a cloud. It’s all a mess of ideology and theology, of flowing robes, flying fists, karma, camp, cant and can’t: can’t act, can’t kick, can’t marshal any art.

The Cherry Bushido
Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. In theaters.

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