OVID.tv Presents THE BOOK OF THE DEAD Review — Figures In Motion

A young noble girl stares out toward Mt. Futakami: A sacred mountain harboring two summits. As she continues to stare on, a golden figure appears before her eyes. From the skin, to the head, all the way down to the body. At this moment, the girl began to feel her heart clear.

From the mind of Kihachiro Kawamoto—stop motion animator and puppet designer—comes the story of a noble girl named Iratsume who becomes infatuated and engrossed within the new religion that has been introduced from China to Japan: Buddhism. The story follows Iratsume’s (Rie Miyazawa) spiritual journey as she sees a radiant being beyond Mt. Futakami. Believing it to be the Buddha, she is drawn toward it  and is caught trespassing at a sacred temple, where women are not allowed to be within the grounds of the temple. There she sees the ghostly apparition of the young Prince Otsu (Tetsunojo Kanze), a prince who was executed many years ago. Iratsume mistakes the spirit as the radiant Buddha and the spirit of Otsu mistakes her for a woman he saw right before he was executed. Since then, the story follows Iratsume creating a large shroud for the Prince as he continues to haunt her and everyone around her.

Ovid.tv THE BOOK OF THE DEAD
Ovid.tv THE BOOK OF THE DEAD

This OVID.TV Film Brings These Puppets to Life

Kihachiro’s animation expresses a massive amount of attention to detail—he captures the slightest hint of wind hitting the drapes of Iratsume’s clothing, causing it to flow even in the slightest breeze, and even down to the slightest eye twitch Otomo no Yakamochi (Takaaki Enoki). Every scene is made more alive by using subtle details such as background characters walking around, vendors chatting with a customer, and even the girls talking to each at the noble house in the distance. Nothing is left unanimated. Even a hint of 2D animation is within the film such as the fire of a candle flickering in the darkness, a gust of wind blowing leaves off the ground, and water drops dripping quietly within a cavern just for that extra bit of charm. The slightly choppy frames give that nostalgic feeling of watching those other stop motion animations from the mid- to late-’90s, down to the aftereffects of the slightly dated lighting given from the sun over the mountain. Despite being a film created in 2004, the film still carries a mid ‘90s animation feel, in this writer’s opinion. This in turn works with the setting of the film in 8th-century Japan.

The film is also riddled with massive wide shots of the capital, as if to show off the enormous set with which they had to work. Colors feel washed out throughout the movie, but then the little scenes such as when Iratsume is swimming within a lake of crystal like shimmers and the shroud that soon pops with color, or images of the Buddha are expressed in a vivid array of colors.

We hear flutes and pipes blowing soft notes that kiss your ears along with the harsh strings instruments rattling your brain, all seeming true to the 8th-century Japan setting.The stopmotion puppets, too, look as if they were created in this era, as they look almost identical to the feudal japanese art style. Every choice within the film seems deliberate and perfectly chosen to engulf you within the world of the story, in this writer’s view, truly making us feel as if we’re a part of that world.

You too may find that even with the narrator’s (Alice Hackett) guidance and exposition, it is still very easy to get lost within the story. Not much is told about what is actually happening or what the relevance is of some scenes. If you are completely lacking knowledge of Buddhism, many of the scenes that include the vision of the Buddha can be very confusing, and Iratsume’s actions and reaction seemingly come out of nowhere, such as when she suddenly ran out to the sacred temple.

That limitation notwithstanding, the most stellar aspect of the film—for this writer—is the stop motion animation itself. The Book of the Dead is definitely a film for those who are keenly interested in stop motion movies. The animation intricacies and attention to detail bring the dolls and the world itself to life. Those interested in 8th-century Japan and Buddhism will also likely get a kick out of the film. However, if you’re expecting a complex story filled with hardships, drama, horror, or even just a direct storyline, you should probably stay away from this film as you won’t be getting that.

You too may find that even with the narrator’s (Alice Hackett) guidance and exposition, it is still very easy to get lost within the story. Not much is told about what is actually happening or what the relevance is of some scenes. If you are completely lacking knowledge of Buddhism, many of the scenes that include the vision of the Buddha can be very confusing, and Iratsume’s actions and reaction seemingly come out of nowhere, such as when she suddenly ran out to the sacred temple.

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Cast:

Kyoko Kishida, Tesuko Kuroyanagi, Rie Miyazawa, Tohru Emori, Takaaki Enoki, Noboru Mitani, and Alice Hackett

Creative Team:

Kihachiro Kawamoto (director and writer) and Shinobu Origuchi (writer)

For more information or to watch this film visit the OVID.tv webpage for The Book of The Dead.

Images courtesy of OVID.tv.

Editor's Note: Find more OVID.tv film reviews here.

Daniel Aguilar
Daniel Aguilar

About the Author:

Daniel is currently a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Creative Writing. During his high school years, Daniel attended Chicago Bulls College Prep where he had been a video editor and also a frequent participant in skits. He has also worked closely with the Chicago Public Library Library of Games as a content creator, artist, writer, and video editor. During his free time, Daniel likes to draw cartoons, write creative stories both short and long, and work on small video projects.After college, Daniel plans on writing creatively and professionally as an editor and writing stories for multiple forms of media.

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