In an abandoned industrial complex a group of soldiers tries to capture Ghost, a legendary covert soldier. One by one the elite team are taken out and killed. However, this is just a training mission and it appears that an intruder has entered the arena. Elsewhere a store owner, Toshiro, is with a therapist talking about how he dreams of killing. The therapist is a little shaken but continues the session, and as Toshiro walks home with his adopted niece, Sachi, he is unaware that his past has already put in motion machinations against him.
Re:Born is a martial arts action film that we have seen countless times before. An ex-soldier, special forces operative, spy, hitman or some other action friendly profession has settled down and has started a quieter life, not wanting to kill anymore or find out the morally dubious motives behind their previous employer. This time it concerns Toshiro, whose boss and associates have come to track him down and kill him, for some slight that he did against them. This is the most threadbare of stories that only serves to take us from one fight to another. However, after the film finishes setting up the reasons for all the fighting Re:Born finally gets into the swing of things.
The action is choreographed, or at least influenced by, the combat strategist Toshiaka Inagawa, a close combat instructor for the U.S. Special Forces, Japan Self Defence Forces and other military units. The film uses something called "Zero Range Combat" as the main fighting style, which is a highly flexible fast style of fighting that is a combination of all sorts of martial arts, focussed on knife work and holds. During the early parts of the film this fighting style is spectacular; there is a tense sequence where Toshiro covers the distance between a shooter in a crowded square that is perfectly edited and paced. Similarly, the sequence in the supermarket is brutal, with people being slammed through shelves and having their throats cut left, right and centre. Tak Sakaguchi, an ex-street fighter, sells the bad-ass killer Toshiro very well and has some chemistry with the young girl playing Sachi. He does a somewhat decent job trying to convince audiences to go along with his violent escapades. However, as the movie goes on the constant action becomes repetitive and exhausting.
While the cinematography, for the most part, does a great job in capturing the wild action, it has the tendency to shake on each impact of a fist (or foot) which can become very distracting and gimmicky. There are some problems in the editing of the fights as well because at points the film loses the construction of the battlefield and gives us disparate shots of confusing action, a grave sin in a martial arts movie. The same can be said of the foley which as it wears on becomes faker and faker, with poorly mixed punching sounds and the constant need to show us Toshiro limbering up with overzealous cracking and shifting as he gets into the serpentine ready stance, which also gets silly after a while. I will say that when we get to the penultimate fight, I couldn't help but laugh as the two opponents jiggled about with intense faces and sound effects, meant to represent cracking bones, which made them sound like sacks of marbles; not something you want when there is a deadly fight happening onscreen. Even though the action is stellar, I am loath to offer a whole hearted recommendation of this film, just because it would have benefited from some more attention in other departments.
A fight doesn't have to be well choreographed to be good, though good choreography does help. It brings to mind the Star Wars franchise. The prequel trilogy has the better fight choreography but it is the original trilogy fights we remember more for their emotional weight. The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin on the lava planet may go on forever with flips and spins, but the last battle between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi will forever be burnt into my brain for what is going on beyond the laser swords. It is the same with the last fight between Luke and Darth Vader. These fights have ramifications beyond looking cool, and mean something to the character and the relationship between themselves. Re:Born has none of that; we don't really know who Toshiro is, except he is a good fighter "protecting" a little girl. We don't know who he is fighting, except that they are his ex-comrades and employer and they are evil. We don't really have a reason for why he stopped fighting or why he came back.
At times Re:Born may show its low budget roots in the story clichés, stylistic choices, sets, lighting and some of the performances, but one cannot deny the time and effort that the crew has put into the action sequences. Beyond that, however, Re:Born offers very little behind the action. I cannot deny that I winced at impact and applauded the amount of style and flair that Tak and the stunt crew put in, but it feels more like a stunt demo reel than an actual movie and due to a lack of any weighted story or character the punches just fall hollow and overall the experience is a little empty.
The disc lacks any real extras to speak of apart from a brief introduction filmed for the Fighting Spirit Festival and two trailers, one exclusive UK trailer and the other the international one. I would have loved to learn more about "Zero Range Combat" or who the team were, how they made their movie, but alas, like with most things in this film, they are reliant on the reputation of brutal action to sell the film. Extras (or lack thereof) aside, Eureka! has done a fine job in making the disc. They have provided a high-quality visual playback with a 1080p display in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The soundtrack is also similarly well put together with the choice of a 2.0 mono audio or 5.1 DTS track. Both of these tracks and the visuals don't have any visual errors that hamper the experience. Similarly, the optional subtitles are clear and easy to read and the menus are user-friendly; a mechanically well put together disc.
As a fan of martial arts cinema, I hate to be negative about a film such as this. It is clear that the people behind this film, Tak Sakaguchi and Yuki Shimomura, are immensely talented but the focus on action and fight choreography at the expense of character and story has seriously hampered this film. Only those who love fight scenes are going to appreciate this disc, as the lack of extras and a memorable film will put others off.