Inuyasha Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island
Returning to Horai Island after 50 years of absence, Inuyasha returns with his friends to finish something he was prevented from doing 50 years ago; free the residents of the island from the rule of the Four War Gods.
It's often hard to be fair with movies based on long-running series such as Inuyasha, because in just about any case, they're often based on original material that sometimes clash with information found in the series, or even just the manga. And if they try not to, you are left with a movie that doesn't really develop anyone or anything. Although in all fairness, that counts for filler material in just about anything, but movies based on series encompasses pretty much 100% of this. To some extent, this is one of Fire on the Mystic Island's biggest weaknesses. But before I get into that, I would like to talk about what the movie did right.
In the review for the third movie, I complained about it not really feeling like a movie, but more like a drawn-out TV episode. The visuals were subpar and unimpressive to say the least, and the whole story drifted by slowly and sluggishly. Well, the fourth movie is anything but. In fact, the visuals, the backgrounds and the animation finally makes this feel like a movie again. Like with the second movie, Fire on the Mystic Island throws you straight into the action. And instead of relying on static shots and lethargic movement by the combatants, our heroes moves swiftly around the battleground, barely evading giant shots tearing up the countryside with bombastic destruction. If it's action you want, then the fourth movie certainly provides.
It's a shame, then, that the story is less than stellar.
The anti-shonen crowd among you might be wondering why I would be expecting so much from "yet another damn show that goes on for too damn long and is mostly fights anyway", which is fair enough, even if Inuyasha is hardly the longest show around. Still, Inuyasha's biggest draw has always been the characters and how they interact while they go galivanting all over feudal Japan on their little fetch quest while figuring out how to deal with Naraku.
But then, this movie, like the last one... or the first one, for that matter... has nothing to do with that. In it, we are introduced to an island that only makes an appearance every fifty years (hence Inuyasha not returning until now.) While this conveniently sidesteps the issue of business not already being taken care of, it also reintroduces us to the island through a flashback where Inuyasha once travelled to in the company of Kikyo. It's probably a moot point now that it's unlikely any more movies will be made, but there is a danger of involving Inuyasha and Kikyo's past too often in flashbacks like these, because they cheapen the impact of Onigumo's betrayal that took place in the manga (and, by extent, the TV series.) This would eventually lead to the treachery of the newly formed Naraku and how he set Inuyasha and Kikyo up against each other by virtue of their time together being mercilessly short. Being one of the set pieces of the show itself, the more time they feature Inuyasha and Kikyo bonding in flashback's, the less believable the eventual tragedy will seem by comparison.
Mostly, though, the whole introduction sequence seems more halfbaked. While it's not unlikely that the two would just stumble upon the island by accident, the whole thing, when coupled with one of the four war lords just happening to be encountering Sesshoumaru right out of the blue, seems awfully conveniently laid in place to involve as many of the regulars as usual. There's also the fact that both Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru being marked with the mark of the four war gods, which are basically four claw slashes across the back, seems awfully plot-convenient as well, mostly because it's got "we must include Sesshoumaru no matter how idiotically redundant it looks" stamped all over it. This is just compounded by how anticlimatic his battle was, even from this movie's perspective. (He came, he saw, he completely owned his opponent.) Furthermore, they were apparently marked in the past when Inuyasha was spending time with the yet-alive Kikyo, and yet the marks aren't showing later in the TV show because...?
And so, the team gets drug over to the Mystic Island, courtesy of the calculatingly adorable Ai; a half-demon girl who managed to escape the island with the help of her friends and encounters Inuyasha in the ensuing battle that makes up the introduction of the movie. There, we basically learn that the four war gods are... well, demons, I think, who feed off the energy of the island and the half-demons that are sacrificed in the giant cauldron reciding in the center of the island itself. Naturally, Inuyasha and his friends almost immediately encounter one of them when they arrive, which earned said "god" the comment that he doesn't really seem like a god to him, but rather just another middling demon. Which is the second problem of this movie: for being billed as such huge villains, the four war gods sure are an unintimidating bunch, all the way to the very end. In fact, the Mystic Island itself is portrayed as having been a shrouded island where demons and humans could consummate their love in peace, free from the judgemental stares of human and demon alike. Never mind that this issue has already been touched upon in the TV series through the episodes about Jinenji, and better at that.
However, this revisit is the next section that reminds us just how flat out gorgeous the movie is. The island is large and beautifully rendered, with huge waterfalls and mysterious ruins rendered in gorgeous detail. It makes me glad I decided to rewatch this movie before reviewing it, simply because this is something I'm not sure I would have remembered to mention otherwise. The music, in fact, is composed by Kaoru Wada, who -- while I haven't really listened to a lot of his work -- nevertheless made himself noticeable to my ears with his eerie and mysterious (and often beautiful) soundtrack to 3x3 Eyes. The intro theme might not be the most memorable thing ever, but the song somewhere in the middle was quite much so, not feeling the slightest out of place in the movie. It's all borderline scenery porn, which I'll admit is one of my weaknesses when it comes to just about anything.
Like I mentioned earlier, Swords of an Honorable Ruler had a problem with being too damn long and drawn out. In an ironic twist, it's the exact opposite with Fire on the Mystic Island. This movie could actually benefit from some elaboration, mostly about the island itself and the reason why the four war gods are supposedly so feared. Or even who the priestess who created the island itself were, and why she did what she did. I'm sorry, but "wanting to save everyone" generally doesn't work like that, and "garden of Eden" prospects are almost unanimously being portrayed as spectacular failures. Maybe if we got to learn more about this and about the children on the island, the movie would feel less like some half-baked action movie that tries to emotionally manipulate us with chyyyyldren in trouble. It's not exactly the kind of cynical attitude I want to develop, even if I would most certainly buy that Inuyasha would return to the island to settle the score.
At any rate, the second viewing of the movie has actually gone and mildened my view of it. The viewing of the third movie might also play some part in that, of course, but nevertheless, I still think that overall, even the fourth movie is a bit of a disappointment. While everyone -- as in Inuyasha, Kagome, Sango and Miroku -- got to play their part in fighting the four gods instead of just having Inuyasha doing all the work, it still felt too detatched from the whole series. The four war gods were wholly unimpressive as antagonists even if their motives were more or less believable. They came across more as high-school bullies than truly evil war gods, their lines being as mature as Inuyasha's, which is to say your typical teenage snark. The visuals were a treat, of course, but they weren't enough to bring this movie up to the levels of the two first.
Another middling movie, somewhat lacking in the story area. Add another star if you're an Inuyasha completist with a sweet tooth for visual candy. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: By now you should probably know what to expect from anything Inuyasha in animated form. People are dying horribly in flames, but there are no gore to speak of. Everyone dies in either huge energy blasts or just crumble into dust. Other than that, there's nothing really that deserves a mention. Well, possibly except some semi-nudity in a... well, you'll just have to wait and see. It's fairly mild, though; nothing that hasn't been done in the TV series, much less the manga.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Inuyasha Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island © 2004 Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan / YTV / Sunrise / ShoPro / NTV / Toho / Yomiuri-TV Enterprise
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