While branded as a periodic supernatural thriller, Laughing Under the Clouds is more an exposition on sibling rivalry and love.
Laughing Under the Clouds Synopsis
Since antiquity, the Kumo family has protected Japan from Orochi, a savage many-headed serpent bent on bringing destruction to humanity. During the Meiji Era, the threat once again surfaces, with the Fuma Ninjas, eternal servants of Orochi, going all out to ensure the resurrection of the monster. It is up to the latest generation of the Kumo warriors to again thwart the ninjas’ dastard plans.
To begin with, I’m not familiar with the Laughing Under the Clouds franchise, also known as Donten ni Warau (曇天に笑う) in Japanese. Thus, I’m not going to compare this live-action adaptation with the Manga or Anime.
Secondly, I watched this because I’ve long been fascinated by Meiji Era Japan. On that, let me say that the limited sets of this movie largely delivers, in an Edomura theme-park, video game sort of way. History purists would have lots to pick on, but for fans of Japanese pop culture like me, the ambience delights. The faux architecture and backdrops too.
Coming to story and acting, the movie is rather muddled when it comes to communicating the crisis of the day, the main flaw being one seldom feels any real threat about Orochi’s dreaded resurrection. Obligatory scenes of peasants running about and lamenting cloudy skies hardly, hardly do the job. The same goes for the rather convoluted explanations of why Orochi is so bent on destroying Japan. One keeps getting the impression the crisis on hand is rather localized. Rather overblown too.
In contrast, the classic themes of brotherly love and rivalry are far better depicted. Explored using different scenarios, these episodes will surely resonate with viewers who have languished throughout childhood under an all too perfect big brother. In particular, I was deeply impressed by Nakayama Yuma’s superb portrayal of the conflicted Soramaru i.e. the Malcolm-in-the-middle. As tempting as it is, the young actor never once slipped into over-the-top theatrics. To me, his quiet frowns and stares do a way superior job of communicating his character’s insecurities, better than any rant or howl would.
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