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Demon Slayer: To the Swordsmith Village (2023)

So I just saw Demon Slayer: To the Swordsmith Village and it was… a thing. It was moving images projected onto a flat surface commonly referred to as a screen. And in this crazy world, isn’t that better than a kick in the delicates?

Look, I’ll level with you. I wouldn’t normally choose to see an anime sub. But out of what was playing at my local multiplex, it was either this, Creed 3, Magic Mike 3, or What’s Love Got to Do With It? In other words, two second-sequels to franchises I’ve never seen and something that I have less than zero interest in seeing. (No offence to romcoms, I can think of at least a couple that are among my favourite movies, but it’s a genre that churns out more flavourless mush than horror. And at least in horror, I can see someone’s head explode.)

Oddly, I had seen the previous Demon Slayer film, the one set on a train. (Infinity Train, from 2020.) It may have been the first anime sub that I’d seen in a cinema. That one, I recall, actually felt like something that should be playing in a cinema. It was confusing to the uninitiated, but it had a three-act structure and a clear antagonist. To the Swordsmith Village, on the other hand, is not a film. It’s three (or maybe four? I wasn’t counting) episodes of a TV show not even tied together but just played sequentially, front and back credit rolls ‘n’ all. I only knew which credits to leave during based on when the house lights went up and everyone else started leaving.

The plot is that a team of YA samurai in a fantasy world based on feudal Japan slay demons, who function much like the demons of Christian mythology, corrupting and collecting human souls. The main character is Tanjiro Kamado, an orphan with a scar on his face (huh, sounds familiar…). He’s accompanied by his little sister, who’s half-demon following the assault on her and her brother’s family, which killed their parents. She’s mute and wears a bridle bit, functioning in an animalised grey area between demon and human.

That’s all that I can describe of the basic plot, not to prevent spoilers but because there isn’t really a plot. Neither is there a beginning or end in any useful sense. A lot of the first half is taken up with a fight at a burning village with sibling demons, a brother and sister. The visuals and soundtrack are frequently very impressive. This is a very well-animated “film”, packed with imaginative and surreal visuals. The soundtrack jumps between heavy metal, rock, and what sounds like electronica, adding a real kick to the fight scenes. While I wouldn’t recommend this “film” to anyone who’s not a diehard anime fan, it is impressive to look at.

Unfortunately, it does on occasion reflect a weird obsession in anime with paedophilia and misogynistic violence, making me think that Japan’s entertainment industry is in dire need of its own MeToo movement. The sibling demons’ backstory is shown and based on what is said to have happened to the girl before she became a demon is handled relatively tastefully, but it’s still… ugh. That said, their backstory was my favourite bit of the film on a narrative level, as it’s the most complete and involving bit of “plot” on offer. It has an air of classical tragedy about it.

On a purely audiovisual level, the best part was set in the Infinity Castle, a demonic network of stairways and platforms and rooms akin to an Escher painting. The disorienting camerawork as it moves around the castle in several dimensions is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and it feels very much like a place out of a nightmare, populated by weird chattering monstrosities like limbed heads with mouths for eyes.

So that’s Demon Slayer: To the Swordsmith Village. A pretty (oh so pretty) vacant experience for me as someone who doesn’t follow the TV show, and I wouldn’t even class it as a movie. It may be the most narratively uninvolving thing that I’ve seen in a cinema since… I don’t know what. But I’m glad I saw it. Kind of. I think.


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