Baoh (1989)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (1.5/5)
January 1st, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Perhaps I have just been having bad luck with my choices, but I simply don't understand how OAVs (Original Animated Videos) continue to be successful in Japan. By in large, these direct-to-video movies have miniscule running times that don't afford the staff to do much with their intended story. Baoh, at only 50 minutes, is especially susceptible to this. For what its worth, the 1989 film does display some nice, if not incredibly short, fight sequences. However, the story itself is dumbed down far too much in order to fit the running time, while too many elements are introduced and then never explained. The voice acting and the musical score are also nothing to tout here, while the well constructed animation is all but overshadowed by the problems with the final product.

In a nutshell, the movie's plot sees Hasizawa Ikuroo, who was experimented on with a parasite dubbed Baoh, escape from the Doress foundation thanks to the interference of a young girl named Sumire. Fearful of Baoh being discovered, the organization sends out a series of assassins to kill the boy, but each is killed thanks to the new powers bestowed on Ikuroo by the parasite. Desperate, the company kidnaps Sumire, forcing Ikuroo to travel to their labs for a final showdown.

As expected, the storyline is incredibly simple, taking the concept of minimal setup to an entirely new level. The very brisk running time of around 50 minutes doesn't help either, and the final product ends up being mostly a combination of short fight sequences aided by excessive gore. The film does have a cult following, however small it might be, and I would assume that it's the ample supply of gore that is the hook for many. To the movie's credit, it does depict this very well, with eyes popping out and flesh melting among other things; however, I could have done without the Tiger's brains spilling out of its head during a particular scene. Unfortunately, the film has some pretty brief transitions between sequences, and contains very little foreshadowing beyond Walken appearing earlier in the movie with his cup of coffee. In fact, the android assassin Dordo comes out of left field due to the fact that he appears human up until his face is damaged, while his origins are never explored. This only causes for senseless confusion from the viewer, and the android aspect of the character was entirely unneeded considering his entire role is to fly off with Sumire and then be shot down from a helicopter. He also diverts the attention away from the true climax: the battle between Baoh and Walken, the “most powerful psychic in the world” whose Native American roots are emphasized despite never coming into play in any way.

This leads into the film's character development as a whole, which, as expected, is pretty poor. In total there are three characters worth mentioning, which include Ikuroo, Sumire, and Doctor Kasuminome, head of the Baoh project. As the movie's lead, Ikuroo is the only one to have his back story explored, as there is a brief flashback to explain how his parents died in a car crash. However, beyond this Ikuroo is completely hollow and doesn't give a great deal of emotion in relation to the events that are transpiring around him. Sumire, taken from an orphanage by Doress on account of her psychic abilities, is even worse, and her friendship with Ikuroo doesn't end up being credible as the movie refuses to allow it any screen time. This causes huge problems as the audience doesn't really follow Ikuroo's desire to save her, nor is any emotion had when she is accidentally shot in the neck by cannon fire near the end. In fact, the whole point of her character seems specifically based around giving Ikuroo a reason to attack the lab. Personally speaking, I found it fairly disappointing not to see her powers, after they were shown at the beginning of the film, be used in any significant way later on too. I was sure that her ability to crack number combinations would have somehow made her useful during the lab raid, yet it never happened. It's also disappointing that her pet, the genetic creation Sonny-Steffan Nottsuo (thankfully only referred to as Nottsuo during the movie), never does anything at all and is never explained as its genetic origin is only referenced in the manga the film was based on. The creature could, and should, have been cut, as the cute nature of Nottsuo seems to play an awkward counterbalance to the gore being displayed.

Anyway, the last of the important characters is Kasuminome, the film's antagonist. To be honest I'm not entirely sure what director Hiroyuki Hori had intended for the character. The viewer certainly doesn't loath him, despite his attempts to hire assassins to take care of Baoh. The character's sole directive is to please his superiors as well, who appear midway through the film in three theatrical masks only to never be brought up again. Kasuminome also appears to gain some sort of attachment to his creation, to the point where he gives advice to Baoh in his confrontation with Walken. Unfortunately, this only ends up confusing the audience more as to how they are supposed to feel in relation to the character, while there is no feeling of vindication at all when he does finally meet his demise.

As for the voice acting that inhabits the characters, well it's pretty unimpressive across the board. In fact, most of the cast sounds fairly uninterested, especially the lead character Ikuroo played by Hiroyuki Hori. Noriko Hidaka, who portrays Sumire, also deserves a bit of scorn for sounding nothing like the nine year old girl she is supposed to be playing. Not all of the cast shows a lack of enthusiasm in their lines, though. Unfortunately, the exceptions are mostly on account of people overacting, with Yusaku Yara, who plays the Walken character, being the best example. He is not given much to say, but Yara seems to give the same flat, almost shouting, delivery of his lines, even when he is doing something simple like warming his coffee, which actually accounts for some unintentional laughs in that scene. Of course, it also doesn't help matters that a lot of the dialogue in the movie is pretty cheesy, in particular when the Kasuminome character states that releasing Baoh is like "setting off an atomic bomb" or some of the far out metaphors that are used for popping heads, like bursting them as if they were “watermelons” or “balloons filled with blood” (and yes, those are two separate examples).

In regards to Baoh's music, it's fairly forgettable to say the least. In fact, most of the cues are unnoticeable, as well as extremely short in length. The only exceptions would be the repetitious theme for when Ikuroo first escapes and the cue played for the assault team, which has a very distinct 1980's feel to it.

To end on a positive note, and really the only praise that the film deserves without also pointing out something negative, is the fantastic animation. By all accounts, it looks very fluid and detailed, with loads of shading. In fact, it's a huge improvement over what was the norm back during its release.

Overall, though, Baoh is a very unmemorable endeavor. Even fans of the buckets of gore will likely get bored with the flat characters and lack of plot, while the motivation to watch the movie more than once is simply nonexistent.