Buddha is one of Vertical’s most acclaimed and best-selling Tezuka manga. So the fact that Toei Animation produced Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure as part 1 of a trilogy of high budget movies adapting the legendary manga caused a good deal of anticipation in the anime community. While the movie is competent it sadly does not live up to its potential. Having to adapt eight pretty hefty volumes in three movies is quite a task. So they have to compress and rearrange some of the material. It can be a bit disconcerting to anyone who read the books but I did find it took me too far out of the story. The main problem is the movie is about as subtle as a neon pink elephant with a boom box playing a heavy metal cover of Pink Elephants on Parade. The original manga knows how to guide the pace of the story and your emotions so things come off as organic. The movie goes boom boom boom from one scene to another without any real elegance. A story like this needs time to breathe so the powerful scenes are more resonant. But with no tonal shifts everything becomes a monotone instead of a constant high. The soundtrack in pretty much over your shoulder the whole movie screaming in your ear the themes of each scene. Everything has a slightly cheesy feeling by the fact that the music is always in your face ham-fistedly trying to invoke an emotional reaction out of you. The animation is clearly high budget and theatrical but the direction robs any of the impact that would have had. It is not that this movie is bad. The problem is that it is so much lesser when compared the amazing source material it is based on.
Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure is the first of three planned films. I have never read the original manga so this was my introduction to the series as well as the figure of Buddha who I only know a minimal amount about. The film is well and truly a fable so with that comes some things you either accept or don’t. With a fable there is a lot of grand gesture and speech, everything that happens is there with utmost importance to teach us something or drive home a point. And to that end, cut out are the little pieces that make up a character; they are more an idea than anything else. However, even rolling with that there are certain aspects of this movie that don’t jive. It was clear the filmmakers had a ton of material to get through which created some incredibly abrupt scene changes so much so that emotional impact was lost. The film is split about 50/50 between Siddhartha (who becomes Buddha) and Capra (a boy who rises in the caste system) however by the end of the film I was unable to fully link these two. At least not enough to justify spending so much of their precious little time on Capra but perhaps that will be resolved in the subsequent installments. And finally, I kept thinking that movie was over time and again but then it would just keep going. Buddha: The Great Departure isn’t an overly long film but because of its execution it wore out its welcome.