My synopsis is spoilery, if you can call it that when the film itself is so short on actual story. I just thought I'd warn people anyway.
I'm not entirely sure what to write - as I'll discuss in my review, one of Kaze, Ghost Warrior's biggest problems is that it's more tell than show. Not much happens during its 22 minutes.
The film is set in what appears to be something along the lines of feudal Japan, except instead of people there are furries (anthropomorphic animal characters - think Disney's Robin Hood). It starts off with an innkeeper telling the story of the royal family. Sometime in the past, the entire family, including Bay, was killed. Bay and Kaze, a guardsman, were in love, and it is said that Kaze still roams the land, looking for Bay's murderers.
An anthropomorphic tiger character, who we later learn is Kaze, enters the inn, and a rowdy group that I'm pretty sure works for the ones who killed the royal family tries to goad him into a fight. Kaze saves the server they dragged into the fight and gets one of the villains to tell him who he works for. After the fight is over, the innkeeper, who is still loyal to the royal family, treats Kaze's wounds. He gets Kaze to admit his true identity by revealing the picture of Bay he keeps hidden. Kaze thanks him and leaves to mourn Bay and is attacked again by the villains. Although he would have preferred not to, Kaze kills them all. I think. This film was...a little confusing.
IMDb has one sentence that sums up what drove this film's creation: “Made by one person, on two home computers, in six months of production for $5,000.” The ending credits are unintentionally hilarious, separately listing every role and task (music, production design, director of photography, etc.), almost always with Timothy Albee's name.
Back when this first came out, I saw a few screenshots and thought they looked gorgeous. When I heard that Kaze, Ghost Warrior was intended to show that one person could, in a reasonable amount of time, create an animated movie on par with movies in the past that have taken dozens or more people to create, I was excited. I can't remember what other details Albee gave out at the time, but I do remember somehow getting the impression, possibly due to my assumptions about the word “movie” and the DVD's price tag (a whopping $17.95), that it was a full-length movie. The film's 22-minute length was a disappointment, but I might still have been happy if those 22 minutes had actually been good. Unfortunately, they weren't.
Although Albee's intention was to wow people with a demonstration of the kind of animated film one person could create, what he actually did was emphasize the limitations of working alone. The story was probably the film's biggest weakness. Almost everything I know about what was going on I learned from the story the innkeeper told at the very beginning of the film – very little actually happened on-screen. I learned a few more things about the characters and story from listening to Albee's commentary, in which he discussed some of the things he intended for certain moments and characters' body language to communicate. I think Albee might have mistaken all those little details for story-telling. Unfortunately, the film was not able to stand on its own and was largely confusing and boring.
The story wasn't the only part of the film that could have used improvement. The fight scenes were difficult to follow and badly in need of a fight choreographer. All aspects of the film's sound felt unfinished, but I most noticed this with the voice acting. Since Albee did all the voices, there were scenes with multiple characters that seemed oddly quiet, and the movie's one female character was oddly silent when it would have been appropriate for her to make even a little sound. I can't think of the best word to use to describe the dialogue - one reviewer quoted on the Wikipedia page for the film called it “pretentious” - but I can definitely say it was often cringe-worthy.
The film's greatest strength was its visuals. The stills that were my first introduction to Kaze, Ghost Warrior were gorgeous for a reason. The backgrounds were lovely – I particularly liked the bamboo forest. Aside from a few issues here and there, the characters looked pretty good. Albee did his best work with the anthropomorphic canine characters, particularly the innkeeper (although I'm a little unclear as to why that character got magical-looking golden swirls on his face – that didn't seem to fit with the natural markings the other characters had). Unfortunately, pretty backgrounds and mostly good-looking character designs weren't enough to make up for the weak story and confusing fight scenes.
I've seen things online indicating that Albee is working on a prequel and other related projects, but I don't know how recent any of this information is (my guess is "not very") or how far along any of the projects are. I don't even know if they're even still being worked on. Although Kaze, Ghost Warrior used to have its own site, that site is no longer up.
The extras include a director's commentary, sound-effects commentary, trailer, documentary (basically an interview with Timothy Albee), and image gallery.
The director's commentary and documentary both give extra information about the story that is, unfortunately, necessary to understand everything that's going on in the film. I recommend listening to the commentary before watching the documentary - Albee mentions one of his sled dogs, Peter Pan, by name in the documentary, but I think forgets to mention what Peter Pan is, so the reference makes more sense if you've listened to the commentary first. The commentary and documentary also include more details about the making of the film, plus some information about Albee's life in Alaska.
To be honest, I could only bring myself to listen to a few minutes of the sound-effects commentary. Those few minutes included a lot of "I made that sound using..."
The image gallery is lovely...and makes it clear that Kaze, Ghost Warrior was intended to be part of a larger body of work. While some of the images are of characters from the film, many of them are of characters who were never even mentioned in the film.
[EDIT: I forgot to mention this, but there are also some DVD-ROM features, including demo versions of LightWave 3D and Digital Fusion. I have never taken a look at any of these features and don't even know if they're usable on a Windows 7 computer.]
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Samurai Jack (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - As I watched Kaze, Ghost Warrior, I kept thinking of this series. One episode of this show may incorporate several of the elements Albee tried to have in his film - action scenes, a quiet and noble main character, a brief moment in that character's overall journey - but Samurai Jack did it better, hands down.
- Guin Saga (anime TV series) - I haven't seen this, but I decided to add it to the list because the leopard-headed character may appeal to those attracted to Kaze, Ghost Warrior by its furry (anthropomorphic animal) characters.
- The Twelve Kingdoms series (first book is Sea of Shadow) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - If you found Kaze, Ghost Warrior's hints of a story involving court intrigue and political unrest interesting and would like something else featuring both action and drama, you might try this. Hey, there's even an anthropomorphic rodent character. I've written about the anime and the second and third book upon which the anime is based. Only four volumes of the books were ever translated into English and, since they were published by Tokyopop, they are potentially difficult and/or expensive to get. If you'd like to try the books but don't want to shell out the money, go visit your local library. If it doesn't have a copy, see if you can get one via interlibrary loan.