Film Review: The Deer King

Japan is blessed with breathtaking vistas. A natural world which is characterised by rugged mountain terrain, lush verdant forests and rocky coastlines. With most of the human population densely crowded into narrow coastal plains, the flora and fauna are largely free to flourish. Rich and varied, thanks to the country playing host to a range of climate zones. Maybe as a consequence, animals have historically played an important symbolic role in Japanese folklore. The Deer King builds on this idea.

At the end of a brutal war, Van (Shinichi Tsutsumi/Ray Chase) finds himself on the wrong side. Sentenced to hard labour in a salt mine. When a pack of infected wild dogs attack, everyone is killed except for the former soldier and a young girl Yuna (Hisui Kimura/Luciana VanDette), who despite being bitten somehow manage to survive. The plague they’re spreading is decimating the land, proving a catalyst for tensions between the Zol and the Aquafa. The pair must try and fashion a life amongst this chaos.

The Deer King does a lot of things very well, particularly in its world building. Masashi Ando’s directorial debut creates a setting which is instantly believable. The animation is impressive as well, capturing both the essence and vividness of the tale. However, the story itself is less well developed. As are the characters. The pacing also makes it trundle rather than soar. Which is a real shame given that there’s so much to admire in The Deer King.

The Deer King is released in US cinemas by GKIDS on 15 July and in UK cinemas by All The Anime on 27 July.

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