Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is a film displaced in time. It seems to yearn for a simpler time, free of worry and constraint, imbued with a child-like sense of wonder. There’s not much rhyme or reason to Takashi Yamazaki’s film, a series of occasionally delightful vignettes based on the manga by Ryohei Saigan, but its uniformly charming cast help save it from meaninglessness.
Destiny opens with a young couple driving across the Japanese countryside to the rural town of Kamakura. It’s sometime in the early 1960s, a wise choice; the film’s catalogue of wonders wouldn’t seem quite so impressive competing with today’s array of technology. The couple are newly married. Isshiki (Masato Sakai) is a writer-for-hire who perpetually pushes deadlines on his commissions. His wife, Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata), doesn’t have much of an interior life, or even her own hobbies. She mostly serves to cook and tend house for Isshiki. Their ideal domestic life is continuously interrupted by various magical creatures that seem to only exist within the borders of Kamakura.
The creatures range from wicked spirits to animal/human hybrid creatures. The film never quite explains their place in the world, or even elucidates how humans coexist with them. Yamazaki’s screenplay is reductive — he hasn’t figured out a way to present the different stories from the manga, so he just presents a plotless, episodic film. The less intriguing sequences tend to be a slog, but even at its least inspired moments, Destiny is propped up by the strength of its cast. Sakai and Takahata play a believably naïve couple, still learning to navigate the peaks and valleys of marriage. Takahata, in particular, is charming in the role, and she displays an infectious warmth that makes it easy to overlook the film’s more absurd moments.
Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura’s magical elements often seem half-baked, but its cast makes up for its deficiencies. The wonders on screen are supposed to be the attraction, but movies are about people, and it’s those people on screen who steal the show.