Ash and friends (this time accompanied by newcomer Dawn) arrive at an idyllic village on their way to their next Pokemon contest, where chaos will soon erupt with the prophecy of two Pokemon Gods (Dialga and Palkia) and the arrival of a mysterious, seemingly deadly Pokemon named Darkrai, which has the power to distort space and time.
Directed by: Kunihiko Yuyama
. Starring: Rica Matsumoto
, Ikue Ôtani
, Yûji Ueda
, Megumi Toyoguchi
, Megumi Hayashibara
, Ryûji Akiyama
, Emily Bauer
, James Carter Cathcart
, Kiyotaka Furushima
, Khristine Hvam
, Kôji Ishizaka
, Miyako Ito
, Rosa Katô
. Music by: Shinji Miyazaki
In my ongoing quest to destroy my childhood I have set out to (re)watch all Pokémon films, and see how they hold up now that I am an adult. During this project I have concluded that Pokémon is like Minecraft: Everybody agrees that it is long past its high point, but not on when the decline set in. Although it is usually the moment you grew up and stopped watching, I would argue Pokémon began to decline while I was watching.
For this retrospective, I will limit myself to the films. The Original Series provided for a string of iconic but generally clumsy ventures that have a certain rugged, hand-made feel to them, accounting for their surprisingly lasting popularity (besides nostalgia, obviously.) The Advanced Generation took a smoother, more cinematic approach that produced the best-looking and, for better or worse, longest of the films, with "Lucario and the Mystery of Mew" as high point. Diamond and Pearl (the moment I tuned in) started out likewise, but quickly descended into producing the lazy, cynically assembled films that the latter two series are known for. "The Rise of Darkrai," fortunately, firmly belongs amongst the older films, and is not that bad.
The story takes place in the city of Alamos, Pokémon's equivalent to Barcelona, like how Alto Mare from "Latias and Latios" was that universe's Venice. We even find a cathedral-shaped arena in Catalan Modernist style, apparently designed by one Godey. How clever.
The city is plagued by strange distortions of space and time. Near the end of the film, Ash and Co. will discover that these are caused by the Pokémon Dialga and Palkia, but we have been informed of this during the prologue, so I'm puzzled why it is supposed to be a mystery.
One of the first to notice the distortions is the heroes' city guide, Alice. She is followed around by two men who have a thing for her: the attractive but presumptuous Baron Alberto, who claims that the anomalies are caused by the nightmare Pokémon Darkrai, and the awkward inventor Tonio, whose research proves otherwise. I suspect this love triangle was deliberately copied from "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", but may be mistaken. In any case, this film takes a different path from there, by resolving the love triangle in the establishing scene. Clumsy writing as it may be, at least it saves us a lot of melodrama.
In terms of plot, "The Rise of Darkrai" stands among the better Pokémon films. Particularly nice is the reveal that Darkrai only wants to tend to his garden (Barcelona's Park Güell) and not to be disturbed by the troubles of the outside world. He is an outcast trying to preserve beauty amidst the sound and fury of society; quite deep for a Pokémon film. I wonder whether this may have been the outcry of a despaired artist hidden somewhere in a gigantic profit-focussed studio, but I am probably reading too much into things. Whatever the reason, the story has some good themes.
There is quite some visual creativity on display, too. Take Darkrai's ability to literally turn into a shadow, or the harp-shaped Towers of Space and Time, with their art nouveau turning table. The titanic manner in which the not-cathedral is framed, looming over the rustic houses and cobblestone squares, seems inspired by Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame," and is very imposing, although it would have been more so without the typically bad CGI.
These pleasantries distracts somewhat from the fact that the inciting incident occurs only halfway through the film, in the tradition of "Mewtwo Strikes Back" and "Destiny Deoxys". But contrary to those two, "Darkrai" becomes less interesting once it has a plot. There is little mystery, since the audience already knows Darkrai is not the culprit, so it's a matter of waiting until one of the characters figures it out and finally does something. Even then, the only important thing the heroes do during the ensuing 45 minutes is picking their favourite background music.
One is reminded that this film is called "Dialga VS Palkia VS Darkrai" in Japanese. It ultimately becomes apparent that seeing the three of them fight was the film's sole goal. Instead of building on the established themes, it would rather be a kaiju. I myself have never understood the fun of merely watching big things hit each other, and stress that the best Pokémon films (amongst which "Latias and Latios" and "Lucario and the Mystery of Mew") give their battles weight with entertaining stories. This film just gives up halfway through.
At least "The Rise of Darkrai" has some lovely set-up. Its largely inert first half is quite enjoyable, certainly for a Pokémon film, and the misunderstood Darkrai induces some of the deepest pathos in the whole series. But flaws are easily found, and the second half is just too boring in order for the film to be recommendable on the whole.
Review by Shostakovich343 from the Internet Movie Database.