Doman Seman emerged to wildly polarised audiences. So much so that Go Shibata apparently went away after the films premiere and re-edited everything from scratch, eliminating some six minutes of material from the original 130-minute version. Even in re-edited form, Doman Seman still left audiences baffled. Various fantastic/Asian film festival organisers promoted the film with phrases such as trippy, psychedelic, reality bending and a cult film. Maybe. About half-an-hour into Doman Seman (usually the time by which one has more than worked such things out), I was still scratching my head trying to work out what the film was about. I must confess that after 124 minutes I was no clearer.
The film opens with an interesting piece of mythic scene setting where title cards tell the story of the sorcerer Abeno Seimei and his private pocket spirits and how his wife insisted that he move them out of the house, created a shrine for them near the Horiwara Nakatchiuri bridge. This seems a great basis for a fantasy film you could easily imagine Go Shibata going on to build it out into something akin to Shinya Tsukamotos Hiruko the Goblin (1990) or another Battle League Horumo (2009). (Abeno Seimei was in fact a real historical figure, an astrologer and magician who lived in Kyoto in the 10th Century). However, in the first of the films head-scratching doglegs, after devoting some ten title cards to telling this story, the film then informs us that its story concerns an entirely different bridge altogether.
Things get even more puzzling as the film kicks in. We get a series of montage scenes with children wandering the backstreets of the city putting up strange mobiles made up of plastic soda bottles. There are various reports on tv about the Righteous Murder killings and the attacks on the homeless but the announcers seem to be having to drag video pop-ups down into camera or are wrestling with Hello Kitty-type graphic displays that are trying to bump them out of the way. There is an evil corporation headed by Kato the Catwalk Doman Seman (Koji Hata), a sorceress whose face looks over a hundred years old but has the hands of a twenty year old and cruises the city in a hearse with a decorated wooden cover, inspiring youth to attack the homeless. The scenes with the organised attacks on the homeless and concerning the corporation seem to be pushing the film into the realm of satire and black comedy only this never transpires, Go Shibata makes a few digs at the Recession but his point is never too clear and thereafter his interest in doing so seems to trickle off.
This is interwoven with the drama of long-haired slacker Motako Ishii who seems to mooch off his girlfriend (the alarmingly weird Sae Shimizu) and is eventually kicked out by her these are the most straightforward sections of the film and is then taken by the mysterious Abe to a flat where he and another homeless guy (Takeshi Yamamoto) who is fond of eating hallucinogenic wild mushrooms sit watching a live feed from an apartment front door. This turns out to be the home of Terada, who spends much time sitting in a cafe before it is gradually revealed he is the killer from sixteen years before who appears to be being forced to repeat his actions all over again by Kato the Catwalk Doman Seman (although this is not easy to tell). These two character strands are the closest that Doman Seman has to a plot they play out the most prominently, although equally they have no evident dramatic arc and drag on without any clear point or direction.
All of this is punctuated with random and incomprehensible surrealistic touches. Motako Ishii has a dream of attacking someone, ripping the top of their head off, which then explodes in a massive jet of what looks like milk, before this is revealed to be something he is imagining during the midst of sex with Sae Shimizu. Various other head rippings and milky explosions occur throughout. (The crude Freudian connotations of these head explosions is more than made clear with characters at later points yelling Im coming). For some reason, Terada is watched and then pursued by people who all have black strips covering their eyes. Abe and the little girl (Kirana Inori) turn up, causing the glowing pentacle shaped sigil of Abeno Seimei to appear and cause people that enter it to vanish. Motako Ishii and Takeshi Yamamoto run and leap through the streets in their bathrobes and underwear and engage in some of the lamest fight sequences ever directed. Masakiyo Sumida, the wheelchair ridden serial killer from Late Bloomer, turns up as mentor to Terada before revealing he has been paid by the families of the people Terada murdered to kill him and shows him a comic-book he has drawn about it, leaving the end panel blank. The little girl turns up as a giant, striding Godzilla-like through a not very convincing model set of the city at one point, while causing the entire city and everything around her to start glowing. Children play a game where they call the name of a farting monk and then freeze in position, while several times throughout the farting monk himself falls out of the sky and stumbles about. Towards the end, the film appears to do something akin to the blue box scenes in Mulholland Dr. (2001) and rewinds the narrative to briefly tell events with different characters playing out a handful of scenes. I really dont understand anything about what this film was about. I cannot say with any certainty that Go Shibata did either.