Gintama is a so-called jidaigeki action comedy film based upon the popular manga series of the same name. I would rather categorize the movie as steampunk comedy. It combines elements of feudal Japan such as clothing and dwellings of that era as well as the terminology of the capital being refered to as Edo and the presence of samurai and ronin with science-fiction elements such as the presence of aliens, flying ships and sophisticated weapons. This mixture makes for a colourful, entertaining and vivid movie even though characters and stories are completely exaggerated and make me think of the slapstick comedy genre. The story takes place in Edo where aliens have taken control after defeating a group of rebellious samurai. Gintoki Sakata is one of the surviving ronin and is doing odd jobs with former waiter Shinpachi and the vivid Kagura. They are asked to find a powerful sword that was apparently stolen and which seems to be used by a mysterious serial killer who assassinates ronin. These incidents seem to be related to sinister ronin Shinsuke Takasugi who has gathered a group of fierce followers on a flying ship and who pretends to desire to challenge the aliens who defeated his comrades and him. Gintoki Sakata must arrest the pitiless serial killer, face his former comrade and retrieve the dangerous sword before it causes any more damage.
There are numerous things that make this live-action film adaptation highly entertaining. First of all, the franchise's eclectic universe is fascinating to watch as it always comes around with new creative surprises. When the main characters are looking for a valuable royal beetle in a forest, we get introduced to characters covering themselves in honey, smearing mayonnaise on a tree and disguising themselves as giant beetle to catch the mysterious insect. If that description makes you shake your head in disbelief, expect plenty of scenes like this one in the movie. The characters are equally intriguing and I particularly liked some of the female characters like the agile, colourful and eccentric protagonist Kagura with her orange hair and soft skin or the brutal, emotional and loyal antagonist Matako Kijima with her two revolvers that always seem to miss their target. There isn't one single boring, predictable or stereotypical character in this movie which is positively exceptional. The movie's pace is as vivid as its universe and truly entertaining from start to finish.
There are also a few downsides here and there. The most obvious offender is the story which is truly over the top but often lacking background information, for example about the strange aliens controling Edo. It's also somewhat confusing, frustrating and random that seemingly deceased characters suddenly come back to life in vague circumstances and appear out of nowhere at the right moment. It seems obvious to me that this franchise doesn't take adversity, coherency and scriptwriting seriously at all. As colourful as the characters are, some of them can become quite annoying after a while like megalomaniac swordsmith Murata Tetsuya who always shouts because of a hearing problem or cabaret hostess Shimura Tae who seems to be obsessed with controlling Gintoki Sakata as much as she possibly can. One also has to address the typically Japanese humor which will please those familiar with it while it might rather confuse those unfamiliar with it. The movie had a few great laughs, especially in the beginning of the story, but sometimes dwelled on these elements for too long and lost momentum in the process.
Gintama offers light-hearted entertainment for colourful, creative and juvenile spirits and is a very welcome change from movies that take themselves overtly seriously and try to teach their audience a lesson. This diversified, vivid and unique steampunk comedy potpourri is an unusual experience and best enjoyed with your friends when you're in a good mood and ready to switch your brain off. This memorable film is highly recommended to fans of Japanese culture. Since I'm not familiar with the source material, I can't comment upon any comparisons but I certainly enjoyed the wild ride and would watch this film again.