You just don’t get plot descriptions like that in American films, do you? Movies like Dororo require a copious amount of suspension of disbelief, especially for us literal minded western audiences. But once you accept the very fairytale conceit that a newborn infant resembling a giant Tic-Tac with a mouth can survive with no internal organs, then the rest of the film is clear sailing. And, I might add, a blast to watch, what with it’s generous heapings of wire-fu and monsters straight out of Japanese folklore. Jorōgumo, daitengu, and hanyō, oh my!
But this is no mere chop-socky flick. Based on the mega-popular 1960s manga by the legendary Osamu Tezuka (Japan’s Walt Disney), Dororo touches (lightly) on the lasting physical and mental scars wartime can bring, especially to children. As Hyakkimaru struggles to understand how his warlord father could have made a pact to provide his unborn son’s body parts to demons in exchange for victory in battle, it’s hard not to imagine the questions the post-war generation had for their elders. In Dororo, like many other Japanese tales that originated in the 50s and 60s, Hiroshima and Nagasaki lie just under the surface.
Dororo also addresses (again, lightly) concerns of a more personal nature. For instance, it seems kind of odd that the hero would even bother trying to reclaim his stolen body parts. After all, the mystical limbs and organs provided to the infant by a kindly sorcerer effectively transform Hyakkimaru into a superhero, a type of proto-Wolverine who can pop off his forearms to reveal two kitana blades. So why would he want to get rid of the upgrades? My best guess is that it has something to do with the Shinto religion’s emphasis on the purity and wholeness of the physical body as a reflection on the state of the soul. This is subtly illustrated in the film in the way the hero’s desire for revenge lessens over the course of the story. You see, in Shinto, to seek revenge, even for a reason as understandable as Hyakkimaru’s, shows a deficiency in the soul. So it’s natural that as the hero repairs his body, he likewise repairs his soul, and the need for revenge dissipates.
I couldn’t help but recall Hyakkimaru’s plight as I pondered this week’s reading from I Corinthians in which St. Paul explains how we each make up a part of the body of Christ. The Catechism explains that “the comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body.” Unfortunately, it seems like God, much like the hero in this movie, is always having to track down the stray parts of his “body” in order to bring them back into the completeness of unity.
There is an important difference, of course. Hyakkimaru’s search for the parts of his body reflected something missing in himself; God’s search for His reflects something missing in us. As James Cavanaugh, writing in the Denver Catholic Register, notes, “God does not “need” us in the sense that he is somehow dependent on us or incomplete without us. But God does desire us. More precisely, God desires to give himself to us. C.S. Lewis said it beautifully, “In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled; only plenteousness that desires to give.”