Makai Tenshô: The Armageddon is the first part of a two-part movie: not a movie and it's sequel, but all one big story. I'm going to review this part and the second part, Makai Tenshô: Mado-hen, together, since what I say for one review would be largely true for the other, and the movies really cannot be separated. These movies are also known as Reborn from Hell: Samurai Armageddon and Reborn from Hell II: Jubei's Revenge.
I had seen the first part of this movie before I started this page, but then later could no longer remember the exact name or when it was made. Fortunately, a friend of mine more versed with the search engine at the Internet Movie Database than myself managed to track it down. It had caught my eye originally because it combined two interesting themes, undead and samurai (and yes, there were undead samurai). The undead weren't exactly zombies, but they had zombie-like traits, like they could be killed only by decapitation.
The film is about an evil wizard, Yui Shosetsu (Tomoworo Taguchi), who is raising samurai from the dead (and one queen to help him ensnare some of them). The wizard plans to cause armageddon, and then use the samurai to help him gain control after the demons come to Earth. The one-eyed hero, Jubei Yagyu (Hiroyuki Watanabe), begins encountering allegedly dead samurai and suspects that something is going on.
Some of the enjoyment of the film may be lost on western viewers (myself included), because the characters are all famous Japanese historical people, mostly from the Edo period, some who have become legendary. Yui Shosetsu was a revolutionary who to this day is used as the villian in many stories. The samurai he brings back from the dead in this film were actual famous warriors that were founders of or contributors to various Japanese fighting styles. Jubei Yagyu was the most famous member of the Yagyu family, sword instructors to the Tokugawa shogunate. I was unaware of all this at my first viewing of this part of the movie, so the familiarity that the characters thus showed with each other, having moved in many of the same circles, seemed strange and unexplainable to me. However, I learned all this recently when I got the DVD set for both parts of the movie.
The movie is enjoyable regardless of how much you know about the history of the characters. There are several interesting subplots, and the fight scenes, although very stylized, are still fun to watch. The effects are low budget, and some of them are terrible, but they also manage to get some nice effects in there too. The pacing was pretty good in the first part, which was why I was so upset the first time when it suddenly just stopped (not knowing then that there was a second part), but I found that the second part dragged a little bit. Still, it was altogether an interesting film.