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Comprehending 'Yu-Gi-Oh!' is not in the cards

August 13, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

In an early scene in "Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie," a golden pyramid-shaped puzzle is described as an "imponderable conundrum." The same could be said of the animated film's plot.

For unless you are one of the Japanese phenomenon's army of devoted young followers, much of the film's story line and machinations will be Greek, or at the very least Egyptian, to you.

Based on a multibillion-dollar franchise that has spawned comic books, a trading card game, a video game, an animated TV series and other products, "Yu-Gi-Oh!" crisscrosses cultures, borrowing myths and legends to create its universe of mummies, monsters, knights and dragons. The basic setup is a card game in which players "duel," strategically using their decks to achieve the most powerful combination of cards (each representing a character or magical trait), destroy their opponent, save mankind and, presumably, finish their homework before dinner.

The hero of the movie is Yugi, a diminutive high school student with lightning-bolt tresses, who has ascended to the highest ranks of the game's players. Yugi is the possessor of the aforementioned pyramid, known as the Millennium Puzzle, a gift from his amateur Egyptologist grandfather.

Within the puzzle, which Yugi wears around his neck like a pilfered hood ornament, resides the Pharaoh, a spirit from ancient Egypt who functions as Yugi's alter ego when he plays the game.

The movie's plot picks up from the Kids WB series and follows Yugi's mega-duel with his archrival, Kaiba, a ridiculously wealthy teenage high-tech gaming mogul who hungers for Yugi's monster cards.

Yugi is backed up by a posse that includes Joey, Tristan and the story's lone girl, the ever-pragmatic Tea. Collectively, with their poufy hair and long coats, the friends look like a reunion of Kajagoogoo.

Story-wise, suffice it to say that good fights evil, light battles dark and a lot of merchandise will move.

During the battles, the duelists wear wrist-mounted cardholders that conjure the menacing creatures. The monsters and warriors hover in the air as if suspended from meat hooks, without actually engaging one another. A kind of Jumbotron scoreboard tabulates the values of the cards as they're played, and the lesser creature simply shatters apart.

This certainly cuts down on the potential for screen violence, but listening to the litany of reasons why this card is more powerful than that card pales when one considers the possibilities of a genuine battle between a well-armed knight and a winged beast.

But the appeal of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" for kids who play the card game shouldn't be too much of a mystery -- at least to any adult who admits to tuning in to celebrity poker on TV.

*

'Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie'

MPAA rating: PG for scary combat and monster images

Times guidelines: Violence is mostly implied; may be too intense for the very young

A 4Kids Entertainment, Shueisha, TV Tokyo, Nas production, released by Warner Bros. Director Hatsuki Tsuji. Producers Noriko Kobayashi, Naoki Sasada, Lloyd Goldfine, Katia Milani, Michael Picoriello. Executive producers Hideyuki Nagai, Tamizo Suzuki, Hideki Yamashita, Alfred R. Kahn, Norman J. Grossfeld. Screenplay by Matthew Drdek, Lloyd Goldfine, Norman J. Grossfeld, Michael Picoriello, story by Junki Takegami, Masahiro Hikokubo. Cinematographers Hiroaki Edamitsu, Duk Gyu Choi, Tae Hee Heo, Kang Ok Kim. Editor Masao Nakagawa. Music Elik Alvarez, John Angier, Joel Douek, Ralph Shuckett, Wayne Sharpe, Freddy Sheinfeld, Gil Talmi. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

In general release.

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