1460. Japan. The Kanshō famine and drought have turned the place into a wasteland, and with it, its people into animals. During this period, an infant was born to a hungry woman. Hunger and desperation have turned the woman to cannibalism. Initially, she nurtured the little boy under harsh conditions. But finally, hunger won out and she decides to eat the infant, barbecued. Through a miracle, the boy survived with the image of his mother trying to eat him.
Fast forward to eight years later. The little boy is now an axe-wielding cannibalistic animal, preying on weak children. One day, rain comes a small village for the first time ever as the little boy spots a Buddhist monk crossing a bridge. The boy attacks the monk, but the monk evades the attacks while praying. The boy fainted, so the monk decided to take him in, to "teach him the ways of humans". The monk also gave the boy a name: Asura, due to the beast that resides in his heart.
Created by the (in)famous George Akiyama in 1970, it is first of his highly controversial works in Japan due to its feature of cannibalism.
Compare Berserk for a similar exploration of human nature.
- Ax-Crazy: Asura. Bonus point for wielding an ax too.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Wakasa and the monk were the first people to show Asura patience and kindness, something Asura was never given even from his own mother.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- Wakasa died of hunger after refusing to eat the horse meat brought by Asura in the movie causing Asura to lose the one person he loved the most.
- Asura becomes a peaceful Buddhist monk after the famine and finally finds peace following the lessons of his monk mentor.
- Crapsack World: The setting of Japan the film takes place in. The land is plagued with droughts and famine and people are shown selling and eating their own children to be able to survive. The poor tear themselves apart for scraps while rich landowners hoard food and resources for themselves. Asura himself acknowledges this and hates the fact the world he lives in is so full of suffering to the point he believes it would have been better for him not to be born.
- The Drifter: Asura. He's been shown traveling around since his survival from nearly being cooked by mother as a baby and wanders from place to place killing and eating whatever and whoever he needs to live.
- Humans Are Morons: Asura uses this to justify his cannibalism by saying people are inherently just creatures who feast on each other in times of suffering and will do whatever it takes to survive. It is basically the main theme of this work.
- When the monk encountered Asura again, Asura was shouting this. The monk respond by cutting off his left arm and daring Asura to eat it, if he really thought that.
- Asura later tried to use this argument to convince Wakasa to eat his stolen horse meat, while she is convinced it is of human origin. Wakasa's father quickly accepted the argument and gobbled up the meat.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Asura's mother and extended that behavior to Asura himself. Asura did not stop cannibalism even after the famine ended.
- Jerkass Victim: The landowner's son was eaten by Asura after taunting and bullying the serfs in the field.
- The landowner later get this treatment when he hunts for Asura.
- Meaningful Name: Asura, a race of demigods in Hindu/Buddhist myths, represents violence and force.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: The Kanshou Famine brought out the worst in the population, up to and including a mother trying to eat her own infant son out of desperate hunger.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Wakasa, the only named natural (as in, not getting killed by another human) death who showed Asura genuine care and showed him affection in times of strife besides the monk. note
- Tortured Monster: Asura. His traumatic childhood and kill or be killed life experiences have made it agonizing for him to not kill to the point where he thought about killing Wakasa despite how much he hated the idea. He even referred to himself as a beast and sadly rejected any notion he could be a decent human being.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The first scene of the 3 minutes trailer is monk!Asura carving a Buddha statue. Next scene is Wakasa's dead body on a cart. Those are the last ten minutes of the film. Thanks, Toei!
- Ungrateful Bastard: Wakasa's father. The famine causes him to consider selling his own daughter to buy food for himself and even ratted Asura out to an angry mob for a reward of rice after Asura gave him horse meat to eat.
- A World Half Full: On one hand, we have the famine that brings out the worst in human nature; on the other hand, we have human emotions that allow humans to survive and endure any hardship to live for the future.
- Wild Child: Asura. He's smart enough to wield an ax with amazing proficiency but is an illiterate savage who basically moves like a wild animal and could not even talk until he met the monk and Wakasa.
- Would Hurt a Child: The landowner chased Asura around on a horse with the intention to kill him. Justified, as the child in question has razor-sharp teeth and killed the landowner's son.