Review: ‘The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins,’ starring Rin Kijima, Saya Fukunaga, Mariya Suzuki, Munehiro Yoshida, Donpei Tsuchihira, Moro Morooka, Yûki Meguro and the voice of Fumihiko Tachiki

October 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rin Kijima in “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Releasing)

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins”

Directed by Hiroshi Akabane

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tokyo, the Japanese fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” features an all-Japanese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Three teenage girls perform an occult ritual to conjure a spiritual warrior named Master Salt, and the four of them go from place to place to try and solve people’s problems.

Culture Audience: “The Divine Protector” will appeal primarily to people who like fantasy films and have a high tolerance for low-quality filmmaking.

Saya Fukunaga, Hikaru Hoshino and Kokoro Nishiwaki in “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (Photo courtesy of Freestyle Releasing)

The fantasy film “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” has some of the worst acting, dialogue and visual effects you could ever see. The constant, annoying preachiness is sometimes offensive, such as when the so-called hero inflicts victim shaming on a domestic violence survivor. This movie is complete garbage.

Heinously directed by Hiroshi Akabane and atrociously written by Sayaka Okawa, “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is a one-note movie that keeps pounding that note until the movie wears out its welcome about 20 minutes into this two-hour trash dump of horrible filmmaking. It’s very rare to see a movie where every single person in the cast turns in a truly cringeworthy performance. But all of this horrible acting is there on excruciating display. You’ve been warned.

The very thin plot of “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” (which takes place in Tokyo) is repeated in four different scenarios, which basically means that the screenplay is very lazy. The movie starts off by showing Nanako Igarashi (played by Saya Fukunaga), who is about 15 or 16 years old, placing flowers on the grave of Masako Hojo. She then goes to Kamaura Temple and prays.

Nanako is a second-year student at Kamono Girls’ High School in Tokyo, where her two best friends are classmates Rino Otaki (played by Hikaru Hoshino) and Miki Hishimo (played by Kokoro Nishiwaki). The three pals have formed a club called the Occult Study Group, and they apparently have a room at the school all to themselves for their meetings with no adult supervision. (Don’t expect this movie to be realistic.)

Nanako is certain that someone is watching her and that she is cursed. And then one day, she faints at her desk in a classroom. Rino and Miki later show Nanako a phone photo that they took of Nanako when she was unconscious on the floor. To Nanako’s horror, she sees that there are hand strangulation marks on her neck. The three friends decide to conjure up a spirit to find out what is happening to Nanako.

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is supposed to be a faith-based movie celebrating divine spirits, but it’s very bizarre that this movie has three girls using satanic symbols as part of their rituals to conjure a divine spirit. For example, when they conjure up the spirit, it’s in a pentagram, where they put a wish in an envelope and burn it at the center of the pentagram. This ritual brings forth a spirtual entity who calls herself Master Salt (played very stiffly by Rin Kijima), whose real name is Shioko Kimono. Master Salt/Shioko Kimono is supposed to be hundreds of years old and has a past connection to the Kamono Girls’ High School that is revealed in the movie.

Master Salt confirms Nanako’s suspicion that Nanako has been cursed. Master Salt says that Nanako is cursed with an ikiryo, or living ghost, which is a manifestation of a negative emotion that invades someone’s body. Master Salt then forces the living ghost that is haunting Nanako to leave Nanajo’s body. (The living ghosts, which have cheap-looking visual effects, first appear as smoke and then solidify into looking like demons. Fumihiko Tachiki is the voice of a red demon named Akaoni.)

It’s how Nanako finds out that a classmate named Ai Kojima (played by Konomi Tsukamoto) has manifested herself as a living ghost to curse Nanako. Why? Because Ai is jealous that Nanako is doing better academically and socially in school than Ai, who is troubled loner. Ai is especially resentful because a schoolmate guy, whom Ai has a crush on, flirts with Nanako but can’t even remember Ai’s name. The living ghost version of Ai confesses to her jealousy and says she’s sorry. A flashback shows that this living ghost was responsible for Nanako’s fainting spell in the classroom.

After the curse is lifted from Nanako, she wants Master Salt to be her mentor. Master Salt only wants to be summoned when people are truly in need. And so, for the rest the movie, there are four anthology-like chapters where Nanako, Miki and Rino summon Master Salt when they want to help people who’ve been cursed with a living ghost.

Every time Master Salt forces a living ghost our of someone body and banishes it, she shouts, “Repel, Return, Protect!,” while she makes motions with her hands to simulate formulating the letter “z.” It’s all so corny and over-the-top, but it’s done with a self-important tone, as if this awful movie has no self-awareness and is taking itself way too seriously.

The four “lessons” in the movie are titled “Greed: Excessive Desires,” “Anger: Rage,” “Ignorance: Foolishness” and “Conceit: Arrogance.” It’s basically this movie’s version of Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins. And each “chapter” has a good versus evil scenario, where Master Salt and her trio of fangirls come to the rescue. And every conjuring of the “living ghost” results in a confrontation/showdown.

In “Greed: Excessive Desires,” Rino’s widowed grandmother Yoshie Otaki (played by Kiyo Hasegawa) is the victim of a phone scam promising her a place in a nursing home that’s “immune” from COVID-19. As a result of the scam, Yoshie lost $30,000 from her savings. The con artist behind this fraud, which targets a lot of elderly people, is a cold-hearted and ruthless swindler named Nagasaki (played by Donpei Dohira), who thinks anyone who’s stupid enough to fall for his scam deserves to lose their money.

“Anger: Rage” is the most problematic of the four chapters. Miki lives in the same apartment building as an alcoholic businessman named Hideo Ito (played by Junichi Uchiura), who physically and emotionally abuses his wife Harumi Ito (played by Rina Sakuragi). Hideo and Harumi have two children—daughter Yuri (played by Honatsu Iwamoto), who’s about 5 years old, and son Taichi (played by Haruhito Saida), who’s about 3 years old—who both cower in fear when they see Hideo yell at and assault Harumi.

When Master Salt comes to the rescue, she punishes Hideo. But then, Master Salt also scolds Harumi by making this victim-shaming remark about the abuse that Harumi gets from Hideo: “You’re also at fault … Have you ever tried to understand his pain and comfort him? You brought this on yourself. You reap what you sow.”

It’s a horrendous and irredeemable part of the movie, which sends a terrible message that domestic violence victims are to blame for something that isn’t their fault. As if to justify this heinous lecture from Master Salt, the movie shows that Harumi sometimes loses her temper and yells at her children. And so, Harumi has been “cursed” with a living ghost and must repent too.

The chapter on “Ignorance: Foolishness” (which seems to be a curse that plagues this entire movie) is about a Meisho University professor named Toru Kitamura (played by Moro Morooka), whose specialty is plasma research. Professor Kitamura does a lot of yelling at his students if they don’t agree with his belief that fireballs come from plasma, not spirits. (He doesn’t believe in the paranormal.) Miki’s older brother Junta Hoshino (played by Ren Matsuoka), who’s a sophomore student at Meisho University, and a fellow Meisho Unversity student named Kana Mizuno (played by Mei Yamagishi) challenge Professor Kitamura’s opinions in class. The professor threatens to flunk Kana.

“Conceit: Arrogance” is the most soap-opera-like chapter in the movie. It’s about four people connected to a medical corporation called the Tendo Group: a self-centered playboy named Tendo Tsubasa (played by Munehiro Yoshi), who’s the heir to the Tendo Group; his father Mitsunori Tendo (played by Yuki Meguro), who is the founder/chairman of the Tendo Group; Sakura Kamijou (played by Mariya Suzuki), a TV host who gets the lusty attention of Tendo Tsubasa; and Reina Sasaki (played by Hikari Kiyose), a Tendo Group employee who gets sexually harassed by Tendo Tsubasa.

“The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” is the type of train wreck that some people will watch until the end, just to how bad this movie can be. And some viewers might get some amusement out of it. Most other viewers will have a difficult time sitting through this barrage of amateurish filmmaking until the very end. It’s the type of movie that feels like an assault on viewers’ intelligence.

And worst of all, the movie can’t even be “so bad, it’s entertaining.” Everything is just dreadfully dull, with no imagination or talent on display. It’s obvious that the filmmakers made “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” with a possibility that it would turn into a franchise. If people care about quality filmmaking, Master Salt and any other abominable movies about her need to be banished from the cinematic universe forever.

Freestyle Releasing released “The Divine Protector: Master Salt Begins” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released in Japan on October 7, 2022.

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