If you genetically spliced a tennis ball, a gerbil, and an onion, a bouncing, squealing, pursed-lip Oni warrior might result. About six inches tall, with oversized noggins and very squinty eyes, they fight in medieval battalions led by Japanese college teams. To the uninitiated, these teams look crazy—dancing and chanting in the park, wearing traditional wooden sandals and robes. And the tiny Oni are invisible to us outsiders. But the members of the Azure Dragons at Kyoto University take their task very seriously: It's like Glee meets Dungeons & Dragons. However, it takes about 40 minutes to reach the first Oni battle, and much of Battle League Horumo consists of mopey college students pining for girls they can't have and fretting about social acceptance. And the Oni aren't nearly so entertainingly anarchic as, say, the little monsters of Gremlins. Overhead, a menacing black spirit cloud demands that the gods be propitiated with more Oni battles. It's as if the fate of the world depended on the school's chess club, whose members are dully predictable: shy guy, wacky sidekick, unobtainable beauty, Ugly Betty, and arrogant prick. Cute at first, the Oni ankle-biters don't have much more personality. When slain, their green spirits peacefully rise to heaven. When injured, however, their squished-in doll faces can be miraculously revived with raisins (!), which had this critic craving the same snack.
No, you can't see the Oni at their ankles.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., Sept. 3–Thurs., Sept. 9. Not rated. 113 minutes.