Miike's latest flaunts glossy visuals and ditto characters in an uneven celebration of ridiculousness
You may think you know Miike Takashi but really, if you’re mostly familiar with horror classics along the lines of Audition or samurai epics like 13 Assassins you barely know the half of it. Keen on further exploring the wilder side of Japan’s most prolific filmmaker, Vienna’s Slash Film Festival beckoned with an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on: the chance of seeing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable – Chapter 1 on the big screen.
Miike’s most recent cinematic offering is an adaptation of Araki Hirohiko’s popular manga of the same name. In it we are treated to the highly unusual high school escapades of Josuke, better known as – you guessed it! – JoJo (whose cockiness and vanity are admirably portrayed by Kento Yamazaki). The word ‘Bizarre’ doesn’t even begin to cover it since the glam-rock-looking ‘babe magnet’ (sporting a hairdo that rivals Madame de Pompadour’s) is able to manifest strange powers of which he knows nothing about.
The somewhat awkward introduction of Jotaro (JoJo’s nephew) sheds light on the matter but serves no real purpose other than informing the protagonist and audience that he’s a ‘Stand’-user. JoJo can heal wounds on the bodies of others and reorganize, fuse or otherwise ‘mend’ matter while Jotaro can stop time. Think along the lines of the Persona game series and you’ll get the gist. Stands are basically a way of tapping into hidden reserves by summoning alter egos that exist for the singular purpose of ass-kicking. (Oh, and some look like dinosaurs while others resemble Hot Wheels)
Stand-users seem to attract one another and the question soon becomes: do you Stand for good or for evil? The latter faction consists of Keicho Nijimura, a bow-wielding bastard whose arrows can awaken latent Stand-powers. He gleefully ups the city’s crime rate to further his agenda. What begins as a police story with JoJo’s grandfather in pursuit of a killer almost instantly opens up to envelop audiences in a universe where paranormal showdowns are as common as the all-too-liberal application of hair gel.
As can be expected from Miike, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure delivers in terms of action set pieces but the difference with, say, 13 Assassins lies in the penchant for wacky inventiveness. If you’d like to see JoJo (a one man army) do battle with a surprisingly fierce squadron of tiny tanks and toy soldiers packing rocket launchers, this one’s for you. These and other scenes (like one in which JoJo ingests a glove to ‘capture’ the essence of a water-wielding Stand-user named Aqua Necklace after an all-out brawl!) are wisely played out for both laughs and sheer lunacy.
This is where the film shines brightest: when it embraces its balls-to-the walls craziness and doesn’t slow down proceedings by attempting to explain things that beggar belief from the get-go. Unless you’re intimately familiar with the manga (which this reviewer is not, at all) you’ll never grasp why the characters behave like they do and much of the narrative (all too rich on names and mythology that gets casual mentions) builds awkwardly to a string of climaxes that don’t know when to call it quits. The neverending revelations don't add up to anything intelligible and disrupt the flow of combat.
In addition to these shortcomings, Miike (probably following the source material?) makes efforts to root the animated insanity in reality or at least merge it with recognizable emotions. While this gives the film an even more unpredictable flair Miike doesn’t pull it off convincingly. For instance, when he humanizes the walking caricature that is JoJo by having him become a hero who’s willing to sacrifice himself in order to save the life of a bad guy this moral superiority is entirely at odds with earlier scenes in which JoJo proved rather uncaring for the plight of others, mainly using his Stand to give any and all who question his hair a good thrashing. If it is meant as character progression after a traumatic turn of events midway through the movie, it’s too brusque to persuade.
And yet, warts notwithstanding, few fans of frenetic weirdness from Japan will be able to pass on this bonkers mix of camp, melodrama, and monster-mashing extravaganza. It packs prolixity but also boasts lush, eye-popping visuals aplenty and dazzles with an array of colors. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure works on its own terms as something way off the beaten track and hard to follow. There’s no real reason to the madness; just accept it: Diamond Is Unbreakable! Now kick back, have an out-of-body experience and see how you too will want to sign up for more whimsical chaos.