EXPECTATIONS: Another teen survival flick, but made with insane bat-shit flair by Takashi Miike.
REVIEW: Takashi Miike is a maverick filmmaker that very little people can match in terms of versatility or even insanity, but Sion Sono or Tetsuya Nakashima are close to surpassing him. Miike’s films in the past 10 years have become more commercial and mainstream and to some of his loyal followers, it is seen as disappointing to say the least. His films, in many people’s opinions, haven’t had the lasting appeal of say Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer or Audition etc. I still enjoy his works like romantic musical For Love’s Sake, the yakuza comedy The Mole Song and the police thriller Shield of Straw though. But fortunately for some, in recent years, he has had a bit of a resurgence in terms of dark and violent works like the teen survival flick Lesson of the Evil and the horror film Over Your Dead Body. As the Gods Will continues that trend, but he combines the commercial aspirations of his recent films, the ultra-violence of his early films and the manga’s inherent weirdness to make an entertaining ride that will shock, thrill and amuse all at once.
The film starts off showing its various characters musing about their supposed boring lives, consisting of Shun (Sota Fukushi), a self-confident teenager who shoplifts violent video games, Amaya (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a student with a dark side and Ichika (Hirona Yamazaki), a schoolgirl that Shun has a crush on. Then we cut to a bunch of students in the middle of a game or Red Light, Green Light, but it involves a Daruma doll with murderous intentions and if anyone loses the game, they will die in exaggerated ways that would make David Cronenberg laugh uproariously. Following on this macabre event, the survivors must go through many rounds of deadly games to ensure their survival and also investigate why these games are happening. The games range from physicality to mentality, all involving downright insanity and also perhaps something interplanetary. Throughout these games, there is a subplot about a reclusive computer geek (Nao Omori), who investigates the happenings of the games, which apparently are occurring around the world.
The first game, which is witnessed after the first minute, is probably the best scene in the entire movie, since it involves shockingly crazy ultra-violence of heads exploding, hilarious delivery of lines from the Daruma doll itself and pitch-perfect performances from the young cast. They all act entertainingly over-the-top and some of the deaths just made me laugh. It’s almost a shame that the film doesn’t top the first game but there are many games that are almost just as entertaining, which involve giant cats and giant polar bears, wooden dolls and others out-of-this-world stuff. The characters themselves are typical archetypes of teen survival flicks (the reluctant hero, the anti-hero, the scumbag, the love interest etc.) but they are likable enough to root for and tip-toe the line between annoying and hyperactive. Ryunosuke Kamiki stands out as Amaya, the anti-hero who may or many not be evil in his intentions while Shota Sometani also stands out in his performance, but I won’t say what he does. Let’s just say that he deserves a thumbs-up from me.
What makes this fun and more entertaining than most teen survival flicks is how far Miike takes the premise. The story leaves plenty of satire of teen survival flicks and he wrings it for all its worth. There are bits in scenes of action that show the characters’ back-stories and it “coincidentally” shows that they have the skills needed for the game they are involved in. The reveals are done in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that it comes off as funny. Like how a person has to play a game that involves throwing a ball in a hoop and the narration shows that he happens to be skilled in basketball by apparently practicing 500 shots a day. The kills in the film are so over-the-top, yet inventive enough that you still wince and laugh when it happens. One example is a scene when a student is stretched apart with her legs being pulled and she comes apart like a wishbone. It is surprisingly implied and partly off-screen, but the squirmy sound effects in the scene, as well as the rest of the film, really add punch.
Speaking of the technical qualities, the film looks fantastic. It looks surprisingly lively and bright considering the grim and bonkers premise and the CGI, while it is unrealistic, is amusingly kitschy and suits the manga origins really well, with its stop-motion look and colourful settings and environments. The film also deals with themes such as ennui and exploitation towards violence portrayed in media but unlike Sion Sono’s film Tag, another similar teen survival film, it ends up more like film dressing than anything more substantial. And also unlike Tag, the film is too long and it suffers from a slow spot in the second act, due to the subplot involving Nao Omori as the computer geek. The film never loses its energy and craziness, but the film is so long, the assaultive tone can be quite exhausting. Most Miike films suffer from long running times (the video game-to-film adaptation Ace Attorney suffered from this the most) and this film is definitely no exception. And with minimal character development, it just makes it worse to really hold our attention.
It is because of those flaws that prevent the film from belonging in the Miike cult classic canon, consisting of Gozu, Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris, but the film is an entertaining ride, filled with enough craziness, blood and gore and WTF moments to remind us that the crazy Takashi Miike still exists in some shape or form to surprise us all.
Insane premise fantastically brought to life
The kill sequences are shocking, funny and inventive
The technical film-making is above reproach
The cast are likable enough to care or at least enjoyable to laugh at
The characters are archetypes and none of them stand out
The pacing and running time
The open-ended conclusion will irk some
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Cast: Sota Fukushi, Hirona Yamazaki, Shota Sometani, Mio Yuki, Ryonosuke Kamiki, Nao Omori, Lily Franky
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Hiroyuki Yatsu, based on the original comic book by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Akeji Fujimura