Review for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable
You might have read Stuart McLean’s review of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Season 1 on this site. He took a look at the first 26 episodes of this generations-spanning epic shonen battle anime, comprising the first two arcs, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. It’s a testosterone fuelled, manly epic that oozes over-the-top visual excess like a sweating oily body-builder. It is so in-your-face insane that I, personally can only watch it once in short order (i.e. within the space of ten years), which is why Stuart McLean got the honours with the anime series. I am watching the anime on Crunchyroll, and thankfully for the purposes of this review, I’m only as far as the third generation of Jojos, currently taking my time with Stardust Crusaders. That means I haven’t got as far as Diamond is Unbreakable as yet, and I didn’t have to think twice before requesting the live action feature film for review.
You read that right. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has a live action movie adaptation. I’ve been facetious about it, saying that only Chuck Norris could play all the roles, but the real question is just who could direct such a film, based on a series so intense an experience. There really could only be one name in the hat, and sure enough, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Diamond is Unbreakable: Chapter One is directed by Takashi Miike. Just like the anime, Manga Entertainment are releasing the feature film in the UK, although disappointingly it’s DVD only. If you want the film on Blu-ray, you’ll have to learn Japanese.
Koichi Hirose has just moved to the most liveable town in Japan, the European styled Morioh. It’s not perfect; after all, the typical high school bullies exist in every school. But not every school has a Josuke Higashikata, a boy with an immaculate hairstyle, mild-mannered, likable, lightning fast and strong, and somehow able to both simultaneously batter and heal anyone who has the temerity to criticise his hair. But Morioh is about to drastically drop down the liveability index, as there is a serial killer on the loose. Worse, there’s a mysterious figure going around shooting people with a bow and arrow. And if, like the serial killer, they survive the arrow, they develop a supernatural ability, personified by a ‘Stand’. Josuke already has a Stand, that’s how he can both break and mend, people and objects. But as things get more and more out of hand in Morioh, Josuke is about to be introduced to his heritage, his Joestar heritage, and Koichi Hirose is going to be dragged right into the middle of it.
The film gets a 2.35:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, progressively encoded on this disc. The image is clear and sharp, colours are strong and consistent, and detail levels are good throughout. The film really captures the radical styles of the Jojo’s characters while still keeping them relatively believable as real world depictions. What really impresses is the quality of the special effects, CGI used to great effect to bring the Stands and the action sequences to life, without anything looking cartoonlike or unreal. We’ve come a long way from Ryuk in the Death Note movies, and on the strength of Jojo’s, Japan’s film industry is rapidly catching up to Hollywood production values.
The sole audio track on this disc is a DD 5.1 Surround Japanese track with optional English subtitles. The audio is fine, the surround put to good use creating the film’s ambience, and action, while the dialogue remains clear throughout. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
The disc boots to a static menu. All you’ll find in terms of extras are the theatrical trailer for the film and further trailers for Shin Godzilla, Terraformers, Tokyo Ghoul, and Death Note: Light Up the New World, all live action features.
There’s a fundamental problem with adapting Jojo’s to live action. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in anime form is an exercise in extremism. We’re talking extreme visuals, extreme characterisations, and extreme dialogue. It’s sheer anime in excess, and it’s a blast to watch. You can’t do that with live action. Go too far, and the suspension of disbelief is shattered. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has to be toned down to work in live action, to sustain the pretence of believability and realism. The problem is that if you tone it down too far, you lose the very essence of the show, what makes it Jojo’s. In Takashi Miike’s capable hands, the film walks the tightrope between excess and verisimilitude and just about pulls it off.
Be aware that this is just Chapter One of the Diamond is Unbreakable story, and as such it’s really just setting the stage, introducing the characters, and offering some idea of what’s going on. The Stands were introduced in Stardust Crusaders, manifestations of power in supernatural form, almost a mystical alter ego that appears from within the body, to wield magical powers and engage in physical combat, although the owner of the Stand suffers physical damage when the Stand is damaged as well. In the film, they are ghost-like forms that only Stand users can see; normal people just see someone with weird fighting abilities.
As in the prior three iterations of Jojo’s, at the start of each story, the main character will meet an experienced older man who acts as mentor; although the stubborn protagonist will prove difficult to teach, and he will at first fight against an antagonist that will eventually prove to be one of his strongest allies. A team will form to do battle against the real series villain, who at this point in proceedings hasn’t been introduced in the film.
Josuke has a happy family at the start of the film, his mother, and his policeman grandfather (who has a personal mission to keep Morioh safe). That mission isn’t easy at the start of the film, with a serial killer named Katagiri on the loose. When Katagiri runs into the film’s antagonist, Keicho Nijimura, he gets shot with an arrow that bestows a Stand upon him, giving him the ability to control and fight with water. His depredations become excessive thereafter. He’s thwarted in one attack by Josuke, whose own Stand has the ability to heal as well as attack, and Katagiri thereafter makes it his mission to kill Josuke.
The film is told from transfer student Koichi Hirose’s perspective, a normal high school kid introduced into this bizarre world of magical powers and bad-ass combat. Naturally he acts as our eyes and our incredulity as Josuke has to face Katagiri, meets his older relative Jotaro Kujo (the protagonist of Stardust Crusaders set some twenty years earlier), and learns of his heritage on his father’s side. The true antagonists of the film are the wielder of the bow and arrow, and his younger brother, and in true Jojo’s style, the grand confrontation takes place in an abandoned and rundown mansion.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Diamond is Unbreakable: Chapter One is about as intense a shonen experience as you can have in a live action movie. You’ll just have to make allowances for it to be only one tenth as intense as the anime, but that is necessary to be able to develop the characters and make them sympathetic and believable. In that respect, it’s Jojo’s lite, but Takashi Miike has a great track record in adapting manga/anime to live action, with films like Yatterman, Crows Zero, and Blade of the Immortal. His deft touch makes this film one very much worth watching. And unlike the anime, I think I’ll be watching this film more than once. Hopefully the sequels aren’t too long in coming.