As The Gods Will

This is the last of the real catch-up reviews – I saw this when I was in Hong Kong a couple of months ago, and have been stalling on writing up my thoughts. To be honest, it’s a Takashi Miike film, to the review was always going to include the phrases “crazy”, “manga adaptation” and “overlong”. However, I have really enjoyed a lot of Miike’s recent work, and was looking forward to this one, so let’s have a look and see how we get on with the Gweiloramblings review bingo at the same time.

“As the Gods Will” centres around disaffected high school student Shun (Sota Fukushi), who becomes caught up in a crazy series of games. We open with his class being slaughtered by a talking Daruma doll who forces them into a game of “Red Light, Green Light, 123” (I know it as something different, but basically the Doll turns to the blackboard, the students have to move toward it to press a button, but when it turns around it will explode the heads of any student it sees moving. Obviously the version I played was a touch less fatal). He survives this, only to join his other surviving school mates, including Ichika (Hirona Yamazaki), in another game of death with a Lucky Cat Doll. This challenge is passed and the survivors, now including Shun’s male rival Amaya (Ryunosuke Kamiki), find themselves about a giant white flying cube, with more challenges awaiting them. It turns out the scenario is being played out around the globe. But who is behind this, and what is the point?

I guess the easiest way to describe this movie is as “Battle Royale” with children’s toys. And for a good two thirds of the running time, this is immensely good fun. The first two games are probably the best, but the third with the Matrioshka dolls works really well too. Sadly the penultimate game with a giant wooden Polar Bear is a bit of a pace-killer, and the final sequence arrives just as the film runs out of steam. But on the whole, these are fun, violent, a little silly and actually really well realised.

I could be more forgiving about the loss of pace, if it wasn’t fundamentally flawed in two ways. And both are to do with the source material being adapted here. It’s an unfinished Manga, so the biggest problem is that the film can do little else than end on a cliff-hanger. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but after the utter loss of momentum in the final act of the movie, it feels even more unsatisfactory. Moreover, the film is crippled by the fact it is able to hint at the truth of the events going on by the introduction of two mysterious older characters who are called into action during the running time, but nothing is ever done with them – probably because Miike has no idea where the story is actually going. Adapting a finished work means the director can mould characters and events to match the needs of a two hour film against a longer form original. Here he is limited to what is available in the unfinished source product.

Even that would be forgivable if the film spends a bit of time with the characters. But here they all feel like ciphers. One of the female characters gets some backstory with Shun, but our lead himself, along with most of the kids are utterly undeveloped, and defined only by their current personalities. It’s therefor hard to actually care when they get bumped off. And then the one character we do actually feel something for gets removed in such an anti-climactic way, it is really disappointing.

Despite what I said in the introduction, “As the Gods Will” doesn’t actually feel overlong, it just gets a little boring. It was always going to struggle to top its own opening sequences. It also feels a little empty, there are themes here that simply are not explored. “Battle Royale” may have had a similar body count and ridiculous premise, but characters were explored, and there were clear themes that were being discussed with the narrative of the film.

“As the Gods Will” is a strangely front-loaded film that for the first two-thirds of its running time is a delightful, if a little gory, movie. Sadly, it doesn’t just lose momentum, but is crippled by being what it is – an adaptation of an episodic and unfinished Manga. I am hard on the film only because it opens so well, and the failings of the final third mean that the other deficiencies in the story are exacerbated. The good stuff makes it Recommended, and maybe if the sequel gets made and delivers on the early promise, it could actually get better.

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