JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running Time: 119 minutes approx.
Having seen the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime, the notion of a live action version is preposterous – until we remember Takashi Miike exists! Already with many anime and manga adaptations in his vast catalogue, including Yatterman, Crows Zero, and Blade Of The Immortal, if anyone is brave and/or bonkers enough to tackle JoJo, it’s Miike.
Covering volume four of the original manga by Hirohiko Araki, the central protagonist is Josuke Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki), a high school student in the usually peaceful prefecture of Morioh that has recently been rocked be a series of brutal murders. Josuke isn’t your average teen though – a descendent of the Joestar clan, Josuke possess a unique magical ability called a Stand, as, it appears, does the killer.
Josuke discovers the serial killer is Angelo Katagiri (Takayuki Yamada) having thwarted his attempt to take over the body of a local delinquent. With his Stand being the ability to manipulate water, Angelo vows revenge but Josuke is ready for him, with aid from his nephew Jotaro Kujo (Yusuke Iseya). However, they learn Angelo is working at the behest of someone else – someone with a more powerful Stand.
Should Diamond Is Unbreakable be someone’s first exposure to the JoJo franchise they may find themselves quite lost in working out what is going on, why Yosuke not only has the Stand ability but also why his nephew is a good thirty years older than him! Jotaro’s arrival 20 minutes into the film explains that Josuke is the illegitimate son of Joseph Joestar but many viewers many not know who he is.
As mentioned above, this is based on the fourth story arc of the manga, meaning there is a truck load of backstory to be aware of before starting on this film, which Miike doesn’t seem concerned enough to take into consideration. So, references to Joseph Joestar aren’t as helpful as they may seem, even to seasoned viewers since this isn’t further elaborated on after this isolated mention.
In some territories this film has been released with the subtitle “chapter 1” with the plan being to continue the story over a series of films. In many respects this is a smart move as a singular 2-hour sitting like this is barely sufficient in covering all of the significant material of this arc; conversely, 2 hours isn’t enough to delve into the intricacies of the plot or flesh out the characters.
This includes Koichi Hirose (Ryunosuke Kamiki), the meek transfer student Josuke helps when his troubled by a coupled of thugs, using his Stand – the ability to dismantle and repair objects and heal people – to fix Koichi’s bike. Koichi is the helpless “normal” one always in the wrong place at the wrong time to burden Josuke in his battle against the real villain, Keicho Nijimura (Misaki Okada).
Presumably the manga shows us how their friendship develops – here, they meet to and from school but somehow this is enough for Josuke to be mortally concerned when Koichi is attacked by Nijimura and his brother Okuyasu (Mackenyu). This also extends to another relationship for Koichi, that with mysterious classmate Yukako Yamagishi (Nana Komatsu), a demanding but enigmatic girl whose few scenes lead absolutely nowhere.
Maybe Yukako becomes more prominent in the future films (if they are ever made) but for now, her presence only provides frustration for the audience, which unfortunately is a genuine theme of this film regarding the choppy narrative and undeveloped characters. The story leaps forward in huge noticeable bounds yet somehow manages to accomplish very little in terms of actual progress.
By spending a lot of time on what ultimately feels like incidental asides than vital developments, like Josuke’s bond with his policeman grandfather Ryohei (Jun Kunimura) in the film’s only real coherent thread, there is a lot of down time in between the action sequences. In the grand tradition of cinema, Miike saves the best till last but there are no enough tasters in the meantime.
Another aspect of the manga and anime is the gregarious excess of the boisterous, testosterone fuelled characters and the attendant brash humour, neither of which are present here. Miike has a devious sense of humour so this should play right into his hands but for some reason, the tone is serious, quietly sombre even, given the sparse musical score.
Then again, only in anime can you get away with characters who shout their every line and talk in booming, bravado driven tones that would be frankly ridiculous in a live action situation. I am not familiar with this particular arc so I don’t know if Josuke is as the same as his extraverted ancestors or is as phlegmatic and insular as he is portrayed here – until someone mocks his risibly pronounced pompadour that is.
Whether by design or not, this leaves Josuke as a hard protagonist to root for, his strong moral compass being his only discernible trait, making Kento Yamazaki appear like a charisma vacuum. Masaki Okada is also blighted in this way leaving Keicho Nijimura a detestable villain for being so dull! The only actor whose role has any real substance is veteran Jun Kunimura and he is only in the first half of the film.
Miike is a keen proponent of SFX and he has a ball with the various manifestations of the Stands and their abilities. Angelo’s vicious water sprite is a superbly rendered little chap, whilst the highlight is the army of toy soldiers, complete with tanks, helicopters and missiles, that attack Josuke in the climax. Mileage will vary on whether the fun visuals are enough to compensate for the lacking story.
If Diamond Is Unbreakable is the first of many films then the sequels really need to be more focused and tighter then this opening instalment. JoJo is a bombastic work that should be tailor made for Miike but instead he gives us something uncharacteristically lethargic, that regrettably is less JoJo and more so-so.
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black