Fantasia Fest Review: 'JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable'
On the opening night of Fantasia International Film Festival, Montreal was abuzz with anticipation for the North American premiere of Takashi Miike’s live-action adaptation of the popular manga turned anime JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable. Despite having never heard of the property before, I decided to join in on the fun. And man, if there is ever a way to be thrown into this weird world of mighty monsters and ruthlessly fashionable warriors, it’s being surrounded by a yowling crowd of fans who relish every moment, big and small.
For the uninitiated, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable centers on a deeply vain high school student named Jojo (Kento Yamazaki), who boasts an otherworldly pompadour and supernatural powers. His is a world of “Stands,” mystical creatures that are unseen by common mortals, but can be wielded like weapons by the chosen Stand users, like Jojo. Stands come in a variety of shapes and with a range of powers. Some look like Transformers, others like the burly battlers from fighting video games, or serpent-like water demons, or fleets of evil toy-sized army men. Their users can employ them to fight for good or evil, or—if you’re Jojo—to rain vengeance on anyone who dares besmirch his distinctive hairdo. (“If my sweet-ass ‘do gets dissed, I get mighty pissed!”)
Despite being raised by his do-gooder sheriff Grandpa, Jojo is not especially interested in using his powers for much beyond pushing back on those who’d dare scoff at his style. And frankly, it’s hilarious watching him use his incredible powers to rough-up muggers or rescue a hostage only because her captor spat out an insult about his hairstyle. It’s an intense exaggeration of teen vanity, but one that’s also bizarrely charming. However, things take a turn when a serial killer turned Stand user hits too close to home. Then, Jojo must harness his true powers and accept his weaknesses to take down a malevolent pair of brothers with some inventive hair choices of their own.
Full Disclosure: I went to see this because of the wigs in the promo materials. Can you blame me?
Jojo’s hair, with its distinctive rolled curl crown surrounding a field of frizzy curl blossoms, then swooping into what seems tail feathers suggests a world that’s strange, silly, and shamelessly stylish. I want to go to there. And even being totally unfamiliar with this weird world, I was entranced. This is an anime come to life, with all the exaggerated fashions, action, and reactions that implies.
Miike’s movie sings with whimsy as his broody teen hero lashes out at bullies and magically heals the busted up bike of awestruck new-kid-on-the-block Koichi (Ryûnosuke Kamiki). The fight scenes are hyper-active, vibrating with vivid color and zinging with a mix of surreal slo-mo and video game-style rapid blows and finishing moves. The reactions—especially from adorable newb Koichi—are larger-than-life mugging. Whether freaking out that his bike has been repaired or trembling over the appearance of a sharply dressed stranger, Kamiki’s face exerts so much emotion you expect his eyes to turn into hearts, or to spout fountains of tears at any moment.
Watching this movie feels like living a day fueled only by Mountain Dew. There’s moments of pure adrenaline, pulsing, exciting, nerve-rattling. Then there’s the sugar slump, where the action is shelved in favor of generous expositional dialogue, spilling out family secrets, and plot points I honestly could not follow. But the surge will come again, giving you a rush that makes the downtime feel worth every second. In the end, I was confounded by some seemingly major story elements. But I can’t say I cared, because the visual feast Miike lays out is so sumptuous, stunning, and spiked with bonkers bit I was swooning.
School uniforms boasts sharp trench coats, striking silhouettes, glistening buttons, and a barrage of oversized yet edgy broaches. Their shine only matched by the blinding sheen of quirky coiffures. The swirling CG animation of the Stands add color and a dizzying dose of fantasy, while the live-action cast is stacked with ludicrously beautiful men. Yamazaki, who plays Jojo, swaggers like an anime James Dean, his skin flawless, lips pouty even when he sneers, bold eyebrows drawn to awe, and eyes that glint with temptation. As he whips about to deliver a scathing glance, his coat swirls around him, his hair shimmers in the sunlight. He is a cartoon dream boy come to life, and it’s rapturous.
Now, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable is wildly uneven in tone, veering from cartoony hysterics, to mawkish earnestness, to abruptly grim family-drama, and brazenly outrageous monster battles. It’s plot is confounding, leaving me and several other critics to compare notes after and still walk away puzzled. But frankly, the wonkiness of all this melts away in the face of Miike’s exuberance. He’s pulled together a gorgeous and game cast who whirls, poses, pouts and geeks out to create a cacophony of spectacle onscreen, and a cacophony offscreen, inciting squeals, cheers, and thunderous exaltations from an audience electrified by every shot of a telling insignia, or every out-of-focus character introduction. I didn’t know what the appearance of a man in white with a bizarrely oversized yet sartorial baseball cap meant. But riding the rush of cheering Jojo fans, I was elated to find out.