jojo's bizarre adventure review

I rarely start reviews with first-person prose, but for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, an exception must be made. Why? Because I’ve attended midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room with tamer audiences. Welcome to the Fantasia International Film Festival, where a Japanese manga adaptation can pack an auditorium full of French Canadian superfans.

When JoJo first struts into focus, pompadour-on-steroids cut and all, audience members lost their collective cool, like The Beatles just touched down on American soil for the first time. Diehard “JOficionados” (Copyright) spiked an energy that can be neither bottled nor explained, as they were harder than any diamond for glam-rock JoJo. And his mousy new friend. And white hat Michael Jackson impersonator. And Water Golem (whose actual name is Aqua Necklace).

Now imagine myself – an outsider to the manga’s cult fame – who dashed from airport to theater after a three-hour-plus flight delay. Was it all just a malnourished exhaustion hallucination? That’s how it felt, and even as you read these words, I struggle to grasp what entered my eyeballs that night.

But I’m going to try.

Consider Takashi Miike’s Diamond is Unbreakable adaptation “Yu-Gi-Oh! meets Avatar meets Liberace.” There are special people who can control “Stands” – these ethereal entities that possess unique powers. Only other “Stand” users can see rival “Stands.” Josuke Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki), a Fonz-like high school student, is one of these users. His “Stand” – Shining Diamond – has a healer’s touch (along with fists of fury). You don’t mess with a “Stand,” as displayed when Josuke “helps” new-kid Koichi Hirose (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) by chasing off some bullies who insulted his immaculate tuft of hair.

Pay attention, because this is a major plot point (no, seriously). Josuke repeatedly comes off as a hero in the film’s early scenes, only because someone dissed his “do.” Otherwise, the “Stand” controlling brat would have just walked away, never interjecting farther than a quippy remark.

Enter a dude who looks like he drives a sketchy ice cream truck that parents keep their kids away from. This is Jotaro Kujo (Yûsuke Iseya), Josuke’s nephew despite being many years older. A murderer is on the loose, a man named Anjuro Katagiri (Takayuki Yamada), who Jotaro takes interest in. Why? Because we’ve now met three “Stand” users – Josuke, Jotaro and Anjuro. It turns out that Anjuro was bow-and-arrowed by some mullet braided punk in Josuke’s class named Keicho Nijimura (Masaki Okada). His arrow can turn humans into “Stand” users if they’re “selected,” and he’s up to no good. Keicho and brother Okuyasu Nijimura (Mackenyu), who – you guessed it – is another “Stand” user, become Josuke’s rivals of sorts.

Oh, and that’s just the beginning. Miike’s intent is to build the JoJo-verse brick by brick, coated in rich mythologies and rhinestone showiness. The problem is, the more characters involved, the more daunting a task this becomes.

There’s so much to process between Josuke’s unconventional bloodline, rules about “Stand” usage and characters like Yukako Yamagishi (Nana Komatsu) who are given little purpose or backstory (coming from an outsider). Miike battles against a 2-hour length only to produce something that feels doubly long. I know we complain about franchises splitting movies into part-ones-and-twos (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, for example), but JoJo’s first live-action run might have been more digestible in a smaller bite, not leaving you with a heavy stomach full of hair gel and demon water.

Alternatively, what Miike accomplishes by way of action and oddities is slap-your-cheeks insanity. At any given moment, you’ll comprehend zero percent of what’s happening, yet be hypnotized by colors, creative lunacy and animated chaos.

“Stand” fights blend holographic visuals with totem representation that spans a signature plethora of user-by-user designs. Costume detailing flaunts flamboyant fabrics in Josuke’s trenchcoat “Stand” mafia. Hair and makeup magicians craft poofy masterpieces that define theme and tone (Jotaro’s upwardly spiked back-hat-hair to later Super Saiyan influences). Melodramatic sentiments lead into the most bonkers, batshit-crazy interactions – like Josuke describing how he cut up a rubber glove, swallowed it, then used his “Stand” to trap the water monster in his belly before his inerts erupted. The title of this motion picture is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure AND IT’S NO LIE.

But, as previously alluded to, all is not bodies exploding into blue starbursts and Digimon-esque “Stand” forms. Miike and writer Itaru Era pull the old “multiple ending” route and eventually drive momentum into a brick wall.

Anjuro is positioned as the big-bad of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, setting up an epic CG-laced battle in Josuke’s flooded kitchen. Brawling spills outside, Josuke serves eternal punishment to Anjuro – and then the movie proceeds through what seems like three more acts. Turns out Anjuro is only a mini-boss, and the true boss battle pits Josuke against his brotherly competition (Keicho and Okuyasu). We sit through another mini-boss battle (Okuyasu), leading to what must  be the grand finale. Keicho’s Worst Company (his “Stand” is a shrunken military outfit complete with attack choppers, rockets and tanks) squares off against Shining Diamond, there are some surprises and a victor emerges! The film finally ends with – wait, it doesn’t end yet? Another TREMENDOUSLY BIG reveal is dropped after two ending points have played out? Unfortunately, yes.

The third (fifth? seventh?) act’s tug-of-war is like slamming into a brick wall on repeat, no matter how much fun you might’ve had/been having to that point. Gaping plot holes permit each “twist,” like how Jotaro and his time-stopping abilities are nowhere to be found during Josuke’s climatic stand-off (might have been useful). Cinematically, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable is uneven, cobbled haphazardly and causes fatigue. Even with the introduction of a skull-grilled car “Stand” who breaks through a window, strikes and then pulls a Hot-Wheels-esque escape. Out of nowhere.

But as a live-action manga built on the cornerstones of fashion, fighting and rebellious musical accompaniment? JoJo walks the catwalk with “Stand-sational” swagger and helps accentuate the J-rock awesomeness of Miike’s most exciting face-offs. Actors manage their overly-caricatured high school arcs with either greaser coolness or sweaty-palmed anxiety, all while Miike does what Japanese cinema does best – gets really, unapologetically weird. And sporadically gruesome. Then sappy and sentimental, because that’s how Japanese cinema rolls.

Blemishes aside, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable is a frenetic party watch for those who can make sense of Miike’s seat-of-his-pants vision. For the rest of us? Get ready for a wig-tastic royal rumble that expounds upon its own incomprehensible nuttiness, and have a blast questioning what sweet manga madness is unfolding before you.

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web: