Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sitges ’18: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure—Diamond is Unbreakable

Josuke (Jojo) Higashikata is a lot like Fonzie. He has the hair, but he can easily top Fonzarelli’s finger snap. Jojo smashes things up and then put them back together again with the help of his avatar-like “stand.” “Stand-wielding” is similar to the powers of the secret sub-species in the manga-based films Ajin: Demi-Human and Tokyo Ghoul, but Jojo’s franchise got there first, predating the other two by twenty-some years. Genre auteur Takashi Miike finally gives the series the live-action treatment in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Sitges Film Festival.

Jojo is the big man on campus in the fictional seaside town of Morioh. The powers of his stand certainly help, but it is mostly due to his hair. He certainly makes quite an impression on starry-eyed transfer student Koichi Hirose. In fact, he hardly notices his assigned study partner, Yukako Yamagishi, which shows highly questionable priorities.

Regardless, Hirose often happens to be around when Jojo uses his powers, but it is all an impossible blur to make out for anyone who is not a stand-user themselves. As it happens, there are many stand-users in town, including Jojo’s long lost nephew (who is old enough to be his uncle) Jotaro Kujo. In their case, stand-wielding is a family thing. However, the sinister Keicho Nijimura has a bow-and-arrow that converts average civilians into stand-wielders. Angelo Katagiri has been recently turned, but he already feels like he has a grudge to settle with Jojo and his family.

In many ways, Bizarre Adventure follows a roughly similar narrative to Ajin: Demi-Human and Tokyo Ghoul, but, on one hand, the stakes are considerably lower, while on the other, Jojo’s characters are much more fully fleshed out. It is rather amusing to watch Kento Yamazaki strut about as Jojo, making like everything makes perfect sense. He also develops some sweet and ultimately rather poignant chemistry with his police officer grandfather, Ryohei Higashikata, played with genuine warmth and dignity by Jun Kunimura.

Ryunosuke Kamiki’s Hirose is so appealingly earnest and guileless, it is hard to believe he is a teenager. Nana Komatsu is sadly under-utilized as Yamagishi, but the closing scenes coyly imply she will have a larger role to play in a promised sequel. Takayuki Yamada gets his creepy Doug Jones on as Katagiri, but Masaki Okada’s Nijimura is a bit bland for a stand-wielding super-villain.

Kunimura and Yamazaki are nice together, but much of the “Bizarre narrative feels familiar. Still, Miike ushers us into a compelling fantasy world—very much like our own, but different in strange and idiosyncratic ways. Recommended for established Miike and Jojo fans, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable screens this Friday (10/12), during Sitges.