Disclaimer: I have not read nor watched any other Jojo works before.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable is a live-action adaptation based on the fourth arc of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The film follows the protagonist Higashikata Josuke on his quest to investigate the sudden appearance of disturbances around his hometown and his encounters with various Stand (special powers within the Jojo universe) users along the way.
Plot and Directing
The plot was average, as it was not particularly outstanding nor did it cause much cringing. The first half of the film was mostly about introducing the characters and relationships and setting up the conflict with suspenseful tracking of the culprit, while the second half had a more balanced dose of action and drama. Although the proportion of scenes remained largely in favour of action and plot, the opportunities for emotional scenes were weaved in and dispersed among the various main characters, albeit mostly in the second half. For example, when Okayasu and Josuke fought, it was interrupted with the heart-clenching scene of Koichi, heightening the tension and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Josuke’s dogged determination was also touching and further highlighted the righteousness in Josuke’s character. The one thing that surprisingly overrode the rest, however, was the final scene showing the Nijimura brothers’ loyalty and love for each other and that added a bittersweet touch to the film.
Miike used the tried and tested action film formula where there were multiple small peaks of action culminating in a final big one with a standard strategy for ensuring space for a sequel. It was a very safe and steady route. The conflict and universe were first introduced, then something happened to induct the hero with a sense of regret and mission, and the quest for revenge and good over evil commenced. This was followed by the addition of allies and the defeat of the Big Bad with a past and reasons that the audience could sympathise with, an emotional moment, and finally, there was a setup to a sequel. I can say that it was pretty well-executed with no big and persistent plot holes, unlike certain Miike films. For some reason however, this resulted in the odd lingering feeling that it was a bit too formulaic and predictable. There were no surprises of any sort and things were rather straightforward. The supposed climax also felt less satisfactory because the rush to move on and set up for a possible sequel was obvious, though such a feeling was thankfully partially remedied by the main cast’s performance. In summary, the more conservative structure both became a strength and a weakness of the film.
Cinematography and Visual Effects
The CGI was of a fair standard. It was not out of this world, but it was decent enough and was not cringe-inducing. The CGI complemented the style and atmosphere of the film and fit right in, and both had this unique old-school vibe to it. The quality and style of it was also consistent throughout the film.
There was also a short opening sequence like the ones that usually happen before an anime episode. It was polished and complemented the aesthetics of Jojo. The opening had slightly more modern elements that were similar to the vectors used in the animations for vocaloid music videos, while still retaining a retro feel.
Although Miike has his ups and downs, the technical aspects of his films are usually consistent enough and the same goes for Jojo. His issues tended to lie in continuity (e.g. Kamisama no iu Toori), but he did a good job this time and it was one of the stronger technical aspects in Jojo. One of my favourite scenes was the entrance of Higashikata Josuke (Yamazaki Kento). The reaction of Koichi (Kamiki Ryunosuke) to the bullies was first presented, then Kamiki did a reaction away from the bullies towards another direction and the camera lingered long enough to have the bullies also turn their attention, thereby heightening the audience’s curiosity and expectation. A pair of legs confidently strode down the path in slow-motion and with amplified shoe sounds to create drama while the sound of what seemed like strings played a very low key to stir up a feeling of unease. The next shot focused only on Josuke’s torso, and the absence of his face turned the suspense up another notch, as the camera panned upwards and casually showed a blurred outline of an emblem on his shoulder, while the audio was joined by an electric guitar and the strings shifted to a higher key, signalling heightened tension. A quick cut to a crystal clear shot of the emblem cut occurred right after, alongside a reverberating beat of a drum, revealing his identity as Josuke. A shot of Josuke from the back followed, which was ingenious as it allowed the audience to simultaneously see the reactions of Koichi and the bullies. Even at that point, Miike and his cinematographer preferred to show conflict through the path of motion that their characters took. Josuke’s feet appeared to approach the group, but swerved to actually go around them as the bully shifted his own in response to block his exit. One only saw the bully’s triumphant face as Josuke continued on, which also successfully implied that Josuke originally intended to ignore them, hence the initial non-showing of his face in the camera. Although it was a classic big entrance, the highlight was in the execution, which flowed naturally within the order of events.
I feel that Yamazaki Kento was kind of overshadowed: the writing did him a disservice as Josuke felt too much like a two-dimensionally brash egoistic ass for the first half and the spotlight ended up being stolen by Kamiki Ryunosuke’s more subtly coward Koichi and Iseya Yusuke’s suave Jotaro. In the second half, the film was more focused on plot, so the audience got caught up in trying to gear up for the showdown. Simply put, Yamazaki did sufficiently well, but there were not many opportunities for him to show layers in his performance. I wished that they did not make Josuke into such an egoistic and cocksure (and rude) boy that appeared to be all brawn in the first part of the film. The fact that Josuke was all hung up on his appearance and video games was irritating because it got a bit repetitive and it was going the route of playing with the privileged schoolboy stereotype, and this resulted in a rather one-dimensional and irritating caricature of the character. It certainly did not help that his negligence (due to video games!) played a part in his grandfather’s death.
However, I was comforted when Josuke displayed his more intelligent side to outwit Angelo. Experience watching Yamazaki tells me that part of the blame probably falls on the characterisation he was asked to present by the team. It was also unfortunate that being a shounen manga adaptation and Josuke being someone always up for a fight, Yamazaki was doing a lot of Stand using and he didn’t have much of a chance to do emotional acting. Much of his time in the first half was used taunting his opponent, acting cool, and fighting. Thankfully, Josuke was better in the second half and also whenever he was not trying to show off to girls, in other words, when he was with Koichi and their interactions take the spotlight, and Yamazaki and Kamiki draw each other out. I was glad when the showdown with Keicho offered a chance for all the actors to show more emotional depth after the endless action as the protagonists were pushed to the edge. Nonetheless, Yamazaki did well with what he was given and it was a refreshing departure from the deluge of tamer shoujo characters that he had been portraying. It would be good to see him go on to darker roles to counter his current image and diversify further.
On the other hand, Hirose Koichi served as a foil to the more aggressive Josuke. He received an unexpectedly large chunk of screen time despite being a largely non-combatant character. It was enjoyable watching his face morph ever so slightly and it felt as if Miike knew and capitalised on it by giving him many close-ups. A quirk of the eyebrow here; a hesitant swallow there. He brought his character to life and Kamiki’s face told more of the story and of Hirose Koichi than the plot or the lines did.
The character initially appeared straightforward as the friendliness of Koichi was similar to Kamiki’s real personality, but he did not choose to take the easy route of playing himself and instead portrayed the amiability on Koichi’s terms. The character was also not as simple as it appeared, as Kamiki had to display the meek side of Koichi yet also be someone who could erase his gentle image when he was angered. Someone who did real-life combat once said he was surprised that Kamiki had the killing aura in Samurai Sensei, and once again, Kamiki emitted it when Koichi was angered. One totally got the feeling that serious things were going to go down. The anger was suitable in this case, because it matched and was consistent with the cute and friendly image of Koichi, so the slight off-kilter feeling actually enhanced the experience as one was supposed to be taken aback from such an outburst by Koichi. However, Kamiki can still make further improvements, especially in terms of Anger. As mentioned above, subtlety is his actual true specialty, so pure rage is naturally more inclined away from his forte as it requires unbridled intensity, whereas Kamiki’s intensity is a deep dark hole that sucks one in and the restraint and bubbling undercurrent are the attractive features. The outburst was still slightly below what I would have desired as a performance of pure rage, but once again, I mentioned that his current display of anger was appropriate in this situation because it happened to fit with this character. Kamiki has continued to improve with each project and this level and quality of anger was something that he would probably be less capable of drawing out if it was before 2014.
And now, Okada Masaki. Undeniably the star of the film. He stole the spotlight whenever he appeared. I was impressed with him of late because he was absolutely enjoyable in both Gintama and Jojo, and he has improved so much since his early days and he continues to do so. Not many actors can do justice to an androgynous beautiful man who is also villainous, avoid being irritating, and also make the audience sympathise with him. I love how Okada’s Keicho showed deeply moving concern and fear for Okayasu in one of the final scenes, and the fate of his character was bittersweet. Interestingly, Okada’s eyes and mouth deeply expressed the character despite him having to don a cold countenance most of the time. Each smirk, each look he casted with his eyes, they all contributed to the characterisation of Keicho. I was in awe–when did Okada become so skilful? He had potential in the past and was not a terrible actor, just merely less consistent than desired, but his recent outings in Gintama and Jojo have provided sufficient proof to critics that he has upped his game and can effectively steal scenes with side characters. Words fail to describe his performance, and I leave it to you readers to find out for yourself. I personally wish to see more of Okada in complex roles that will challenge his interpretation even further.
Playing Okada’s character’s brother is the actor Mackenyu, who really embodied Okuyasu, despite the film not having much focus on the character. He had a fantastic feral grin that could display emotions running from bloodlust and interest in the enemy, to the cautious sizing up of an opponent. His facial expressions and mannerisms were also well done, conveying the fact that he is the brawn of the Nijimura brothers and the more childish of the duo, but still retaining the powerful grace befitting of a fighter. He is one to watch, as to my amazement, I could not find much trace of the actor himself during the performance.
Iseya Yusuke’s Jotaro participated in one major scene, but was mostly not actively present, especially in the second part of the film. Despite his character being there for mostly expositional reasons, Iseya exuded wonderful stage presence and made Jotaro memorable despite a lack of focus on him. He has been doing various side roles of late, but has always managed to steal scenes whenever he appears.
Komatsu Nana as Yukako was largely inconsequential except to function as an addition of oestrogen to the largely male cast and as a means to emphasise Koichi’s weaker personality as opposed to the rest of the cast. Nonetheless, the difficulties probably faced by Miike and his team were understandable. The story had its own focus and there was not much opportunity to fit Yukako into the equation, yet she was still a major character and the female lead. Nonetheless, he could perhaps have tried allowing her to assist in combat in the fight with the Nijimura brothers.
All in all, Jojo was a decent film where the cinematography was lovely and the acting was the one element that pleasantly surprised. Miike may be inconsistent even when the calibre of his cast is high, but this film is not one of those failed outings. One may come for the original work it was based on, but the acting will have you walking out feeling largely satisfied, even if the film may not leave a very deep impression.
[usrlist Story:2.5 “Acting:3.5” “Directing:2.7” “Technical merits:3″ avg=”true”]