Trying to explain Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure using words might be a lost cause, but let’s give it a shot anyway and see how far we get. The franchise, originally a manga by Hirohiko Aki, chronicles the adventures of the Joestar family, a patrilineal line of absurdly athletic men usually named Jojo, and usually caught up in some kind of (you guessed it) bizarre adventure. The series has been adapted into anime form twice, with the most recent adaptation clocking in at over one hundred episodes. Even by anime standards, Jojo is notorious for its over-the-top action, ridiculous storylines, and rampant homoeroticism, and a live-action adaptation is a hard thing to imagine for anyone familiar with the series. If anyone is crazy enough to try though, it’s Japanese auteur and Fantasia Festival darling Takashi Miike. When approaching adaptations of anime, manga, or games, Miike has a tendency to eschew realism or grounding in favor of slavish recreation of the aesthetics of whatever he’s making at the time. In an odd way though, Miike seems to have toned this instinct down for Jojo – at least a little. It’s still Miike, so the ridiculous hairstyles and action of the source material are still completely intact, but fans of Miike, Jojo, or both may find themselves surprised at how restrained the film is, in addition to how coherent it is in spite of its origins.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable adapts the fourth major storyline in the Jojo saga, following highschooler Josuke “Jojo” Higashikata in his quest to solve a strange series of murders in his small, idyllic town. Jojo is one of several characters able to use a “Stand,” a kind of psychic avatar of the user’s will or fighting spirit. A mysterious party has been using a bow and arrow of unknown origins to transform ordinary people into Stand users, creating havoc in the town of Morioh. Naturally, Jojo and his friends are the only ones who can put a stop to this, setting them off on the first of many adventures together.
Manga and anime adaptations can be an extremely tricky venture, especially in the case of long-running properties with very intricate, involved storylines and lore. All of this is certainly true of Jojo, with the added wrinkle that Diamond is Unbreakable also takes partway through the saga. With all that in mind, it’s almost astonishing that the film isn’t completely and utterly baffling to non-fans – instead it’s just mildly so. All the earmarks of an adaptation are present: characters will come and go freely, sometimes casting doubt over who the actual protagonist is, the ending leaves a number of unanswered questions and dangling threads, and some moments of importance may be somewhat confusing to casual viewers. However, all that having been said, Jojo’s A to B to C narrative is surprisingly coherent. We always know more or less who everyone is, what the stakes are, and what the end goal of any given scene is.
That tendency carries over to Jojo’s visuals which look…..well, “restrained” is a term that you should understand is still used very loosely here. This is still Miike, so when one character from the source material shows up, he still looks as though his hair is growing up the sides of his hat like moss. All the same, the film’s overall aesthetic eschews the rainbow explosion aesthetics of the anime in favor of something a little bit more grounded, relatively speaking. Overall, it’s a decent middle-ground between something like Miike’s Yatterman movie and more grounded efforts like his Crows adaptions.
That is, until the fight scenes, which see the characters summoning CGI monsters (and in one case a tiny army complete with tanks and helicopters) to do battle for them. It’s at these points that Miike’s influence becomes crystal clear, and Diamond is Unbreakable comes closer to being the live-action cartoon you might have expected. On that subject, the action is punchy and fun, even if it eschews any choreography in favor of CGI monsters duking it out while the human characters yell at each other from the sidelines. The CGI is on the cartoony side, but at this point that’s to be expected.
This Fantasia has been a good one for manga and adaptations overall. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable may not hit the high point that Tokyo Ghoul set this very same year for cohesive and interesting storytelling, but it does far better with the bonkers source material than one might expect, presenting something that should leave longtime fans satisfied and newcomers only mildly confused. At the end of the day, what else can you ask for from a Miike movie?
FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL • JULY 13 – AUGUST 2, 2017