As the Gods Will, As Miike Takashi Does
Fantasia Film Festival 2016
There’s an old saying that goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and Miike Takashi will make another movie.” I may not have that exactly right, but it’s accurate for the prolific Japanese director who fifty-plus movies into his twenty-five year filmmaking career shows no sign of slowing down. Sure, the quality of much of his output suggests he might benefit from a more relaxed pace, but when he’s on he’s capable of delivering some incredible, cross-genre cinema with the likes of Happiness of the Katakuris, Visitor Q, Fudoh: The Next Generation, and others among them.
He’s not quite on with As the Gods Will.
“God, my life is very boring,” says high school student Shun (Fukushi Sota) to no one in particular, but he no quicker asks for relief then his life is turned upside down with the arrival of an angry head named Daruma (for the doll style). The being blows up their teacher’s head and forces the class into a deadly game of Red Light Green Light that leaves the walls and floors painted red. Shun survives the game but moves on to second round involving other students and a giant Maneki-neko cat. The games continue, and as the survivors dwindle the answers increase revealing that the same thing is happening all around the world.
News broadcasts see global panic spreading as millions of teenagers have their heads exploded by game-masters in giant, floating cubes hovering over the Earth’s cities. Can anything be done to stop it? Probably not, but for Japan at least this scenario carries an air of the familiar.
Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale started the cinematic trend in 2000 of high-school students finding themselves in bloody life and death scenarios, and it remains the best of the bunch. Similar films – teenage carnage married to themes of Japan’s casually violent youth – followed, but only Sion Sono’s recent Tag managed to balance gory fun with real dramatic weight.
Based on a popular manga, as is apparently required by law for filmmakers in Japan, Miike’s As the Gods Will sets up an intriguing premise but fails to nail tone, purpose, or anything resembling an emotional connection with the characters.
Things grow increasingly goofy, and combined with the visual of the exploding teens – their heads burst into hundreds of red marbles with only bloody splotches on the walls and shirts to suggest the goriness of their demise – it’s difficult to grow invested in their predicament. Their behaviors don’t help either. Granted, who knows how you’d react to an expressive doll head murdering your classmates, but again and again they act stupidly despite clear time constraints and “rules” of the game.
Shen is more developed obviously as the hero of the tale, but time devoted to a possible love interest fails to find value or reach a satisfying denouement. His musings on the point of this attack and the meaning of life are heavy-handed but land with trite effect. At nearly two hours the film’s themes and set pieces aren’t enough to maintain the interest generated by the bloody, nutty, and chaotic first act.
Miike’s recent Lesson of the Evil focused on classroom carnage too, but it’s of a far more grounded variety. It’s a crueler film, but it weaves the violence into a story and character roster that earn and validate viewers’ attention. Here though we’re left with little more than mildly fun set-pieces in search of meaning. Fans of the director should give As the Gods Will a watch as his visual insanity is in full effect, but as is typically the case with god-related scenarios any further desires will be left unfulfilled.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival