Newly arrived at a picturesque Japanese town called Morioh, mild-mannered high school kid Koichi Hirose (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is drawn into the orbit of fellow student Josuke Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki): a swaggering badass with awesome pompadour hair and bizarre supernatural powers. Descended from a mystical bloodline, Josuke uses his uncanny abilities to save wimps like Koichi from bullies. Which leads him to intervene when Angelo (Takayuki Yamada), a serial-killer with similar super-powers, runs rampant through town. Only to find that the murderer is among many infected with strange abilities by a mysterious individual embroiled in a generations-spanning feud connected to Josuke's own family.
Takashi Miike adapting one of the notoriously loopiest manga serials ever concocted is as close to a perfect match of filmmaker and material as one could imagine. Yet his live-action version of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure doesn't quite hit the mark. Hirohiko Araki's mind-boggling 1987 manga fantasy first reached screens as a 1993 anime. Since then successive animated adaptations have extended its reputation beyond Japan into a worldwide cult phenomenon, siring countless memes and in-joke references on social media. A (fittingly) bizarre stew-pot of martial arts tropes, gothic horror, soap opera and countless references to western pop (including characters named after Iggy Pop, Mariah Carey, sixties rockers Cream, Bette Midler (!), and Dio along with a titular hero inspired by the Beatles' song 'Get Back' (a man who thought he was a loner, but knew it couldn't last)), Araki's sprawling saga spans multiple generations stretching from the Nineteenth century through Thirties New York, the Second World War through to the present day. Inevitably Miike's adaptation narrows the focus to one specific chapter. But while theoretically stripped down and accessible the plot remains too scattershot to serve as a suitable introduction for newbies.
With a pace that is strangely sedate both for a Miike movie and a Jojo adventure, the film ambles amiably through a set-up laden with portentous exposition and dense back-story. Miike handles the sporadic CGI-enhanced set-pieces as capably as fans would expect given his track record of live-action manga adaptations (most recently including fan-favourites Blade of the Immortal (2017), Terra Formars (2016) and The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (2013)). One standout sequence wherein the heroes face down a serial-killer with water-manipulation powers in a slowly flooding house climaxes proves especially suspenseful climaxing with an inspired punchline. However between highlights the film suffers frequent lulls and its episodic plot never coheres in a satisfactory manner. Led by scowling Kento Yamazaki, who in his brighter moments comes across like a Teen Beat version of Miike's 90's V-cinema era leading man Riki Takeuchi, the cast of pouting pretty boys can't quite capture the swagger of their animated counterparts. Nevertheless Miike swathes the ensemble in a suitably mystical ambiance and, if nothing else, ensures the costume and makeup departments do justice to Araki's wacky rockabilly-inspired chara designs.
Part suspense thriller, part off-kilter zombie apocalypse, part martial arts fantasy, the film assembles a large cast it does not know what to do with. As a result otherwise charismatic turns from the likes of Yusuke Iseya, as Josuke's dapper white-clad kinsman-cum-mentor, and Nana Komatsu, drop-dead gorgeous star of The World of Kanako (2015), as a sultry classmate with a possibly sinister interest in Koichi, fall by the wayside. Frankly Koichi does not bring much to the table either even though Ryunosuke Kamiki proves a likable presence. As so often with Miike's work the casual undertone of misogyny proves grating with women reduced to either inscrutable femmes fatale or giggly inane schoolgirl groupies. However it is less pronounced than in his early work and to be fair the source material does not feature many memorable female characters.
Where the film manages to succeed though is in charting Josuke's gradual maturing from cocky street punk who flips out anytime someone dares make fun of his awesome hair to empathetic hero whose compassion disarms both audience and enemies alike, turning opponents into allies. Indeed in switching focus to deal with Josuke's attempt to heal a broken family the third act kicks the dramatic weight up a notch to end on a pleasingly poignant and humane note. That said the film shamefully omits the manga's best character: Iggy the superpowerful talking dog. Which is inexcusable.
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.