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This is the story of two JoJos. One is a fun, but fatally flawed new movie from Takashi Miike. The other is a squeal-inducing adventure alongside favorite characters that thrills with heart attack intensity each time it brings a manga page to life. In other words, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable – Chapter 1 was made solely for fans of Hirohiko Araki’s manga, and not so much for me.

The crew of JoJo die-hards that sat in front of me at the Fantasia Fest opening night screening consistently lost their minds at every character intro and moment lifted from the original story. They screamed at lines of dialogue that seemed totally innocuous. They even roared when one character says she’s going to eat an Italian restaurant.For an outsider, the experience of watching it with a crowd of fanatics is about as alienating and delighting as it gets, and it’s clear that their reaction demands its own voice in any review.

Energetic and imaginative, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure focuses on a cooler-than-Fonzie high school student with the ability to create a “Stand,” a psychically linked fighter that appears, ghost-like, when summoned. Josuke Higashikata (Kento Yamazaki), a.k.a. JoJo, is softly handsome with a futuristic rockabilly pompadour that he takes deadly serious (he’s easily Marty McFlyed into fighting if you dis his ‘do). He speaks with a foggy air of detachment that draws his many admirers even wilder.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

We meet him through timid transfer student Koichi Hirose (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), who’s menaced first by bullies and then by the creepy Yukako Yamagishi (Nana Komatsu) who is crushing hard on the new kid in town.

JoJo’s grandfather Ryohei (veteran actor Jun Kunimura) is the chief of police in the sleepy coastal hamlet of Morioh, the epitome of safe, small-town life…except for its pesky local serial killer. After the mad murderer Anjuro Katagiri escapes from the long arm of Ryohei’s law, he’s shot in the throat with a mystical arrow by the tall-haired Keicho Nijimura (Masaki Okada) and gains the ability to be a Stand User who manipulates all forms of water. He’s given a great power, and he wants revenge on Ryohei.

If you’re confused at all, that’s tough. Firmly in his mainstream phase, director Takashi Miike drops a lot in your lap without warning. Some of it earns expository explanation from JoJo’s older-for-no-reason nephew Jotaro Kujo (Yûsuke Iseya) when he shows up with his time-stopping Stand, and some of it never gets explained at all. These weird elements come like jabs and uppercuts that you have to roll with to avoid getting knocked out. Meanwhile, those who already speak the secret language of the series are cheering and rolling in the aisles.

The style of this live-action cartoon from Miike is surprisingly and pleasantly subdued. A cousin of Scott Pilgrim, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is like Sin City in broad daylight. The attention to detail is incredible, and the result is a movie that uses real people and places to look like an anime. The film bubbles with the look of real life augmented by a mystical reality and the dialogue tempo of a comic book, creating an inviting world that seems like it could plausibly be hiding just beneath the surface of our own. It’s populated by fantastic, bold designs (both on this astral plane and in the realm of the Stands) and characters that pop and sizzle. Miike relishes in the fan service, introducing almost every character as a blurry figure in the background of something else going on (backed by a Linkin Park-lite soundtrack) waiting to come into focus to wild applause.

The Stands are clever and sharp in their execution. JoJo’s is a fierce, pink-armored warrior who can heal others. Villainous Okuyasu Nijimura (Mackenyu), brother of the villainous Keicho Nijimura, has a log-headed warrior who erases stuff (empty space, whole people) with his electric right hand. Anjuro’s water Stand looks like Ultron and Hellboy got drunk and made bad decisions together. These fights add flashing bursts of energy to a story where one character learns that it’s okay to change your destiny while another learns to accept his.

The first half sails, sometimes edging on spoof territory with a knowing wink. Miike and the team get that they’re making a living cartoon with all its strange intangibles in tact, and they take it seriously, but it’s still a cartoon. It’s consistently funny both because of the material itself and because of how far the production leans into the ridiculously of it all.

Jojo Bizarre Adventure

Unfortunately, the second half is unbelievably slow, and it’s bogged down even further by plot elements that keep appearing out of left field like dead baseball players from Ray Kinsella’s corn. The entirety of it takes place in the bad brothers’ dilapidated mansion where Jojo and Koicho face off against them in a climactic battle that keeps taking breaks. The fight pacing breaks down during the slogging final confrontation, so that characters talk more than punch, leaving the fatal danger of it all feeling wimpy, like a magician telling you to hold on as he frantically scrambles to shove playing cards up his sleeve mid-trick.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure then refuses to end. It reaches a conclusion only to introduce a new conflict. Then resolves that. And introduces another. As if they couldn’t settle on the big boss Jojo should face and decided to toss all of them into the pot. It’s episodic and manic, and even the fans sitting in front of me were checking their watches. That’s the most bizarre element of the adventure, although the massive misstep in plotting takes a twee, innocent film with brutal murders into full-on David Lynch territory. Maybe the manga offers all of these flavors for the taking. Maybe Miike, after more than 100 movies, still doesn’t feel totally comfortable within the confines of a mainstream studio.

As someone who’s never read the manga, I found it was an initial joy to watch that ultimately disappointed. But those super fans who sat in front of me left the theater on a major high.

3 out of 5 soul-punching burritos


Images: Toho Company

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