Today I watched Takashi Miike’s As the Gods Will (2014)
As the Gods Will is an adaptation of a manga in which high school students are subjected to brutal and surprisingly juvenile death games for an inscrutable purpose. Death games seems to be a popular trope in a lot of modern Japanese media, I blame Battle Royale. In the case of this film, the games themselves are of the most juvenile nature, a red light green light style game, a cat and mouse game, and it even ends with a game of honest to goodness kick the can. The childlike nature of the playground games amplifies one of the core pillars of the death game genre, dramatic irony with lethal consequences. Throughout the film we follow Shun Takahata, a bored high schooler who just wanted his life to be interesting, little did he know it would end up with so many of his friends dying is a sick game, he is played by Sota Fukushi. Right there you can see the primary theme of this film, a sort of careful what you wish for message about how life really can be worse.
This film plays very well to Miike’s strengths, particularly his ability to work with complete tonal whiplash. The film is very funny because of so much of the over the top content and the ridiculous nature of the games themselves, but just as your laughing at the silliness of it all, someone dies horribly. And these are not just random deaths, Miike builds up emotional connections to these people before cutting them down in ironic and gruesome ways. The one issue I have with this setup is one I have with the genre in general, sometimes I the audience sees a solution that the characters don’t and it makes them look very stupid. But then again there are times when they do things that are really clever and I didn’t see coming and in those moments and the moments of absurd irony that the crux of this genre and this film lies and it certainly delivers enough of those moments.
The main theme of this film is a rather simple one but Miike elaborates on it in some interesting ways. One possible failing of the ‘appreciate what you have’ theme is that it can be interpreted to be a cop out response to actually trying to fix real problems. Miike does not stumble into this trap as he also comes off as highly critical of random cruelties in society, reflected in the absurd brutality of the games themselves. The most obvious criticism is of selfish thinking and of putting yourself before those around you, something many of the games prey upon. Despite the comical gonzo nature of much of the film’s content, I can’t help but interpret a deep seated frustration with the selfishness of modern culture behind it all.
As the Gods Will is a film so subversive it subverts it’s own themes into something else. This ideological depth is wrapped up in some wonderfully entertaining nonsense like murderous Matryoshka dolls. The way that the plot shifts moods from doomed and dramatic to comical slapstick is really fascinating to witness and Miike makes it amplify the impact of the more emotional moments, his young cast of hot new talent certainly helps as well. It takes a simple theme and without infringing on the entertaining concepts, really explores it and stretches the ideas in interesting ways. This film delivers an entertaining and wildly thrilling ride that blends silliness and goriness into a very satisfying whole. 5/5