by Kim Morrissy,

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable - Chapter 1

Live-Action Film

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable - Chapter 1
In 1999, a mystical Arrow that can manifest latent Stand abilities travels throughout Morioh. High schooler Josuke Higashikata and his friends are thrust into a new world they never knew existed, as they're forced to face off against deadly Stand users while trying to uncover the mysteries of the Arrow and how to stop its wielder.

Live-action adaptations of manga tend to have a poor reputation, often criticized for their cheesy acting and amateur-looking special effects. Not all live-action adaptations fall into these pitfalls, however, and some of them hold up well as films in their own right. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable Chapter I is one such example. The film's tone and aesthetic are significantly darker than the original manga, but the action scenes and pacing are so on-point that it's hard for me to gripe.

In some ways, the film is actually an improvement over the source material. Instead of meandering for episodes at a time with “monster of the week” storylines, the film is tightly scripted and cohesive from start to finish. To achieve this, it removes some villains from the manga and merges the roles of others. For example, although the film centers on the Nijimura brothers arc, the main antagonist of the series is shown early in the film, performing a murder that was originally committed by a minor villain. This shuffled and reordered narrative is more focused than the original, so it ultimately works better as a feature-length film.

Nevertheless, I can see why JoJo devotees may not be inclined to give this one a shot. The manga's flamboyant style and bright colors are noticeably absent from the film, replaced by a dark and heavy story that feels much less fun to watch, even if the plot is essentially the same. The manga was always morbid and hyper-violent, but it never became uncomfortable to watch, because it was so over-the-top that it never felt real enough to be disturbing. This film, on the other hand, is much more grounded and realistic. Part of this change is inherent to a live-action format, but it also feels like a deliberate artistic decision. The film is shot primarily in dark rooms and alleyways, forcing the darkness of the JoJo story to the surface.

How much you get out of this film will probably depend on how much you like its director, Takashi Miike. Best known in the West for his horror films, his slick and often eccentric directing style is a good fit for a story called JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. This isn't one of his best films, but it does do that Miike thing where even the most surreal events play out in a completely straight-faced manner. No matter how ridiculous the story sounds on paper or how outlandish the character's costumes are, it's all treated in such a matter-of-fact way that you quickly come to accept the internal logic of the film. Miike doesn't appear to be going for strict realism here, but he does succeed in creating a world where the audience can accept the fantastical elements of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.

This is especially apparent with the Stands, the supernatural fighting avatars iconic to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. In the film, they generally manifest in dimly lit rooms, making their forms somewhat difficult to make out. As a vague existence, they don't draw too much attention to themselves, which actually works for the film. They manage to blend into the world without standing out as CG effects. It's easier to accept that the Stands could really exist in this universe, making their violent potential all the more menacing. Even viewers familiar with the story will probably feel some tension when the extended Stand battles play out.

The film does stumble in its attempts to replicate the emotional beats of the manga. The climax of the Nijimura brothers' story feels oddly out of place in a story that otherwise frames tragic events in a down-to-earth manner. Josuke's relationships with Jotaro and his grandfather suit the tone of the film better, despite (or perhaps because) their scenes are given less dramatic weight. It does seem at times, especially in the latter half of the film, that Miike's vision for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure clashes directly with the story Hirohiko Araki told.

Overall, however, the film is a surprisingly decent adaptation of the manga that's accessible to viewers who haven't been exposed to previous parts of the JoJo story, given that almost all mentions of parts I-III are omitted. As long as you understand the concept of Stands, the story's action should be fairly easy to follow. Even if you're not invested in the characters of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the film does a good job of introducing them and even making them feel like real people at times.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable Chapter I is not Miike's best film. It's not even his most bizarre film, despite the title. But it does have a clear visual personality to make it stand out as more than just a live-action adaptation of a popular manga. Despite changing the atmosphere and tone of the original story, this film gets the most important things right, like the Stands and the action scenes. It's certainly no replacement for the comic, but if you're interested in seeing an alternative, more down-to-earth interpretation of the JoJo franchise, this adaptation is definitely worth checking out.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+

+ Presents a more digestible version of the manga's story, Stand fights are portrayed well
Doesn't capture the goofy fun of the original, some emotional moments fail to resonate

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