Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu
Guillotinecutter. Episode. Dramaturgy. Three powerful vampire-slaying professionals, all defeated by one Koyomi Araragi. The servant of Kiss-shot has succeeded in his impossible quest, and now it's time to reap his reward. But neither Araragi nor Kiss-shot seem entirely happy with this turn of events. Is a happy ending truly that easy to acquire? And if ending this wound tale requires someone to be miserable, what was any of it for?
We generally have certain expectations regarding endings. We expect, if not happiness, at least some sense of finality. Some kind of closure to a story's dramatic journey. We have followed characters through some clear ordeal, and though nothing truly ends, we'd like to think we saw at least one cohesive chapter in their lives. For their sakes, and for our own.
Kizumonogatari's third film does not offer a clean ending. It ends in misery for everyone, but it's not even a clear, defined misery with an obvious start and end point. It's born of the fundamental natures of the characters we've come to know, with Araragi's stoic, selfish martyrdom seeming as much an inescapable fact as Kiss-shot's vampiric nature. As Araragi himself says, “this is the story of our precious wounds that we'll never recover from.”
Kizumonogatari III's execution is almost as messy and frustrating as its intentional inconclusiveness. Many of the strange techniques that Tatsuya Oishi has used throughout reach their apotheosis here, and not always for the better. The embracing of traditionally animated characters navigating three dimensional, CG spaces is constant and unignorable, and at times threatened to draw me out of the film entirely. A scene will shift from the moodily lit suggestion of a broken carcass to a severed CG head flopping in someone's hand, daring you to believe in this world as a coherent place. The entire final act takes place in a massive CG stadium, where glorious traditionally animated highlights are undercut by the tepid, computer-generated illusion of backgrounds.
At other times, Kizumonogatari's brazen iconoclasm lets it soar to even greater heights. As with the first film, much of this act's emotional content is conveyed entirely through sound and motion. Araragi and Kiss-shot's victorious celebration on the roof brings them closer in a visceral sense, their joy and laughter captured with such sensory abandon that it's instantly contagious. The film's climactic battle shifts so carelessly between grotesque violence and slapstick that its senselessness is felt even before the story pulls its final, context-flipping twist. Araragi and Hanekawa's breathless meeting in the equipment shed feels damp and messy and accidentally funny even without their awkwardly charming commentary.
Some parts of this film are made broken by their allusions to other stories. When Hanekawa pleads with Araragi to find some value in his own life, the imagery intentionally evokes Sugar Sweet Nightmare, a Bakemonogatari opening song separated from this film by a full season. When Kiss-shot describes the loss of her first minion, she's offering a new interpretation of a story raised in Second Season and solidified in Owarimonogatari, over fifty episodes into the television series. In the context of a standalone film, these choices parse as indulgent, clear nods to the fans. In the context of a rambling franchise, they underline the fact that nothing is ever finished - that these characters don't exist purely as vehicles for narrative resolution, and that even a simple story will reveal our contradictory motives and broken edges.
Of course, Kizumonogatari isn't really a simple story. This film ends with Araragi's initial quest already complete - he's regained Kiss-shot's limbs, and now can happily return to humanity. But before he can claim his reward, a last-second delay before accepting Kiss-shot's gift forces him to reckon with what he's really done. While Araragi was perfectly ready to sacrifice himself to save another, in this case, that “another” was a hungry, amoral vampire. And so Araragi must once again wager the value of his own life, and somehow find a way for everyone to be happy.
Like most of the Monogatari franchise, Kizumonogatari III focuses on the struggles of scarred and unhappy people as they attempt to either make peace with themselves or find connections with others. Their clashes are alternately violent and sexual, reflecting the messiness inherent in human relations. Araragi's selfishness and lack of self-regard are both crucial to this story, while Hanekawa's self-image and desires become clear in the margins. Both them and Kiss-shot feel almost uncomfortably real in this film, their desperate needs and failings rendered carefully and unflinchingly enough to make them sympathetic even in their ugliness. Only the narrative exposition feels at all protracted, with the need to explain complex situations coming across as less graceful in film than prose. When it comes to the personal exchanges, Kizumonogatari soars.
All of this ugliness and pain and bracing honesty comes to a head in the film's last act, where Araragi makes an awful choice that seems only to underline his lack of personal growth. Araragi overcame unthinkable odds, but overcoming unthinkable odds doesn't by itself make you grow up. Hanekawa accepts his choice, but her acquiescence might well reflect her own personal demons. Kiss-shot suffers her ultimate fate, but no one is truly happy. The film ends on a smile that offers nothing more than the promise of future pain. It's the right ending for this story.
Kizumonogatari III comes in a sleek white chipboard case, sitting nicely alongside its red and blue-themed predecessors and echoing the visual theming of the films themselves. That case houses a similarly familiar set of goodies, starting with a small collection of key art-laden postcards. The biggest prize is once again the additional production booklet, whose interviews this time open with a discussion between director Tatsuya Oishi and NisiOisin himself.
Their interview provides a fascinating mix of insights into the creation of both the Kizu films and the book that inspired them. Oishi mentions early on how the process of adapting Kizumonogatari seemed to highlight the madness of Hanekawa's perspective. Absent the myopic, Araragi-focused framing of the original novel, Hanekawa's actions come across as far more wild, an interesting and almost inescapable consequence of the adaptation's very different perspective. There are also tidbits in this segment about Nisio's writing process, where he reveals that he thought up “this is a story where everyone ends up unhappy” right when he first started writing Kizu, but didn't actually decide on how Oshino would resolve things until he reached the end.
The conversation between the two touches on a variety of other interesting creative process moments, like the fact that the initial conception of Kizumonogatari contained a male friend for Araragi, and the difficulty of conveying Nisio's description of Araragi's final battle as “hellish” in a visual sense. And it will likely come as little surprise to longtime Nisio fans to hear him admit that he doesn't really spare any thought for how sentences sound out loud when constructing dialogue; the written impact of the words comes first, and thus adaptations of his stories are forced to muddle through the best they can with his heightened, idiosyncratic prose. Overall, it's a rewarding interview that matches the high standard set by the previous Kizu releases.
The booklet also includes an illuminating interview between Oishi and two of his key production staff, before going on to offer dedicated commentary on a variety of single cuts from their respective key animators. Overall, this booklet offers a rare and welcome ground-floor glimpse into Kizu's creative process. Kizumonogatari is an astonishing film, and these handsome collections do it credit from the first volume to the last. I'm happy to see Aniplex do such credit to a film I'm sure I'll return to again and again.
Kizumonogatari stands as a unique highlight in the Monogatari saga, both apart from and deeply indebted to its parent series. The visual execution of this third act is the least graceful the film series has ever been, but it's also scattered with gorgeous animation highlights. The storytelling is a messy navigation of disjointed personal moments, but those personal moments are so well-realized they became their own reward. Tatsuya Oishi has constructed a bracing and bizarre interpretation of a story that was weird and sad and messy and profound all by itself. I love this broken film.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Lifted by astonishing highlights in character writing and visual execution, brings a great story to a satisfying end
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