As the Gods Will is a pretty strange movie. Imagine, if you will, a funnier, even more nihilistic version of Saw with a little bit of The Hunger Games or Battle Royale thrown in, and you get pretty close to what the film is. Adapted from the manga of the same name, the film features a series of deadly games that seem to be presented to young people as an alternative to the meaninglessness of their existence. It is a bizarre candidate for SineAsia’s localization, given how transgressive all this stuff is. But we got it, and though the narrative is a little shaggy, the movie is worth a look.
The begins with high school student Shun Takahata (Sota Fukushi) telling the heavens and whatever higher powers are out there that he thinks his life is boring. Much to his surprise and dismay, his life gets pretty exciting really quickly. A daruma suddenly lands in his classroom, killing the teacher. The daruma plays a deadly game of red light, green light with the class, with those caught moving having their heads suddenly explode. Shun and his classmates are put through one trial after another, each with violent consequences for failure.
Most films would be concerned with why this is all happening. As the Gods Will is not like most films. Its vision of the world is much more nihilist in nature, showing little rhyme or reason for all the terrible things that happen to characters. The main idea is in the title: it doesn’t really matter what the characters want, or what they do to achieve their goals. In the end, their fates are determined by higher powers that have little regard for human desires. There are little bits and pieces that hint at some sort of meaning behind all of this, but ultimately, the movie is happy to embrace absurdity as its primary motivator.
The film stays surprisingly close to the source material, adapting certain portions of the story that haven’t quite paid off yet. The narrative doesn’t quite work out as a result, with the film seemingly saving resolutions for a later installment of the franchise. The film gets better as it heads into its final portions, where it moves away from the manga and delivers its own take on the property’s themes. It gets deeper into the emotions of the characters, giving some of the tragedy a sense of weight and drama.
This is one of those films where the violence is actually crucial to the story, as the over-the-top nature of these deaths punctuate the absurdity of the situation. And director Takashi Miike is a master at the depiction of violence, his filmmaking often finding the odd beauty within the gore. He makes choices that makes the pain more interesting to look at, like the red spheres that accompany the exploding heads in the first game. The translation is okay, though it makes some choices that feel like it takes away from the original intent.
As the Gods Will, though really fascinating and well made, isn’t the kind of film for a mass audience. It is violent and nihilistic and culturally specific. For all of its merits, it’s tough to recommend it to the casual moviegoer. Those who are familiar with Japanese cinema, however, are probably already sold on the Miike name. Surprisingly, this film has made it into our cinemas largely intact, with just the language being modified in the end. The Tagalog dubbing probably isn’t the best way to experience this film, but we’ll take what we can get. This is a Miike film in our cinemas. It’s such an unlikely occurrence that it’s almost worth recommending just for the strangeness of that fact alone.