Attack on Titan: Part 1 & 2 (2015): Battle Royale Meets Giants (Review)

Fighting the Titans

It may sound a bit dismissive to label Attack on Titan (part one and two) as “Battle Royale” meets giants” but it is not intended to be a slur on the manga based film. Both films do deliver messages on a government determined to control its denizens at all costs (although the 1999 Kashun Takami novel was much more political than the Kinji Fukasaku film released in 2000) and each features young protagonists.

Certainly BR has heroes who are yet to finish puberty, but the youngsters who battle the Titan’s in these films are not too far removed from that time span themselves. The other thing both films have in common is the “childhood interrupted” theme. Each set of players are yanked from their everyday lives and placed in situations that require them to fight.

Having not seen, or indeed read, the manga, it was easy to just take the film on its face value. The story; a world where giant’s attack and eat the general population, is interesting and the breech in the outer wall, that starts the whole two film journey, is impressive and well done.

A “giant” Titan kicks a hole in the wall and a horde of smaller creatures enter. They destroy a small town and most of the surrounding areas in the outer districts. The inner wall, full of the rulers and elite class of the nation, has not been destroyed and the heroes of both films fight to keep the Titan’s out.

The action takes place behind walls and the attacks of the giant man-eating creatures veer between hilarity and good old fashioned “King Kong” type horror. (Or even Jurassic Park, where the solicitor/lawyer gets his head crunched off by a T-Rex…) Plot wise there is nothing all that new here. It is revealed, partway through the first film, that the Titan’s were “man-made” and that their lack of genitals is a mystery, even to the creators of the things.

Still, this curious lack of reproductive equipment apparently kept the Japanese censors happy and made the film a little less “difficult” to watch.  While the female Titans did have breast, there were no offending nipples anywhere to be seen, or other genitalia to deal with.

(One character voices her interest at just how these gigantic humanoid creatures manage to procreate – there are some incredibly ugly “baby” Titans running around – but that is the only time it is mentioned.)

There are some comic moments: An enlisted man throws a Titan over his head, a young heroine eats constantly (potatoes) and her stomach is incredibly noisy when empty.

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no kyojin) is entertaining, even if one is not familiar with the original manga material by Hajime Isayama. Director Shinji Higuchi capably directs this live action adaptation of a popular Manga series. There are a number of writers connected to these two films and, according to IMDb, a few characters have been dropped, merged or changed totally.

Overall, the feel of the film is not too far removed from fantasy and/or science fiction.  The soldiers have new weapons that resemble samurai swords, “on call” and gas jets that propel the fighters through the air while powering anchors to structures. These enable the soldiers to “fly” through the air in order to attack the seemingly un-defeatable creatures.

Jun Kunimura, who played mob boss Ikemoto in Outrage   (who dies an almost comic death) and featured in “Kill Bill” volume’s one and two and the iconic cult classic Audition along with another 163 credits to his name, is, for all intents and purposes, the big bad in the film. 

His mostly understated performance helps nudge the plot points along and Kunimura is the only real “grown up” in the film. He is also easily the most despicable although Capt. Shikishima (played by Hiroki Hasegawa) comes a close second in terms of dislikable characters. 

Attack on Titan features a newer cast of young actors. None of these performers are of the Battle Royale time period. They are, however, quite capable of filling out their limited characters and look pretty good in the fight sequences. The wire work, in the film, is top notch and the combination of obvious green screen backdrops and the practical wire stunts is stimulating and impressive.

These films are not made to be taken seriously and apparently, according to the number of “dislikes” on IMDb (which go over a 1000) not really made for the discerning fans of the original Manga series or book. The Titan’s themselves are not overly frightening to look at, their faces look more like variations on the local village idiot rather than a Grimm’s Fairy Tale type Giant.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over on YouTube, where this trailer aired in 2015, about how far the film had deviated from its source material.  Still, this is a solid 3.5 star effort that deserves a look, or two. Both are available to stream, via Amazon, or to be rented or purchased in DVD.

Fans of Japanese cinema will enjoy this offering perhaps a bit more than the annoyed fans of the manga. There is a lot of violence, a bit of low-key no-genital nudity and no cursing to be seen in the subtitles.

Check out the trailer below:

Uzumaki (2000): The Spirals in the town go round, round, round

Uzumaki original poster.

Uzumaki originally began life as a three-volume horror manga by Junji Ito. The theme (according to Wikipedia) is as follows: The story concerns the inhabitants of the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho that seems to be cursed by supernatural events surrounding spirals. Many people become obsessed or paranoid about spiral shapes, which starts resulting in several gruesome deaths. Eventually people start transforming into something other than human, such as snails and twisted forms. In the end the town is cut off from the rest of the world, which leads to apocalyptic events and a revelation about the secret hidden under the lake in the middle of the town. [sic]

The film follows the manga to a great degree focusing on some aspects and leaving others out. The ending is different as the manga had not finished when the film was made.

Directed by Higuchinsky Uzumaki was his second foray into the world of film the first being a TV movie (Long Dream which also dealt with supernatural theme and was based on a comic) before doing films Higuchinsky directed music videos. Being a fan of manga he decided to make the feature film based on Junji Ito’s story.

Ito is well-known for doing “horror” comics. He also did Tomie. Tomie is another manga that has been made into feature films as well. Takashi Shimzu even made a version of it. Including Uzumaki and Tomie, 21 of Ito’s manga’s have been made into films.

Uzumaki tells of a small village that is “cursed” by spirals and it centres on schoolgirl Kirie Goshima, her boyfriend Shuichi Saito and his family; and some of Kirie’s classmates. A reporter comes to the town to investigate the odd events and he winds up being afflicted by the curse as well.

The deaths of those touched by the “curse of the spiral” all centre around spirals. One girl’s hair starts turning into intricate spiral shapes and traps her, starving her to death. Another lad gets wound around the tyre of a car that runs him down. Spirals have taken the village over and separated them from the world outside (except for the reporter).

Higuchinsky has taken great care to set the film up in the style of the manga. He uses green shading throughout, just like the manga does. He also sets the death scenes up “manga style;” copying  set pieces from the book itself. Of course like the manga, spirals appear everywhere, often in places where you would not think to look.

The ultimate bad hair day.

There is quite a lot that did not make it into the film. The episode with the pregnant ladies from the village and their new babies is just one example. Other scenes; like the school boy turning into a snail-like creature is in the film and it’s done brilliantly, looking again just like a “live” manga.

The film also changed some of the character’s interaction. The girl with the spiral hair is originally competing with Kirie in a sort of spiral hair contest. In the manga Shuichi saves Kirie by cutting her curly locks off. In the film Kirie does not have a single curl on her head.

Most of the cast are first time actors with the exception of Beat Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi and Keiko Takahashi. But this wealth of “new” talent does not hurt the film. This is a brilliant little film and it is fun to watch. Oddly enough, despite the excellent job that Higuchinsky does on this film, he has not worked on any further projects since 2003. Google his name and nothing comes up past that point.

If anyone out there knows what Higuchinsky is doing now, please let me know. I hate to think of all that talent going to waste. As I’ve said before he got his start doing music videos; and  this was his first foray into feature films (his first being a TV film and not a proper feature length film) and he actually filmed Uzumaki in less than 2 weeks with a budget of under a million dollars. This type of ingenuity is hard to find.

Some critics have said that the film is hard to follow and confusing. As Higuchinsky himself said, “What’s so confusing? It’s a film about spirals.” I could not have put it any better myself.

Uzumaki is a definite 5 star film. It is also a film that should top any list of “films to see” before you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Twisted love.