'As the Gods Will' ('Kamisama no iutoori'): Rome Review

Rome Film Festival
The gods must be crazy

Prolific Japanese auteur Takaski Miike ('Audition') unspools his latest gory romp in Rome

Premiering his second feature at an international festival in almost a month, which makes for nearly a hundred credited productions in over twenty years, mindbogglingly prolific auteur Takashi Miike offers up a rather ridiculous and gory romp with his latest high school slasher, As the Gods Will (Kamisama no iutoori). Adapted from a popular manga and made with tons of visual effects, plus considerably higher production values than certain recent efforts, this slaphappy action-adventure plays like a video gamer’s Battle Royale or Hunger Games – if the latter were made by someone who consumed large quantities of speed before guzzling an entire tank of laughing gas.

That pretty much sums up the tone of this initially jarring and ultimately exhausting affair, which begins with a classroom scene where students have their heads blown off by a deadly talking Daruma doll, with buckets of blood and red marbles spraying out of their necks (as well as other orifices). And that’s just the first five minutes.

How anyone can keep it going after this is a legitimate question, although Miike has already displayed his skill for dishing out one outre sequence after another, especially in his Dead or Alive trilogy. Yet unlike those films, and a few others that have made it to Western shores, it’s hard to see this blisteringly insane item traveling anywhere outside the festival circuit, although it could perhaps score good numbers at home.

The initial massacre only leaves one survivor: Shun Takahata (Sota Fukushi), a tall, crafty and self-assured teenager with the same J-pop-style bangs as every other surviving male in his school. Once he escapes into the hallway, Shun crosses paths with potential love interest Ichika (Hirona Yamazaki), and the two soon seek safety in the school gymnasium, where Miike unveils what may be one of his most batsh--t crazy set-pieces in a long while: a giant ceramic cat doll that chows down on students dressed in mouse costumes, and who can only be stopped if someone shoots a basketball-shaped bell into the hoop around its massive neck.

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No further explanation is needed to understand that As the Gods Will is nuts, although screenwriter Hiroyuki Yatsu tries to follow some sort of narrative logic, with the players moving from one stage to another and occasionally trying to off each other in the process. We eventually learn that the remaining students are considered “God’s Children” by a public observing the spectacle – which includes a giant white cube hovering above Tokyo Tower – on TV and the Internet, resulting in mass street riots and speculation over whether god is in fact dead, or alive, or else assuming the form of an enormous wooden polar bear and his talking-fish friend (Yes, they’re here too.)

Miike seems to be taking none of this too seriously, until he kind of does towards the end, but you’ve got to give the guy credit: he knows how to stage a good death scene in all its blood-spurting glory, and how to wring laughs out of cute Japanese schoolgirls getting their faces exploded. Unfortunately, he never quite tops the hijinks of this film’s opening reel, and at nearly two hours, As the Gods Will grows gradually tiresome until it seriously drags during a lengthy and entirely kitschy closing battle.

Tech credits are polished and cheery in a comic vein, with regular DP Nobuyasu Kita capturing the mayhem in brightly lit widescreen. Scores of visual effects by Kaori Otagaki guide the action, bringing life to the various inanimate objects faced by the contestants, including the above-mentioned cat, polar bear, fish, Drauma doll, but not forgetting a sinister set of yapping Matryoshkas who arrive in time for one final slaughter. 

Production companies: Toho Eiga Co., Ltd., OLM, Inc.
Cast: Sota Fukushi, Hirona Yamazaki, Shota Sometani, Mio Yuki
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Hiroyuki Yatsu, based on the original comic book by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Akeji Fujimura
Producers: Hisashi Usui, Yusuke Ishiguro, Misako Saka, Shigeji Maeda
Executive producer: Minami Ichikawa
Director of photography: Nobuyasu Kita
Production designer: Sou Hashimoto
Editor: Kenji Yamashita
Composer: Koji Endo
Casting director: Tsuyoshi Sugino
VFX supervisor: Kaori Otagaki
Sales agent: Toho Co., Ltd.

No rating, 116 minutes