by Jason Suzuki
The teen death game genre has been used for social commentary as seen in Battle Royale (and in The Hunger Games or so I have been told) but what else can be said with this set up, where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives by being contestants in arbitrary game situations. Maybe it can be used to reflect teenage ennui/mundanity and make a teenage audience appreciate the mundane. Or perhaps it can be one more in a long line of pure teen fantasy where an individual, despite their boring lives, is found to be the messiah. There is some of both of these things at times in As the Gods Will but its real focus is on the death games, and thankfully as its other moments are not as intellectually evocative as it is viscerally so; unlike his Over Your Dead Body which accomplishes both.
The opening sequence is a whirlwind of information as we are dropped into the middle of the first death game, in which a class full of students must play a game of red light green light with a daruma head, needing to reach a button on its back before a timer hits zero. If they are caught moving by the head their own heads blow up in a glorious explosion of blood and red marbles. Within these opening six minutes we see the genesis and end of a friendship being interspersed with the death game. It’s a great and crazy way to open the film but this promise of pacing is not kept up though, but for the most part this is something that can be expected of Miike, especially with his manga adaptations. Shun Takahata (Sota Fukushi) is our handsome protagonist, and as he survives through each game he meets other attractive students while the world watches them play these games, labeling them “God’s children.” The most fun had in the film is not this aspect of the film (there are only a handful of scenes back on Earth) but the real fun is seeing what sort of game the characters will find themselves playing next and figuring out what sort of ridiculous solution will be found out. Unfortunately, on multiple occasions characters for some reason repeat or say aloud what is happening or the solution to something.
Still I loved all the games for the most part, the last one is definitely the weakest as it is when the films feels the need to start driving towards a promise of conclusion. My favorite is the one with a giant white bear in which the students need to answer his questions truthfully and if anyone is lying he will kill all of them unless they reveal the liar. The bear is voiced by Tsutomu Yamazaki, and it might be just the simplistic dialogue the younger actors are given but his voice performance is easily the best performance in the entire film apart from a cameo by Shota Sometani.
Now that I have finally seen the other film Miike made in 2014 I can say that my thesis on how the quality of source material affects the film partially holds up with As the Gods Will. I have not read the original manga that this is based off of, but there are certain times when the production committee form of filmmaking rears its head in an unfortunate way, most notably in the film’s conclusion which is less a period to the film you just saw but the beginning of a sentence that will be repeated during the opening of the sequel.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.