Takasha Miike's Wildly Off the Wall 'As the Gods Will'

Here's a really cool flick that's unfortunately under-represented on home video: Takashi Miike's As the Gods Will from 2014.  I just stumbled upon this film while catching up on Miike's oeuvre.  He's a man who tens to make several films each year, many of which don't wind up with US releases, so it's easy to miss out on whole swathes of his work.  And frankly, while he has an obvious talent and all of his movies are masterfully crafted and at least interesting enough to be worth sitting through once, most of them don't really do it for me on a deeper level than that.  So I was really surprised when I finished watching it and realized I just had to own it on blu-ray.  And I was equally disappointed when I started searching and found out that was, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

Update 8/4/17 - 12/29/19: Was impossible.  Now, it's nice and easy thanks to the 2018 US blu-ray from Funimation.  It took 'em four years to catch us up, but better late than never.
An as much as Miike's films can be hit or miss with me, I'm really not an anime/ manga guy.  Lately, inspired by my infatuation with this film, I've been giving live action adaptations of manga a chance (because yes, As the Gods Will, is an manga adaptation), and none of them have been on this level.  Death Note was amusing - enough so that I stuck with it through all the sequels - with an intriguing premise; but it's such a silly teenage-minded movie (it's enough that a typical high school kid gets the note and we follow the drama from a teenage PoV, fine; but the FBI takes all its orders from a teenage super genius, a la Encyclopedia Brown?).  In fact, that's symptomatic of a lot of these films.  The actual titular moment of Attack of the Titans, for example, is super cool.  But then you have to sit through so much sappy, juvenile material all around it.  And don't even get me started on the sequel.
I know I'm going off on a tangent here... but what I'm getting at is that you shouldn't take a quick look at this movie's cover or trailer and write it off as just another one of "those" movies.  Because it certainly is another one of those movies: crazy supernatural shenanigans and high melodrama happening to high school students; but it's just smarter and cohesive as an piece outside of that niche subgenre.  It's written from a more mature perspective (if you can believe it, given the plot I'm about to describe) taking on the issues of teenage life, as opposed to its peers which tend to feel like they're written by teenagers.  This film almost verges on the satirical, but just grounded enough to pay homage to the original Battle Royale (one of Miike's stated intentions), while at the same time going further over the top than almost any film ever made, completely gonzo.  This has all the school-ground gore of Miike's better known Lesson Of the Evil, but is otherwise an absolutely different experience, with a far removed tone.  Far removed from the planet Earth.
So what is this film about?  Well, it's actually quite simple.  After all these years of high school students pushing through the abject boredom of school day after day, praying for something to come along and rip the roof off their thoroughly depressed lives, the gods finally answer.  High schoolers all around the world will never be bored again, in the ultimate Monkey's Paw scenario of "be careful what you wish for."  It starts with every teacher's head exploding and being replaced by a living Daruma doll that forces them into a lethal game of Red Light, Green Light, where every student caught moving at the wrong time explodes into a mass of gore and red marbles.  And that's just for starters.  In a way, it touches on the same theme as the Saw movies; but there, the metaphor never really works, because it's completely implausible that someone would come out grateful, or even a gleeful accomplice, because a stranger made them shove their arm into a meat grinder.  But here, despite the proceedings becoming almost impossibly absurd, with a giant ceramic cat bursting out of the gymnasium floor to launch its spring loaded head, eating all the students dressed in ridiculous mouse costumes, it's still a legitimate re-examination of what's truly important as we cross into adulthood.  And it's loads of fun.
So you know it's sharply and compellingly directed, because it's Miike, and that's where he excels; and I've already covered the writing in spades.  But really, this is a film where everything works and comes together.  The CGI might be getting a sneaky little pass, because some of the things we're seeing aren't supposed to look naturalistic.  Instead, there's this crazy stop motion/ animated quality to the spectacle that makes any potential CGI flaw work as intentional.  But the effects look pretty solid by set of standards; clearly a lot of money was spent on this film and it pays off.  The music, sound design and the crazy voices of the various, uh, toy gods, are pitch perfect and really add to the flavor of the film.  And the acting is quite solid, too, particularly the one nasty student who's delighted about all of the carnage being inflicted on his classmates.  I'm sure this film will be just too crazy (and maybe heretical) for many people to get behind, but if you can accept this film's terms, it's pretty terrific.
I guess I'll touch briefly on the notion of a sequel, too.  It's been brought up plenty online, because there's an open-ended nature to this film, and the manga comics continue on with plenty more plot.  Now, I've never read it, only summaries and description, so take this next opinion with a grain of salt.  But it sounds like the story goes too far, even undercutting some of what was good about this film, another case of comics stretching ideas too thin and taking ideas farther than they should go.  Also, apparently this film under-performed in its home country, so it's not likely we'll see the sequel, even though Miike does put in the work to set one up (there are a few minor characters whose appearances serve no other purpose).  So sure, if a sequel pops up, I'll give it a chance and look at it; but as far as I'm concerned right now, this is a perfect bottle story that I'd be happy to see left here. 
Now, I said this film hadn't been available on blu-ray "for all intents and purposes."  That's because there is technically, a 2014 Japanese 2-disc blu-ray release of this film.  Apparently, it looks great and even has some cool special features.  You can pay a ton of money to get a copy right now from CDJapan or YesAsia.  But unfortunately, it has no English language options.  Just the original Japanese audio and optional Japanese subtitles.  So what choices do we lug-headed native English speakers have?  For a while, things were pretty grim.  There's a quasi-bootleg Malaysian DVD that's out of print (the company seems to have gone under; their website is dead, though copies are still floating around sites like EBay), and there's one legitimate DVD option available from the Hong Kong label Deltamac.  That's the one we're looking at here, today.  It's Region 3, NTSC, and has English subtitles - they even subtitle the text on the screen, which is more than the version I initially caught streaming online did.  But more recently, American anime label Funimation - pardon me, FUNimation - released it here on blu, completely English friendly and in HD.  Yay!
2015 Deltamac DVD top; 2018 Funimation BD bottom.
2015 Deltamac DVD left; 2018 Funimation BD right.
Deltamac's disc is alright, but rather short of perfection.  Already, it's a standard definition DVD instead of a blu, and a single-layer DVD at that.  At least it's anamorphic and in a 2.36:1 aspect ratio with nice colors.  As you can see in the shot above, though, it does have some interlacing.  Funimation's blu, by comparison, is slightly wider at 2:39:1.  It doesn't have any additional picture - instead, it seems like the DVD was slightly squished, which the BD corrects.  Funimation also corrects the interlacing.  As the Gods Will seems to have been shot on digital, so we can't use film grain to help us judge, but the blu-ray is a bit brighter, which rescues a surprising amount of information from black crush (look at that backpack) and resolves decidedly clearer - see how much more legible that App Store logo is in HD?

For audio, Deltamac gave us the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, both of which sound quite clear and strong.  The aforementioned English subtitles are optional/ removable, and there are also traditional Chinese subs as well.  Funimation, now, gives us both the Japanese 5.1 mix (but not the 2.0) and an English 5.1 dub, both in Dolby TrueHD.  The English dub is goofy, with very inaccurate translations (to try to match the spoken Japanese lip movements), inauthentic voices and cartoonish performances that totally eradicate the naturalism of the original performances.  If this is your first time viewing the film, please do not watch it this way; it will degrade your potential appreciation of this film.  But if you take it as just a novelty little bonus on the disc, hey, alright, it's cute.  Funimation's release also comes with two subtitle options.  A proper track that translates the original Japanese, and one that just translates the on-screen text.
Unfortunately, neither Deltamac nor Funimation saw fit to include the extras from the Japanese edition.  According to YesAsia, the original (though again, non-English friendly) special edition included "making of, stage events, interviews and trailers. It also comes with a photo booklet."  I wish they could've subbed and imported that!  But no, Deltamac is 100% barren, and Funimation just includes three trailers (though not the wacky bikini trailer that totally mischaracterizes the film but is still a hoot for fans to see) and a couple bonus trailers, including one that force plays on start-up.  Yeah, I'm really bummed that this is barebones, especially knowing that the extras have been out there already for years.
I wrapped up in 2017 by writing, "stop missing out, and hey, if a better label ever wises up and gives us an HD blu with all the extras some day, it will be a pretty painless double-dip."  Well, they did and it was.  This is my first experience with a FUNimation disc, but they've done a first class job in terms of both PQ, AQ and even language options (I think they do their English dubs in-house).  They cheaped out on the extras, but considering they sat on this title for so long before releasing it, I guess this was a low priority title for them and we're lucky to be getting it at all.  So, native Japanese speakers win again, but it's still an easy decision as to which release to get, and a substantial upgrade over the cheap import DVDs we were stuck with before.

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