Sorta M.I.A.: Takasha Miike's Totally 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.
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 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 a 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 wasn't available on blu-ray "for all intents and purposes."  That's because there is technically, a Japanese 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 YesAsia.  But unfortunately, it has no English language options.  Just the original Japanese audio and optional Japanese subtitles.  So what options do we lug-headed native English speakers have?  Not much.  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.
It's good, but rather short of perfection.  Already, it's a standard definition DVD instead of a blu, and a single-layer DVD at that.  But since it's a 100% barebones release, they probably get away with the single layer alright.  At least it's anamorphic and in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio with nice colors.  As you can see in the shot above, though, it does have some interlacing, although it resolved surprisingly nicely in motion on my player.  Actually, the most distracting thing is that the subtitles look like garbage; like their resolution is too small so they're blocky and weird.  They're still readable, though; but it's something you'll notice and have to get past.

For audio, we're given 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.
So yeah, overall, it's not a bad disc, as far as plain ol' DVDs go.  And happily, you can find it quite reasonably priced on sites like EBay and Amazon.  But I'm still jealous of the native Japanese with their high-end special edition blu-rays.  We don't even get the wacky bikini trailer that totally mischaracterizes the film but is still a hoot for fans to see.  For a while, it seemed like Funimation might release this film in the US; but it's been years and the iron's gone pretty cool, so it's looking like this might be the best we get.  So 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.

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