Many of the shonen manga/anime that get popular enough to become theater-filling crossover hits—from My Hero Academia to Demon Slayer—situate their heroes in YA-friendly training settings. Empowered youngsters learn to deal with their unlikely abilities under the experienced eyes of paternal elders and the bad-boy threat of those who strayed from their path. The exposition and conflict are classic X-Men, with the mutants/superheroes/demon hunters/shamans caught between nonviolent integration with the unempowered world and violent domination. That makes Jujutsu Kaisen 0, Sunghoo Park’s prequel movie to Gege Akutami’s hit series, accessible even to those new to the franchise—and its predictability is pleasingly colored by countless icky-fun, yokai-inspired curse-monsters.
There’s a heightened familiarity to Yuta Okkotsu (Megumi Ogata) and his plight. He’s cursed, and is snapped up to go to Jujutsu school so he can learn to use his powers for good. Thousands in Japan die from curses every year, after all, and trained sorcerers are the only ones who can help cut down on that staggering statistic. But Yuta’s powers come from a dark place, one indicative of Jujutsu Kaisen’s grimmer inclinations: His curse stems from watching his childhood paramour die after being hit by a car. The bloody, grisly aftermath haunts his life as deeply as the spiritual manifestation of this trauma, crawling around him greedily like a musclebound parasite. It’s a powerful burden, one that also makes him a target for the baddies.
Baddies like Suguru Geto (Takahiro Sakurai)—the sly Magneto to the goofy Professor X of Satoru Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura)—who is charmingly unwavering in his ideological cruelty. His disdain for those around him is palpable in both voice and his serpentine gaze, flipping to a constrictor-like embrace when around those he hopes to manipulate. He offers one of the better battles in the film, which sees Yuta and his classmates (an unempowered legacy student with a chip on her shoulder; a kid with cursed speech who can only speak in ingredients; a big talking panda) brawl against multi-eyed monstrosities and cutesy demons alike.
These fights contain shreds of in-world mythology, about how curse energy can be transferred into weaponry or used to squish weird creatures drawn from an old-school Japanese folklore aesthetic. But they’re also brisk, elegant and more visceral than you might think—fingers crumple, arms sever, skin stretches. It’s gross in a good way. In a film that’s plot and characterizations are as generic as they come (and which boasts that sticky teenage sexism that shonens refuse to finally stamp out), it all depends on the details and the execution. But Park and the production team at MAPPA retain the series’ visual appeal. Characters rush through swirling multilayered environments with a smoothness that comes from detailed animation—the models and their actions pop with a crisp disregard for physics. It’s joyful rather than cheap in its excess, especially when compared to combat in more established fare like the recent Dragon Ball Z movies.
Throw all that together with a Linkin Park-like soundtrack and a certified Sad Boy protagonist straight from the school of Shinji Ikari, and you’ve got an endearing way in for newcomers and a fun-enough look back for those converts in need of a Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School adaptation. It might not tug hardest at your heartstrings, nor inspire the biggest pop offs with its violent throwdowns, but for a relatively rote summation of a new blockbuster’s ethos, it’s a polished piece of factory-issue fantasy.
Director: Sunghoo Park
Writer: Hiroshi Seko
Starring: Megumi Ogata, Kana Hanazawa, Mikako Komatsu, K?ki Uchiyama, Tomokazu Seki, Yuichi Nakamura, Takahiro Sakurai
Release Date: March 18, 2022
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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