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Tokyo Revengers
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by Jay Seaver

"Does okay with what's there, but feels cut to the bone."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As near as I can tell, the anime series and live-action movies of "Tokyo Revengers" are coming out almost simultaneously, and while the movie is not bad at all - especially for fans of the teenage-delinquents-fighting genre - this is a story clearly made for another medium, whether it be comics or television. There's too much to fit in and spots which beg for both cliffhangers and room for subplots to get fleshed out. The filmmakers do impressive work getting the story down to two hours, but it's really not a movie at heart.

It kicks off with Hanagaki Takemichi (Takumi Kitamura) working the sort of part-time convenience store job usually reserved for teenagers, and his younger boss suggests he peaked in high school. If so, it wasn't much of a peak - he was the kind of kid who thought fighting made him look tough and cool but always got his ass kicked - with the best part of it the girlfriend he had at the time, and now the news says that Hinata Tachibana (Mio Imada) and her brother Naoto have died in their mid-twenties, the victim of violence involving the Tokyo Maji gang. Soon after, he's apparently pushed in front of a subway train, only to emerge ten years earlier, but at least able to convince Naoto (Yosuke Sugino) to keep alert on 1 July 2020 before returning to a reality where Naoto survived and is now a detective who notes that "Toman" changed drastically ten years ago, when leaders Manjiro Sano (Ryo Yoshizawa) and Teetta Kisaki (Shotaro Mamiya) met. They figure out how to send Takemichi back and forth, and he's able to change things so that he's befriended by "Mikey" Sano, who seems pretty nice for a delinquent. Takemichi figures things changed when his best friend and conscience Ken "Draken" Ryuguji (Yuki Yamada) was killed in a fight with Moebius (Keita Arai) and his gang, but he's still more or less the same loser he was the first time through high school - how can he change destiny?

You'd think that a biker gang led by a gang named "Moebius" whose logo is an ouroboros might have something to do with the time-travel shenanigans, and there are vague hints that there's more going on than what happens when Takemichi and Naoto shake hands, but that's not an element this film does much with. Maybe that's for the best - if screenwriter Takahashi Izumi were to commit to a cause, he might have to spend time explaining it, then maybe talk about how, if there's more going on than just these two coincidentally having this power, someone thinks their best use of it is pushing a group of street punks to become a powerful yakuza rival, which isn't really the story these filmmakers are interested in telling. Still, it feels like they could have done a lot more with Hinata, who had apparently been the best thing in Takemichi's life but often gets treated like an impediment to the plot. Heck, there's barely any talk of what happened to her during the missing ten years. This story could be streamlined down to someone older but not at all wiser reliving his youth and determined to do it right (for a weird value of "right") without all the back-and-forth and maybe work better.

That might have made it a more basic delinquents-fighting story, and it's not exactly bad by that measure. That genre is an acquired taste on this side of the Pacific - it's one of those things that gets done so much in Japan that I don't know as an outsider to what extent it reflects something real and to what extent something similar was a big hit and spurred enough copycats to become a genre - and Tokyo Revengers has a good handle on all the character types and the basic outline, as well as the weird violence of it, where folks like Takemuchi and his friend Akkun (Hayato Isomura) get beaten so badly and so realistically that it looks like they'll break from the abuse but where you can also see how Mikey's casual almost-superhuman skill at just clobbering the people in his way makes him an idol of sorts. And then, when two gangs clash, the rumbles are a blast. In this case, the fights aren't quite the balletic mayhem that Sion Sono and Tak Sakaguchi managed in Tokyo Tribe and the like, but director Tsutomu Hanabusa fills the screen with action while still focusing the eye on where Mikey is plowing through a crowd, tweaking things slightly so that this three-on-one looks like a big deal and that one looks dangerous, letting the characters get fatigued even if the audience is still energized. It can look tacky as heck, but the themed costumes and crazy hair just highlight how, if you're more like Takemichi than Mikey, it's all about plowing through even as you take a beating from those who are really good at inflicting violence, while even Mikey can have his heart broken even if his ass can't be kicked.

Of course, one of the things viewers kind of learn to ignore about the genre is that the guys in these gangs don't ever actually look like teenagers, although it's a little easier to ignore that when the same actors aren't playing them ten years older. Takumi Kitamura actually looks younger in the present day - he and Hayato Isomura tend to present their characters as slumped and timid at 27 but are standing up relatively straight with a couple extra inches of spiky hair at 17 - and is performances in both periods don't quite match; one wonders if his worn-down experience isn't supposed to be able to override his impulsive teenage brain. They actually have to joke about Naoto being so big for a middle-schooler, although Yosuke Sugino winds up being the standout in the cast, actually looking and acting like he's grown up and is genuinely driven by his sister's death. It would be nice to see more of Mio Imada as that sister; as much as she plays the sweet schoolgirl, it's not hard to extrapolate a story where Hinata also became a cop and was more headstrong than Naoto from what she's given. There's not much of Ryo Yoshizawa in the present, which is probably for the best; he does fun but breakable well in 2010 but it manifests as a lack of personality rather than a damaged one in 2020.

Apparently, this film's release was delayed by Covid in Japan, which means it likely comes off even more as an over-compression of the manga and anime series there, rather than the anime being able to play as an expansion. It's a tough break - this may be the best possible two-hour version of the story, and does what it's able to include very well, but you can't help but be aware that there's another adaptation out there that doesn't skip over so much.

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originally posted: 08/10/21 11:33:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Tsutomu Hanabusa

Written by
  Izumi Takahashi

  Takumi Kitamura
  Yosuke Sugino
  Yuki Yamada

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