Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gintama (2018)

Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Notable Cast: Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yuya Yagira, Hirofumi Arai, Ryo Yoshizawa, Akari Hayami, Tsuyoshi Muro, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada

With Gintama, by the time the end credits rolled, I sincerely felt out of my element. There are a variety of reasons for this, but even within the first ten minutes of this cartoonish and comedic genre bending adaption of the popular manga/anime, Gintama makes it very clear that this is a film for fans of the style and the original releases and everyone else is just shit out of luck. Unfortunately, I’m part of the group that includes everyone else. I’m only educated on the rough elements surrounding anime and don’t actively dig into the genre. Gintama is a film dedicated to the style, tones, and general feeling for fans of the anime/manga. It’s two hours of outlandish slapstick style and randomized humor, impressive amounts of yelling, and a layered and often cartoonish sense of style that smashes together chanbara, science fiction, comedy, and action all into one genre. While I spent the entirety of the film in a state of perplexing confusion, it would seem that Gintama is made solely for the fans and rest are left on their own.

What’s made immediately apparent is that Gintama has boundless energy. This is a film that refuses to be held down from its sprinting pace, whether it comes from an audience desperate to keep up, narrative structure, or even logic. Within the first 15 minutes or so, the film opens with a narrator character, one of the three leads in the film and it goes over his introduction to the silver haired, sword wielding star of the film as he leaps into action to help out the narrator while it drops a lot of exposition. It’s a fairly normal way to approach the significant world building that Gintama aims to accomplish. However, after this scene, the film goes full meta, having three animated avatars of the three leads essentially yelling at one another as the credits roll while breaking the fourth wall to discuss the film with the audience. It’s one hell of a way to indicate the style of the film for an audience that is perhaps unprepared.

Bug catching is so in right now.
From there, Gintama is relentless. The mixture of outlandish slapstick comedy, the childish humor, the loud approach to damn near all of its themes and characters, and the mish mashing of genres is at times almost abrasive. The wink-wink attitude of everything, including some of the more emotionally powered elements, saves it from being too confrontational, but for someone like myself that is unfamiliar with the style of its source material it can be overwhelming. If anything, while I spent most of the run time whirling around in a state of confusion, it’s confidence with the material is awe-inspiring even if the general narrative is one that even I am familiar with - just spiced up with giant dogs, mascot costumes, Looney Tunes style visual jokes, spaceships, and a healthy dose of body horror.

On the plus side, the film is so dedicated to its cause that the humor and style do allow it to use its flaws as a purpose. It intentionally makes fun of itself, cliché elements of the writing, its own fan base, and the strange concepts that are now tropes of the anime/manga genres. The cast is all game to run with it too, essentially just running along with the narrative and style and their dedication to some of the eye rolling jokes - including a strange beetle chase sequence to introduce the plethora of the characters that make up the ensemble cast. It’s hard to call it a great film, but when it seemingly has no desire on almost any level to be taken seriously, it’s also hard to say it didn’t accomplish its task.

Easily the best part of this film is its sword battles. 
For those unfamiliar with anime/manga/Gintama, this live action adaptation can be a large and very loud pill to swallow. For those unwilling to buy into its own gimmicks, it’s probably a train wreck of cinematic proportions. Yet, those who are either familiar with it before going in or perhaps those who enjoy a solid spoof style film that intentionally pokes fun at its own origins, Gintama is going to be an energetic and comedic riot. The film is respectable for its confident approach to everything and the relentless manner that it executes it with cartoonish and often abrasively unfocused intent is actually pretty impressive.

Just know, that it’s not a film for everyone. It’s obvious that Gintama is perfectly fine with that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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