FANTASIA FEST 2021: Tokyo Revengers is Peak Live Action Form

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Tokyo Revengers

I know for Americans live-action adaptations of anime and manga get an eye-roll, but, truth be told, Japan has been producing phenomenal live-action productions in the same way that the US is producing stellar comic book films. These live-action productions are also the biggest reason I look forward to Fantasia Fest every year. This year at the 25th Anniversary of the film festival the Tokyo Revengers live-action screened, riding the hype of a successful first cour of the series.

Directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa, with a screenplay by Izumi Takahashi, the Tokyo Revengers live-action adapts the Weekly Shonen Magazine manga of the same name created, written, and illustrated by mangaka Ken Wakui. It stars Takumi Kitamura, Yuko Yamada, Yosuke Sugino, Mio Imada, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Gorfon Maeda, Hiroya Shimizu, Hayato Isomura, Shotaro Mamiya, and Ryo Yoshizawa. And believe me, this large ensemble cast delivers the intensity and emotions of the original work.

If you’re unfamiliar, Tokyo Revengers is a genre-blending series that is part high school drama, part gang wars, part love story, and the best part-time travel. The film opens sharply with a naked yakuza being terrorized. Crying and scared, he serves as an introduction to the underworld and, more specifically, the Tokyo Manji Gang who takes center stage in the film. Then, the film introduces us to its main character: Takemichi Hanagaki (Takumi Kitamura).

Takemichi is, for lack of a better word, a coward. He’s 20-something, living in a dump, and uses sorry a lot in his vocabulary. When he finds out that his high-school sweetheart and her brother have been killed he doesn’t know what to do. He’s sad and stricken, and then Takemichi is attacked while on the subway, pushed onto the tracks with a train heading straight for him. Instead of dying, Takemichi winds up 10 years into the past. Instead of lying beneath a subway train, he’s with his friends, their cray hair, and exactly who he used to be – cool.

Similar to other time travel manga and anime stories like ERASED, the entirety revolves around the lead character trying to undo a tragic event. For Takemichi, that’s stopping the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hinata (Mio Imada). Allowed to jump from past and present with the help of Hinata’s brother Naoto (Yôsuke Sugino), the two attempt to set off a chain reaction that changes the Tokyo Manji Gang for the better and ultimately undoes the evil they’ve created.

Like the source material, the beauty of the storytelling is that Takemichi’s approach isn’t standard. The easy path is to, well, kill the leader and stop the future. Instead, Takemichi learns about the gang, about its leader Mikey (Manjirō Sano), his right-hand man Draken (Yûki Yamada), and aims to connect instead of destroying. This works narratively for the film as we see Takemichi take risks and change from terrified of the group to becoming their friend. It’s this trajectory pushed by the empathy that helps solidify the film as one of the best live-action takes on a manga or anime that I’ve seen.

Sure, there are elements of plot that get flattened due to the one film runtime, but the heart and emotion that has made Tokyo Revengers a fan favorite are what makes the Tokyo Revengers live-action work. In truth, the only issue I take with the film’s condensing of the source material comes from its underutilization or exploration of the story’s villains, particularly for Moebius.

But of course, adapting anime style is another element that you have to notice when you watch the film, especially given the very specific character designs that Wakui created. While some hairstyles could use some work, the Tokyo Revengers live-action beautifully brings to life characters from the series not only in physical appearance but in emotion and energy. In fact, fans of the anime will be pleasantly surprised and in love with how Manjirō Sano and Yûki Yamada bring Mikey and Draken to life.

The most surprising and most exciting way Tokyo Revengers succeeds though is its action sequences. With sprawling battles that rival iconic yakuza films, there is structured chaos in the larger fight sequences like the finale that works exceptionally. Additionally, the fight choreography in the smaller fight sequences hits a balance of genuinely stunning and campy that uses the actors physicality to the max, especially for Mikey and Draken – who I’m mentioning again because they steal the film.

Overall, Tokyo Revengers is a peak live-action. Not only does it do the work to bring the manga to life, honoring character designs without feeling too cartoonish, it also captures everything that makes the series special. While it has some small pitfalls, the Tokyo Revengers live-action works for fans and those with no knowledge of the source material as well. This is one I hope makes it stateside with a full release soon.

Tokyo Revengers is screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Tokyo Revengers
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Overall, Tokyo Revengers is a peak live-action. Not only does it do the work to bring the manga to life, honoring character designs without feeling too cartoonish, it also captures everything that makes the series special. While it has some small pitfalls, the Tokyo Revengers live-action works for fans and those with no knowledge of the source material as well. This is one I hope makes it stateside with a full release soon.