Ken Wakui is a name that any manga fan will know, be it from his manga Shinjuku Swan, which spawned two life action-movies directed by Sion Sono (Shinjuku Swan (2015), Shinjuku Swan II (2017)) or his more recent and enormously popular, award-winning manga Tokyo Revengers. With such popularity, a live action adaptation was a given. Yet, can Tsutomu Hanabusa do right by the manga and bring the first arc of the manga, the Moebius arc, pleasingly to life?
One day, Takemichi (Takumi Kitamura) hears on the television that the only girlfriend he has ever had, Hinata Tachibana (Mio Imada), and her brother Naoto Tachibana (Yosuke Sugino) have died due to an ongoing turf war between the Tokyo Manji Gang and the Yakuza.
At night, after being ridiculed by his boss for having no girlfriend and his possible virginity, he wanders around town, wondering if he truly had his peak when he was a high-school student. On the train platform, Takemichi, still preoccupied by his boss’ words, is suddenly pushed on the tracks. The train nears, closer and closer. But he does not die. Instead, he is catapulted back in time, to his ‘cool’ high-school years.
Takamichi, confused about what is happening, is quickly surrounding his friends Akkun (Hayato Isomura), Yamagishi (-), Makoto (-), Takuya (-). The Mizu high 5, as they call themselves, are about to have a fight with the Shibuya High Sophs. Sadly, for them, the seniors show up. The seniors are led by Kiyomasa (Nobuyuki Suzuki), a member of the Tokyo Manji Gang. While getting his ass kicked by Kiyomasa, he realizes that his life got off track because of him.
Tokyo Revengers is a narrative that fluidly combines time-travel and violent gang feuds to deliver a thrilling tale about the transformative power of assuming one’s desire. That the transformative process forms the core of the narrative is, first and foremost, echoed by how Takemichi tries to understand his sudden time travel. He does not only attempt to grasp this event as a near-death experience, but he keeps referring to his slip to the past as an unwelcome flashback. By utilizing this signifier, Takemichi does not only reveals his failure to acknowledge the fact that it is his present sorry self – the subject who knows how the past went – that animates his past ‘chinpira’ self (Narra-note 1).
Because he fails to acknowledge the true nature of the time-slip, he is unable to grasp the fact that he has received a second chance. He does not realize his own ability to change, here and now, his depressive ‘future’, and instead addresses the other (i.e. Hinata’s brother), to burden him with the responsibility to prevent certain deaths (i.e. his and his sister’s).
Yet, it is by warning Hinata’s brother Naoto in the past and changing his untimely death – a change that allows Naoto to rescue Takemichi from the oncoming train – that he comes to understand that he not only traveled in time, but that he, by shaking Naota’s hand in the present, can return to his high-school past and become an active force in changing the present deceased state of his beloved. By accepting Naota’s mission to prevent the meeting between Sano (Ryo Yoshizawa) and Kisaki (Shotaro Mamiya), a meeting that enabled Toman to blossom into a powerful crime syndicate, he slowly accepts this extra-ordinary chance to alter his past choices to avoid succumbing to the temptation of escaping in a protective shell of apologies and, instead, perform acts that will not only change his own subjective trajectory but also prevent Hinata’s untimely death and the shriveling of their youthful romance. Via Takemichi’s subjective trajectory, Tokyo Revengers reveals the problematic nature of subjective passivity, of acts born from a passive acceptance, and the need for assertiveness, for acts that are driven by a subjective and, in essence, romantic desire (Narra-note 2).
Tokyo Revengers is composed with a pleasing balance between dynamic moments and static moments. This balance is most evident in the framing of the action-sequences. Hanabusa generally composes flashes of violence either with a subtle kind of dynamism or with little to no dynamism. In the former, subtle shaky cinematographical movement and music, either threatening or stylishly flavoured, are combined to create a sense of tension and make violence more impactful. In the latter, the strengthening of the suspense and the visceral impact of the violence is either attained by using the cut in a fast-paced manner or by menacing musical accompaniment (Sound-note 1, Cine-note 1).
Besides infusing a thrilling excitement in the unfolding of the narrative, music is also applied to give certain moments a lighthearted flavour (Sound-note 2). Moreover, music is utilized to empower the cool moments – moments framed with slow-motion – of the narrative.
Tokyo Revengers offers an exciting blend of satisfying violence, tensive moments, surges of pleasing lightheartedness, and touching emotional moments. Yet, what truly ensures the pleasure in Tokyo Revengers is how Hanabusa playfully weaves these various elements together in an exciting and engaging whole – nothing is more pleasing than seeing a threatening moment suddenly flip into a lighthearted moment or turn into a violent confrontation. Tokyo Revengers touches upon the importance of friendship, but above anything, it shows, with clarity, the importance of finding a (romantic) desire to guide one’s actions.
Narra-note 1: Via a revealing and fluidly integrated flashback, Hanabusa quickly reveals that Takemichi’s life of apologies is caused by a fight-went-wrong in the past. Yet, the ultimate question this flashback poses is to whom his apologies is directed. The spectator can easily sense that the true addressee of his continued apologies are not his former bosses, those who gave him a job after he escaped high school, but those he turned his back on, his friends.
Narra-note 2: That Takemichi’s choice to not run away is intrinsically linked to his romantic desire is underlined by the words that echo in his mind before he states that, for the first time in his life, he will not run away. The signifiers that reverberate in his mind are none other than the words of his beloved: ‘Then be a man. And be with me 10 years from now.’
Sound-note 1: Yet the impact of the kicks and hits is not solely strengthened by the composition as such. An often-forgotten element that plays an important role in giving the violence in Tokyo Revengers its visceral feel is the sound-design. In fact, rather the framing of the violence, it is the sound of the kicks, the punches and so on that makes the spectator truly feel the violence.
Sound-note 2: Decorative sounds are also used to emphasize the lightheartedness of certain moments.
Cine-note 1: In some rare cases, Hanabusa goes all out and utilizes a blend of fast cutting, energetic cinematographical movement, and crude shaky framing to craft thrilling action moments.