Kuroshitsuji (2014)
黒執事

In line with several other Japanese manga adaptations, the Kuroshitsuji live action did an impressive job with making a visually stunning translation of the manga. Something that aroused significant curiousity, when the Kuroshitsuji live action movie was announced, was the decision to cast Gouriki Ayame as 'Ciel' - or 'Genpou Kiyoharu' as she's known in the movie. On a pragmatic level, the adaptation made sense. On the other hand, it essentially made this movie a particularly expensive Kuroshitsuji genderbent!fanfiction and, like many fanfics, struggled at times to channel the precise tone, characterisation and nuance in the source material.

WARNING: Long review and spoilers-galore

Being set in the modern day instead of Yana Toboso's post-modern steampunk-esque Victorian era, it was understandable that some adaptations had to be made. I suspect the decision to change Ciel's gender was because Japan was unable to find a suitably aged male actor who could both carry the second main lead and is also significantly shorter than Mizushima Hiro (a couple of years ago, I might have suggested Kamiki Ryunosuke or Kanata Hougo...alas).

For all intents and purposes, Shiori/Kiyoharu was supposed to be Ciel, from her personality to her styling to her use of 'boku' and the viewers were meant to completely forget that Shiori-the-crossdressing-girl existed, judging by the way the movie glosses over that part and never addresses it again. This is problematic but it was probably beyond the movie to deal with.

Visually, Gouriki Ayame ticks all the boxes. She has a magnificent haughty side eye and an impressive variety of grumpy faces. Where she fell a little flat for me was the emotionally charged confrontations scenes - she just didn't win me over with her acting range there.

Again, aesthetically, Mizushima Hiro made an excellent Sebastian. By nature, Sebastian is not a character that tests the actor's emotional range and is generally too 'perfect' in a way that is hard to relate to.

Hiro played Sebastian with an almost Johnny Depp manic-ness at points, which inserted some interesting moments of humour. Strangely, in significant moments, he came across as much creepier and slimier than manga!Sebastian. I did find that they had caked on his foundation so excessively that, at certain points, it made his skin look waxy. Coupled with his expressions, lighting, consumptive eye makeup and his really slow, deliberate speaking style...

Yikes.

I loved that they played up Sebastian's love for cats - and the implication his demon-sixth-sense is ruined by being too obsessed with kitties. It was a rare instance of humour in the movie that didn't feel like an awkward break in the flow of the narrative.

It's, however, very sad they changed Sebastian's catchphrase from 'Yes, my Lord', in English, to 'よい' (yoi). It just doesn't quite pack the punch of the original and seems like a particular pity since Hiro can speak fluent English.

The dynamic between Kiyoharu and Sebastian also seemed very uneasy and lacked the chemistry of two people who had already spent years together in a tight 'partnership'. It didn't help that Sebastian and Kiyoharu had surprisingly few scenes together and Gouriki Ayame's acting energy level didn't seem to be on the same wavelength as Mizushima Hiro's (she over-acted at times. He under-acted).

An underlying question in their relationship has always been whether Sebastian's actions are due to his slowly developing care for Ciel or whether he's still guided by the ultimate (creepy) thirst for the tasty soul he's raising. Yana Toboso definitely flirts with shounen-ai tropes in the manga's subtext, but the movie made the relationship more overtly romantic. A byproduct of the genderbending? Perhaps.

The main problem with the writing was its inability to juggle multiple threads in the one scene and in the movie in general. There were way too many moments where the main characters launch into a long, exposition-heavy conversation while the bad guys presumably fiddle with their nails and politely wait until they're done.

The movie had its fair share of awkward, expositionary dialogue and way too many 'convenient' moments when the bad guy reveals his entire plan with Kiyoharu in the room or she manages to sneak into a heavily guarded company building without any trouble, or she has a long conversation with Rin hiding behind a pole during a gun shootout or even the fact it's the first time I've seen a bomb that can be separated from the world-ending disease it's supposed to set off, just so Kiyoharu can deal with the inevitable countdown-to-explosion by throwing the bomb away and protecting the necrosis capsules, that are miraculously unharmed.

The most outrageous was the retrospective deus ex machina, where the movie replays an earlier scene and reveals that Kiyoharu or Sebastian pulled some mostly improbable life-saving moves that the viewer didn't see at all or even get hints about when the scene initially unfolded. Lazy writing.

The main conflict - the stereotypical 'world ending' crisis scenario, complete with scary Bloody Monday drug - seesawed between impressively horrific visuals to almost laughable situations that seemed like a parody of an evil plan more than an actual one (all the powerful and famous people of the world congregating in one room in front of pseudo KKK members and no one seems to consider it might be a really bad idea).

The addition of the Central Police Agency and its almost comically unlawful interrogation-slash-intended-torture was a huge clunker of a subplot, with no real purpose other than to highlight how awesome Sebastian is and fill in a bit of background exposition.

Hanae's storyline was meant to parallel Madame Red's but the tragedy of Madame Red's storyline and her particular brand of moral ambiguity was lost almost entirely to Yuka's one-note psychotic laughing, which was creepy the first time and then hilarious the second time.

I really disliked that her narrative was ultimately reduced to: 'I'm a worthless human being because I cannot have children and so I will kill everyone in the world' and that a huge plan on the scale of necrosis seemed to ultimately be dependent on the actions of two individuals. All the complex emotions that made Madame Red's storyline so compelling were flattened down into the simplistic, problematic black-and-white of 'woman scorned'.

Also, she explodes into dust at the end. Yeah. That was a low point.

The cast of characters were well styled, though essentially all background characters with little presence. For all her badassery during the shootout scene Rin had to ultimately be saved by Sebastian, which was slightly grating. Otherwise, she was a passive, non-presence in most scenes and the little backstory she did get (about being a maid before Shiori's parents were murdered) opened up more plothole-y questions than it answered. Tanaka wins the prize for the fakest moustache.

The cinematography of the film was gorgeous - very film noir inspired as the camera wove through an 'Eastern City' full of interesting set pieces, from ornate English mansions to the bare metal and geometry of factories. The lighting in this film was used particularly well. The only gripe I had was the SUPER SHAKY CAM zoom out in the opening scene.

The fight scenes - especially the opening one - were well choreographed. The camera tracking shots made Sebastian's movements very fluid and imbued his movements with grace and speed. I also appreciated the people with guns actually used them. The scenes were slightly marred by the dim lighting.

Kuroshitsuji had all the makings of a solid, even exciting movie but was ultimately let down by the laziness of its writing and the broad brushstrokes of a vague evil plan with unclear motivations. It's certainly a great film to look at, but you would be advised to suspend your disbelief as best you can and erase all mental association you might have with the manga before you begin watching.