Persona 3 Movie 01: Spring Of Birth – Review
Oh, sure, that’s funny. You just HAVE to love meta-fictional humour when it’s SO on-the-nose that it feels like someone else’s snot crawling up your nostrils…
Persona 3 Movie 01: Suicide Is Painless – But Friendship’s Even Better
Persona: Trinity Soul… Now that was a weird beast if I ever saw one… It really had barely anything to do with the actual videogame-series. Like with all somewhat psychological supernatural thrillers, that one was way too whiny for my tastes. And the bad guy was an old man in a wheelchair, I mean, of course he wanted to do… stuff, evil stuff, Persona-evil-stuff, you know he had this bad gizmo that did stuff with the help of his Persona… which was evil because Persona are the expression of… you wanting to kick supernatural ass… or something… The point is, the old guy in the wheelchair was pissed off at the world and I mean, what else was he gonna do? Run a marathon? Look, he had his reasons, the good guys had their reasons, but they weren’t the ones in the wheelchair so you can guess how that ended for the old evil guy. And then everyone lived happily ever after and all that. Yeah, Persona Trinity Soul was a weird series… Anyway, that’s neither here nor there because I’m talking about the first movie in a series adapting Persona 3: The Videogame.
In a world where the day has 25 hours and only VERY special teenagers (and some weirdo-adults) do shit during the 25th hour an even more special teenager appears suddenly who does shit that makes him very special. While ordinary teenagers, who are popular and other stuff REALLY special teenagers aren’t a part of, just randomly die like the flies they are, so the VERY special teenage-hero has to find a way to do stuff that’s somewhat indirectly distantly related to protecting helpless innocents while a little boy-version of himself tells him about the importance of friendship.
After many trials and tribulations and being worn down by the nagging sentimentalism of the younger version of himself Makoto, the special specialist for special occasions, has to face the facts: He either can mope in his room – or he can save some people who are immediately attracted to him and depend on him and call him a friend and are totally fine with him not giving a shit about them so far, thereby proving himself as their friend and more importantly – their savior.
It was the hair, wasn’t it? I mean, doesn’t it bother Makoto that one of his eyes is constantly covered by his hair?! It just seems so impractical… Which sane person would cut his hair that way…?
It’s pretty ironic that there are so many AAA-videogames out there who desperately want to emulate the experience of watching a movie with its storytelling and here’s the movie of a videogame just as desperate to emulate the experience of playing the videogame it’s based on. Then again, when the Persona-franchise got its first anime-adaptation it was in the form of the pretty independent-minded Persona: Trinity Soul, an anime as disappointing in comparison to its source-material as it was lackluster on its own terms. And in the typical extreme way of dedication Japanese creative minds often show starting with Persona 4: The Animation and now this movie the adaptation of the Persona-games is throwing all attempts of originality to the wind for the sake of being faithful.
Another thing that strikes me as ironic here is the fact that when people discuss storytelling in video-games the limitations of technology are brought up as limitations to how much an interactive story can deliver in a videogame. Basically being the protagonist in a movie while also making decisions and interacting with a virtual world is the ideal videogames are striving for in terms of storytelling. And that nowadays games aren’t able to deliver the same kind of storytelling-masterpieces movies and TV-series do can’t be made any more obvious than being THAT faithful to making the elements of a videogame come alive in a movie. Without any gameplay and without the expectation of the audience sitting around for 30+ hours, this movie definitely feels like an uninspired highlight-reel of a Let’s Play of Persona 3: The Videogame. All the contrivances you would feel are somewhat justified in an RPG, though, just become obnoxious. It’s stupid to expect the audience to be entertained by game-talk like elemental resistances and weaknesses when there’s no RPG-battle to fight that gives one a reason to give a shit about stuff like that. It isn’t a game! So why the hell would this movie want to act as if it still was a game?!
It was already kinda weird how the Persona 4 anime committed to its videogame-origins but this movie just doesn’t even try to be a real movie, it seems. There isn’t any real kind of pacing or clearly structured arc to what’s happening in these scenes as a calendar depressingly reminds everyone that this movie is just showing a few handpicked events of the schedule of the videogame. There are time-jumps of almost a week in there, little snippets of scenes that appear as fast as they disappear and it all has the feeling of fanservice. This movie doesn’t even really try to get Non-Persona-fans interested in the story or the characters. The story mostly serves as a loose guide through the spectacle of seeing scenes from a RPG-game animated.
So, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way this movie approaches storytelling and adapting its source-material but the question now is of course how characterization is handled in such a situation. Many videogame-characters aren’t really the ideals of depth when it comes to characterization but in the best cases the length of a videogame helps by building up sympathy slowly and adding a ton of details to the character that make up for lack of depth. Robbed of choosing that route but still committed to just presenting the videogame-version of the events the characters end up being rather thin. They aren’t so bad as to be annoying but there’s a clear lack of individuality that would make them seem like actual people instead of the obvious one-trick-ponies they are. Characters feel more like the facades of the roles they are supposed to play instead of offering a varied, thought-through perspective that would befit a person capable of reflection and introspection.
The main-character should be the one to suffer the most from it but in his case actually the story really just doesn’t commit enough to following through with the implication of his character. In a videogame I would get the decision to keep him rather bland and passive, thereby focusing on the experience of the world around the avatar of you. Sure, the game does go to some lengths to give some sort of personality to the character or explain the lack thereof. And for a RPG that’s more effort than the worst-case-scenario of having a silent protagonist who’s the savior of the world but plays no role whatsoever in drama-scenes. You may have noticed that I was talking about games right now because frankly when it comes to movies I don’t give a shit about that kind of limitations. This movie is supposed to start a whole fucking series of movies. And at that point just blindly copying a game from ages ago doesn’t really cut it as an excuse for not thinking of a better way to translate this game-character (who is called Makoto in this movie-version) into someone suitable for the big screen. The problem with the movie’s depiction of the main-character is two-fold: One, he isn’t emotional enough. Two, he doesn’t struggle enough. Now let’s talk about his emotional state. Now, I’m not saying that making a character a sociopath due to a trauma in his childhood is unreasonable as an idea. In fact it suits the psychological leanings of the Persona-franchise to go a bit deeper with the whole “stoic male hero”-concept but the depiction of the movie is half-assed. I mean, they already committed to him showing barely any emotion and having a bullshit-character around who sometimes appears to explain the main-character’s state of mind and talk about the stuff that’s going on or will happen. Seriously, he’s just a plot-device to translate the main-character’s apathy into a mask behind which the emotional shit hits the fan in dramatic moments. If the story already stoops so low to just blatantly tell the audience what a character is feeling, it would’ve been far more interesting to have that kid around, like, all the time without anybody else seeing him. And the kid would’ve bugged the main-character non-stop about his repressed feelings in a devil-on-a-shoulder-kind-of-way. But the way the movie chooses to characterize the main-character he never seems conflicted enough about his general apathy for me to buy into his sudden (but predictable) change of heart in the last act of this movie. And since the flawed adaptation had already made a mess of the logical journey through the plot it’s sad to see how the emotional journey also falters because the series didn’t commit to the craziness of his apathy. And the challenges of Makoto’s path are further undercut by the fact that most of the characters in the story just glorify him and the story makes him the only one capable of summoning different Persona – for no apparent reason. Makoto becoming the hero at the end of this movie seems more like a choice in the end then a victory he fought for.
Who was he, then, counting on to drag his sorry ass to a hospital…? Did he think Santa Claus would appear or something…?!
As for the other characters… it could’ve been worse, I guess. I would even go so far as to say that they’re fine considering the flawed approach to the storytelling in this movie. It’s a bit sad that Yukari isn’t taken more seriously by the other characters or the story. She seems like the most reasonable person in the room most of the time who naturally responds to the main character’s apathy with pity since there’s obviously something wrong with him but then when she realizes that he doesn’t change his ways she reacts with scorn and anger because he really doesn’t give a shit about all the other people who consider him a friend. Considering the main-character is being a bit of dick, it’s then strange to see the rest of the characters either not really giving a shit about the whole situation or questioning her actions as if she was the rude one. And with her being the only one even giving a shit about the emotional state of the main-characters it’s all too easy to see the pattern of man-healing in there as the female of the group has to help the alpha-male of the group get in touch with his emotions. There’s nothing wrong with depicting a female character as compassionate and emphatic but forcing only one female character to be the person who has to point out the importance of emotions to a nigh-sociopathic male character is just bullshit. The rest of the cast really is kinda forgettable in this movie as there’s neither the time nor the finesse present storytelling-wise to make them interesting characters.
The actual gimmick of Persona 3, though, is suicide. The Persona-users have to shoot themselves to summon their Persona and in videogame-terms I understand why the story wouldn’t dwell too long on the psychological cost of this summoning-technique but in the movie it just seems absurd how easy it seems for these kids to put a gun to their head and shoot themselves. In the first half some of the characters new to the whole Persona-business naturally showed a sound reluctance to shoot themselves for the sake of summoning their Persona but by trying to emulate the RPG-gameplay the story quickly discarded this reluctance to turn this whole thing into a speeded-up version of a videogame-battle. The Persona-series has a bit of a shtick going on for psychological issues and, of course, tarot-cards but the way it’s presented in this movie it’s really nothing more than a stupid gimmick. In the end despite all the obvious effort put into making the videogame’s story come alive it really feels like the story is just going through the motions without really giving a crap about whatever depth it could have.
Being the first movie in a series Spring Of Birth does very little to spark interest or sympathy for the events depicted in it. More than just adapting a popular videogame it slavishly tries to copy the minutiae detail of playing that game – despite the obvious flaws of doing so in the form of a dramatic movie. What’s left is a weak story with a predictable arc whose characters only show emotions in rare moments to little dramatic effect.
- Actually there are some differences between what the videogame-story is doing and what this movie’s story is doing. But the problem isn’t whether the movie is telling the same kind of story as the game does it’s that it seems to try telling it exactly the same WAY a videogame would. And that’s just a bullshit-move as far as videogame-adaptations go, I think.
- So, some girls bullied a girl who wanted to be their friend despite the fact that they shared no interests and were kinda different personality-wise? Well, that hardly sounds like a “friendship” in need of saving, I would say… And that the surviving “cool girl” would become good in the end and try to become “uncool girl’s” friend is a rather weird turnaround considering that the other two girls of that group ended up being in a coma due to associating with the “uncool girl” (even though they were bullying her, she was kinda the catalyst for their demise). The “cool girl” should’ve made a far bigger deal out of her other two friends falling into a coma in regards to her behavior towards the “uncool girl”.
- On the movie’s Wiki it says: “Director Noriyaki Akitaya stated that Yukari was his favorite character and jokingly hinted at a romance between her and Makoto in future films.” Sure, the game probably offered a romantic route for her but uhm… the way their relationship is portrayed in the movie at this point? No way in hell she would simply fall for a sociopathic asshole who’s kinda useful in battle-situations.