Spoilers because this is a review.
My partner has only purchased one film prior to As the Gods Will on the Vudu platform and that is Paddington 2. The reason we were watching this movie was because he saw a clip of it on TikTok. Somehow this felt like a portent of the night to come.
I feel like people talk about Takashi Miike the same way that they talk about Nicolas Cage. They both have the same kind of “gun for hire” reputation, but with a layer of respect. Film bros will espouse how much they love Miike, but they really only mean Ichi the Killer or Audition, two films I have admittedly not seen. Miike is the kind of prolific where you can’t actually always hit everything out the park having made over 100 films, 15 of which he directed in 2001 and 2002 alone. There are likely Miike completionists out there, but then there are all kinds of masochists in the world.
This is only the second Miike film I have seen, the first being Blade of the Immortal, a movie I described as “a bloody bit of violence festooned in screaming women and well crafted villains.” If I was to make an assumption about Miike off of these two films alone, that characterization holds true. But with an oeuvre this size, it is likely possible for two people to watch 10 films of Miike’s and come to separate conclusions about the man and both be accurate.
I am not familiar with the manga that As the Gods Will is adapted off of. I know that based entirely off of the wiki summary of one of the volumes which begins with “Finally becoming God, [character] starts by destroying Earth” that there is at the very least a slight difference in terms of scope.
As the Gods Will is a very gif-able film. It starts with a daruma doll menacing a classroom with murderous intent and a game of Red Light, Green Light. Players caught moving during this game explode into bloody red marbles. We are introduced to our protagonist, a high school student named Shun Takahata. He has very little actual personality aside from the protagonist halo that allows him not to die despite perhaps deserving to. The effects are that midway point between being ugly and stylistically over the top, and for the most part it is an effect that works. As Takahata vaults over the bodies of his classmates to stop the timer on the back of a murderous Japanese traditional doll, you’re less concerned with how little you know about his character and more about the sheer spectacle.
The movie is split into a series of “murder games” where-in the participants play in blood sport versions of childrens games in an attempt to make it out alive. Round 2 involves putting a bell on a cat, except that everyone is dressed as mice and the cat is a 20 foot tall mechanical monstrosity with a taste for human-mouse flesh. There is no point in this movie where it stops to chill.
This is the second strongest aspect of As the Gods Will.
The strongest is in the performance of Ryunosuke Kamiki as the tertiary protagonist and secondary antagonist Takeru Amaya. There’s no direct antagonist in the film in the sense that we’re never shown who is putting on these games, but Amaya’s intense bloodthirsty nihilism is definitely one for the books. He’s also the most compelling figure by far. The first time we see Amaya, before we’re given the real context for the games or his existence in the rest of the film, he is seen fighting a bunch of other students bloody. He continues this trend even as Takahata and the other characters attempt to work together. His sheer glee is oddly infectious – he is being an absolute menace but he’s having such fun at it that you just want him to keep doing it. The other characters are an even mix of panic and a desire to work together that Amaya’s desire to just watch the world burn is compelling.
The story is a bit of a mess. A friend watching said that it felt like a direct adaptation of a work that was in volumes, and I think you can make that argument. Every 20 minutes or so almost felt like an episode of television, with little connective tissue. We aren’t given a lot of reason to care about the “good guys” in this movie, so it’s hard to care when they sometimes meet violent ends. It’s a bit like a slasher in that respect – the movie gives you warm bodies just so you can watch them meet a bloody end. The games are simultaneously very simple and so needlessly obtuse, with unclear rules that can make the horror element diminish slightly. One of the more fascinating elements of horror (to me) is that there are rules laid out in advance and you have to watch the character make the decisions that will either spell their success or demise. In As the Gods Will, it frequently seems to come down more to raw luck.
A wiki description of the manga plot has Amaya leaving a scene like so: “He then kicks one of the people that come to pick them up on the roof of the cube, and steals a helicopter. While he leaves, he says to Shun “We’ll meet like this again someday!”.” That’s incredible. I don’t know why the Miike movie has it instead end with a random person being declared God and then a hint at a non-existent sequel.
As the Gods Will is a violent, mean affair that does not overstay its welcome and does not encourage any real exploration to its themes. There are discussions throughout about God and the nature of being a chosen one, but no one seems really all that interested in divining the truth. It’s really just a set up so that our two main male leads can talk in the dying light of the sun, chained together, with Amaya explaining that he only wants to have Takahata at the end of the world with him.
There’s a madcap exuberance to As the Gods Will, that maybe deserves a watch. But you’ll know about ten minutes in if it’s going to be a movie that you’re willing to sit through.