Marvel and DC may rule the North American multiplex, but that doesn’t mean their fans have read the source comics. In Japan the opposite is true: The manga comes first and foremost in a media chain that eventually leads to anime, games and, at the end, live-action films.
The latest example is “Bleach,” Shinsuke Sato’s live-action adaptation of Tite Kubo’s megahit manga (120 million paperback volumes sold) about a teenage boy who confronts supernatural forces.
The film is a familiar mix of seishun eiga (youth film) tropes and full-bore action set pieces. The latter have become a trademark for Sato, who brought Hollywood-level excitement to “Inuyashiki” (2018), “I Am a Hero” (2016) and other manga adaptations, if infused with TV drama cliches, the sappy and soapy included.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||108 mins.|
“Bleach” follows the outlines of the manga faithfully enough — the volatile hero, Ichigo Kurosaki (Sota Fukushi), even has the same orange hair as the original — but it also simplifies its world for newcomers, of which this reviewer is one. Powers and rules are carefully explained, in some cases with humor-inflected animations that a child (and I) could understand.
To please dedicated readers the film also incorporates important characters from the manga, particularly Ichigo’s classmates. They mostly serve as a Greek chorus commenting on the action without becoming a central part of it. Fans may not approve, but I was grateful for the less-than-usual character clutter.
As the story begins, we learn that Ichigo has been able to see the dead since boyhood. One exception: his gentle-spirited mother (Masami Nagasawa), who died young under mysterious circumstances, leaving Ichigo, his good-natured dad (Yosuke Eguchi) and two cute little sisters behind.
Soon after, a teenage girl with the look and bearing of a samurai appears out of nowhere to defend the Kurosaki clan from a huge spider-like monster. Called Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki), she is getting trounced when she tells Ichigo — the only human able to see her — that he must take on her powers if he wants to save his family. He reluctantly agrees and is transformed into a “Soul Reaper,” a super-powered being who escorts the newly dead to the afterlife and defends them from monsters known as Hollows that devour human souls.
Ichigo fends off the spider-like Hollow and Rukia, now without her powers, enters his school as a transfer student and trains him to be a proper Soul Reaper.
The action really gets underway when Ichigo again confronts the Hollows, culminating with a shape-shifting boss called Grand Fisher, as well as the icy Byakuya Kuchiki (rocker Miyavi) and the punkish Renji Abarai (Taichi Saotome), Soul Reapers outraged that a mere human has acquired Rukia’s powers.
These scenes will hold few surprises for fans of the genre, though Sato and his CG staff perform wonders with their limited (by Hollywood standards) budgets. For all the devastation and derring-do, though, high school life goes on and Ichigo remains Ichigo, if a better sword fighter than when he started out.
Not to give anything away but the film truly ends, a “to be continued” is neither stated nor implied. That, more than a teenage boy taking on the powers of death itself, may be the real miracle.