Review: Kizumonogatari Part 3: Reiketsu-hen
Scarred for Life
In my review of Kizumonogatari Part Two, I stated that it might take about five years to see another film on level with the Kizu trilogy. Reading my words again, after coming out shellshocked from the theater that screened the final film, I realize I was mistaken.
We are not getting another Kizumonogatari. Not in five years. Not in fifty years. These three films are a singular artistic effort, the like of which, realistically, won't be repeated for some time, and I’m resigned to that fact as I deal with this slowly encroaching depression that seeks to fill in the void left by this film.
Part Three begins immediately after the end of Part Two with hapless rookie vampire, Araragi Koyomi, and scruffy supernatural specialist, Oshino Meme, discussing the last steps toward turning Araragi back into a human. Of course, it’s not so simple. Here we arrive at the part promised in the opening pages of the novel: an ending where everyone is miserable. Stylistically, Part Three isn’t quite as precision-engineered as Part One nor as fun and frantic as Part Two. What Part Three will be remembered for is its unflinching depiction of indignity and rage against the absurdity of genre conventions happening to a regular person and whether or not there’s a life worth living after that. It’s a full-scale teardown of Araragi Koyomi, brilliantly played by Kamiya Hiroshi, pushing his familiar character into dimensions unseen as he screams and howls while rolling around naked in his own filth for most of the film. The Monogatari series has rarely been a happy one, but the tone set for this film is so far and away from even the most tragic of Monogatari tales that you forget the whole story was predicated on a fateful panty flash.
Frankly, the whole thing is kind of shocking, and I keep thinking to myself, “I can’t believe they showed that.” The divergence in tone from the Monogatari TV series to the Kizumonogatari film truly sells the depth of misery that Nisioisin’s novel crafted with words. However, where the author coyly played with the visceral visual details for levity’s sake, the film is free to frolic through a sea of blood and dismembered limbs. Heads roll like a game of billiards once the film ratchets up to the final confrontation between Araragi and Kissshot Acerolaorion Heartunderblade. When the film goes for a lighter scene, sometimes it feels like the experience of watching a child, excitedly holding up a dead cat by the tail, walk into a conversation between adults. There are more than a few spots that provoke laughter less because the scene is actually funny and more because I’m thinking, “oh, that’s fucked up.”
What Monogatari almost always ends up doing is humanizing archetypical characters and letting them grow into their own as they survive through all kinds of terrible and embarrassing events. In this story, Horie Yui’s Hanekawa Tsubasa delivers on the missing nuance in her character in the subsequent chapters of Monogatari by showing the willfulness that complements her sexuality. The art of Kizumonogatari has a fetishtistic fixation on the human body, lending all the violence an extra touch of discomforting veracity, but the thing that moves the story is often just good old-fashioned eroticism. Matching Nisemonogatari’s infamous toothbrushing scene blow-for-blow, tit-for-tit, Part Three goes full-tilt on the climatic gym storage scene between Araragi and Hanekawa. It was one thing to read about the braless breast-fondling, but those lines, with this kind of vocal delivery and sensual animation, it’s a sound argument in favor of the film being better than the book.
Now don’t get the wrong idea about this breast-massaging scene. Let me backpedal a bit and mention that it ends with Hanekawa’s chastity intact and her virtue on the level of a saint, while Araragi transforms into a lowly dog whimpering and pleading for forgiveness. Nisioisin’s style is more pronounced in this last film as he agitates frustrations and challenges people to accept that things don’t always work out as they expect them to. This is the adaptation of Kizumonogatari I wanted to see, and even as it follows the book beat for beat, I found a small part of me wishing things would end differently. Once the body parts stop flying and the score is laid out for the remaining characters, there is a palpable hopelessness that there exists any better fate for Araragi than to suffer all of what is to come than an existence somewhere between a human and a monster for the duration of his life.
Altogether, Kizumonogatari Parts 1, 2, and 3 are fantastic films that push the boundaries of what to expect from mainstream anime. My complaints are excruciatingly minor; nonetheless, I have to call out a few artistic decisions I don’t agree with. Part Three starts right in the middle of a conversation, which sticks out as Part One begins with that phenomenal silent in medias res opening and Part Two cuts straight to the first major battle. It’d make a lot more sense if the films were cut together into a single picture, and I do hope to see Kizumonogatari in a three-plus hour-long format sometime (even if I have to make it myself). While I was excited to hear that the last film in the trilogy would stand at a hefty hour and a half of runtime, a fraction of it is recap footage from the earlier films. Knowing what SHAFT and the Monogatari Series is capable of, it’s somewhat perturbing that they opted to recycle material without any deviation.
The truth is, no-one will make a better Kizumonogatari adaptation. I’ll stick by my declaration that this is the best possible Kizu animation we could have gotten, and we are all immensely blessed to have lived long enough to see it. It bears the weight of the series’ future successes after the original novel’s publication so gracefully that the bridge is perfectly set for Bakemonogatari and onwards. Certainly, Kizumonogatari ends with everyone left miserable, but right there, in the last frame, there’s a smile that transcends the pages of the novel, that takes us down gently, that suggests this is a misery we can all bear together.