Review: Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu-hen
Waking Up in the World of the Night
For the past few years, I’ve repeatedly asked myself "when is Kizumonogatari coming out?" Without exaggeration, I’ve been waking up every day, asking myself this one question. It's not just that I really like Bakemonogatari. The utter silence from Studio SHAFT and the production committee about the alleged film adaptation of the Kizumonogatari novel and a nagging feeling that there has been a critical piece missing of the Monogatari series lent a sort of mystique to the story of Kissshot Acerolaorion Heartunderblade. Kizumonogatari is one of those things that took seed in my mind, and over time, it occupied my waking thoughts. Was it ever coming out? If not, how could anyone allow this to happen? What would it even look like, with so many years spent in production? My longing for Kizumonogatari became a formative experience. I’m afraid to admit it, but it has partly made me into the person I am today.
So, naturally, I booked a ticket to Tokyo the day that a release date was announced for Kizumonogatari. Yes, the film got Peter Jackson’d into a trilogy of hour-long movies and yes, there’s a premiere in America, but that’s in February, a month after the Japanese premiere, so it doesn’t count for anything. I’m a victim of circumstance. It doesn’t matter though, because I now live in a world where I’ve seen the Kizumonogatari film adaptation and it's a much better place than the world before it.
Kizumonogatari Part 1 is the experience of having all my hopes and dreams realized, and then surpassed. It takes the memories of this thing I really enjoyed and makes a transcendental work of art out of it. The novel is the simple story of a boy, his vampire mistress, and the trials that befall them on their quest to gather the stolen pieces of her body, but the theatrical adaptation delivers a visionary interpretation of this original work. For a running time of a single ephemeral hour, Kizumonogatari is a tremendous film, visually capturing a degree of scope I couldn’t even imagine in my wildest fantasies, and I’ve had a lot of time to fantasize. There’s definitely a sense of self-awareness at its core that this anime is something of a monumental occurrence, yet there are no sly nods and winks to the crowd. Kizumonogatari lets the animation do the talking, and in a rare, beautifully realized decision, it foregoes the patented wordiness of the Monogatari series for expressive cinematic composition. The film adapts every scene of the novel with such brutal, vivid precision that I could feel myself getting overwhelmed by the masterful silence, relying on only the shot to tell the story.
The film is a success in many ways, but primarily it's because Kizumonogatari brings back the weirdness and the sense of confidence in its imagery that has been missing ever since Bakemonogatari. I talked incoherently for some length of time about the novel on the Ani-Gamers Podcast, but the one idea I hope I got through is that the novel set itself apart in tone from the rest of the series, and it’s so immediately apparent once the images are projected on the screen. Kizumonogatari plays like a dream where fantasy is perceived as real and real is perceived as fantasy. Iconic monologues are delivered in split-second French title cards. Pristine 3-D spaces are mashed in with realer than lifelike shimmering water while traditionally animated characters are caught in a fateful gust of wind that blows their hair like you’ve never seen hair blowing in the wind before. Flailing, burning bodies descend like meteors over a landscape of SHAFT’s famous industrial scenery, and the textures and the light seem to be etched right into the screen. Old Bakemonogatari tracks are given a sexy new sound for cinematic effect. A hypnotic bassline reminiscent of John Carpenter sees us on our way out as the credits roll. I walked into that theater with a certain dream in mind and I walked out with someone else's, a dream so much more evocative of the dread and isolation and the glimmers of hope in Kizumonogatari that I’m almost ashamed of dreaming in such a small way for myself.
Kizumonogatari is a shining example of what time and dedication can manage to produce. I couldn’t be happier with the final product. It’s better than we deserve. We’re only a third of the way through, but what I’ve seen already has more than justified the wait.