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Bleach (2018)
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by Jay Seaver

"Potentially the start of something very fun."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Unlike many adaptations of Japanese comics which have to guess at the ending, the release of the live-action "Bleach" movie roughly coincides with the conclusion of the original manga, give or take a few months - not bad timing, considering that series ran for roughly seventeen years of weekly releases. It's not hard to see what made the manga so popular; this adaptation of its "Soul Reaper Agent "arc is a satisfying bit of young-adult fantasy action which promises more without feeling like it's short-changing someone who just wants a couple hours of adventure.

Teenager Ichigo Kurosaki (Sota Fukushi) isn't exactly looking for adventure; though protective of little sisters Karin and Yuzu and his absent-minded father Isshin (Yosuke Eguchi) ever since the death of his mother when he was a kid, he could do without the part where he sees ghosts. It also means he can see soul-reaper Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki) as she fights a monster invisible to humans. Injured in the battle, she transfers her power to Ichigo, who has a surprising knack for it - her weapon grows bigger and more powerful in Ichigo's hands, and he is able to dispatch the "hollow" quickly. He apparently has a high spiritual pressure that prevents Rukia from reclaiming her powers, marooning her as a mortal. She has to train him so that he can dispatch more hollows and liberate enough power to recharge Rukia, as not only are there more dangerous hollows out there, but between the reapers who prize their secrecy and their sworn enemies of the Quincy tribe, there are a lot of people gunning for the pair.

Extraordinary teenagers fighting supernatural menaces while still trying to get through high school is not exactly the most original idea, especially in Bleach's original medium, but director Shinsuke Sato and his collaborators show a casual comfort with it that isn't always present. They seldom fall into the traps of fetishizing high school experiences or making everybody act like immature teenagers, or cranking up the melodrama so high that there doesn't seem to be any room for pedestrian concerns. The stakes are high but not so much that Ichigo can't keep a foot in both worlds. Stars Sota Fukushi and Hana Sugisaki are a big part of why it works - Fukushi makes Ichigo a big-hearted but reluctant hero despite his expansive personality, while Sugisaki handles Rukia's straight-faced dedication so that it's often deadpan funny but not a joke. They and the film are at their best early on, when "buddy comedy" is showing more than some of the other genres that have been put in its blender - the chemistry between its two superpowered teens is sharp but, at least for now, thankfully non-romantic.

Sato and company have a deceptively casual way of adding all the fantasy elements here, considering that this is absolutely the sort of epic that accumulates characters, and mythology quickly, especially during early chapters like this. Sato and his-co-writers are good at leading Ichigo, Rukia, and the audience to the next thing as the story goes there without feeling like they're checking things off a list. The picture does eventually succumb a bit to manga and film being paced differently, drawing things out while being cryptic and not having a lot of time for supporting characters. By about the halfway point, the viewer has got an idea of where this is going to go, and at it would be nice to for the filmmakers to either get on with it or distract us with some more of the comedic stuff.

The action is a lot of fun, at least, even if it involves a lot of swinging plastic swords at special effects. Sugisaki, Fukushi, and the other actors at least do so with conviction, and by now Sato is fairly good at bridging the gap between the larger-than-life drawings on a page and what can be done in live-action, as well as how the latter can make peril more real and intense, getting from outrageous to not messing around quickly. The movie benefits a lot from nifty creature design - the "Hollows" all look great, with the effects crew doing a nice job of translating things like the empty spaces that give them their names that were designed for the page to three dimensions - and making the sort of general heightened reality feel just real enough.

Sato and company have certainly made it exciting enough that I do hope the studio adapts more arcs with this group. From what I've seen at the comic shop, there's plenty of them, and this movie leaves one ready for more even as it finishes in tidy-enough fashion.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32407&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/01/19 09:43:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/05/19 Kengh A fascinating Live-action film. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Shinsuke Sato

Written by
  Shinsuke Sato
  Daisuke Habara

  Sta Fukushi
  Hana Sugisaki
  Ryo Yoshizawa
  Taichi Saotome

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