Operhus! Kikuri-hime! Pyro Jack! Scathach! Leanan Sidhe! Skadi! Mother Harlot! Thor! Thanatos! Lucifer! Jack Frost! Are all the name of demons I used the most in the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES. A game that restored my faith in video games and made me hold them to a higher standard. While I’m a fan of Shin Megami Tensei in general. For my money worth Persona 3 is the best game in both SMT and its own franchise. I’m pretty biased when it comes to my love of the video game even with some design decisions that irks others (most common one being unable to control your whole team during battles) I actually appreciate. However, not even my single minded love for one of my favorite video games can make me see “Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth” as anything more than a disjointed disappointment.
Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth follows Makoto Yuki, a transfer student at Gekkoukan High School, suddenly awakened with the powers to control a Persona. Episodic pacing serves to highlight the script flaws that tackle allot more than it knows how to handle. A film that has teenagers aiming Evokers (guns basically/deep symbolism) at their heads and shooting to summon their PERSONA picks a dark tone without consistency in characters. Junpei Iori is introduced as comic relief who reverts between being a clown to being envious of Makoto abilities. This change occurs immediately, although the rest of the cast go unscathed. With the exception of Makoto Yuki mostly muted transformation the cast of characters remain wholly the same. Personally I hated how Makoto Yuki was adapted, but in the film he has a subtle progression in letting in emotions. Yet despite Makoto being the only character who has progression not even he can escape one dimensionality. He’s the orphan loner who learns the meaning of friendship, but not gaining much of a personality by the end.
The film only adapts the first three full moon incidents which in the game is three months worth of story. To further highlight this, the progression of time is shown through a calendar that says a lot time has pass which also means there’s lot that is being left out. There’s hardly any progression to be seen both in character growth and in conflict. Thematically the whole driving force is strengthening one’s bond which is hardly showcased among Makoto friends. There’s Yukari Takeba who’s angry at Makoto for leading the group as just a job he’s told to do. Next is Junpei like earlier said goes from hating Makoto guts to being envious of his abilities. Mitsuru Kirijo is the oldest among the high school students which seems to all goes into her character in the film. Akihiko Sanada likes to fight…that’s all really. Then there’s Shuji Ikutsuki who is the only adult character in the film with any influence in the story, but gets sideline leaving to question of how he could be active during the dark hour without a Persona. Finally, Fuuka Yamagishi is the damsel in distress who gets bullied, though compare to the main cast her little screen time has a complete arc.
Still going the film leaves many blanks like the incident that killed Makoto parents, why Gekkoukan High School turns into Tartarus (a giant tower filled with demons), how the Dark Hour came to be, and did I just see a promotional plug in the post credit sequence that said its sequel is coming soon. Granted being a fan I know the answers. However, it ideas while interesting are left underdeveloped that is vague rather than mysterious. The set up with this film is deliberately to be seen with the whole series together, but as a stand alone title doesn’t complete everything that it set up. For starter, it explanations are not absolute in giving the audience (specifically newcomers) an exact understanding of how it world or powers functions. Leading to instances of Deus Ex Machina that eliminates the difficulty of a scenario for the characters down to a easy victory. Sadly one of those deus ex machina named is Jack Frost (my favorite persona) who becomes an ace in easy victory. No steady world building to get suck into this odd world. It’s thrown in resulting in the story basically being “there’s monster, let kill them” and finished. What exactly Tatarus gets under explained; how it came to be and it purpose are not explained. Too many characters that prevent growth leaving many to disappear or sit in the sideline until further needed. Withholding information for easy solutions in difficult conflict eliminating tension. Finally it feels incomplete. Just because the credit rolled doesn’t mean the story has entirely been wrapped up.
Shoji Meguro returns in his role to produce the soundtrack and as usual his work is stellar. Crazy techno/hip-hop soundtrack creates a unique tone. The game’s soundtrack is largely reused in the movie and fits just as well. As a fan of Shoji Meguro in general, the best part of the film was the opening credits with a remixed version of “Burn My Dread”-complete with an added strings section. The film does not provide many new material worth looking into, but the rearrangement of familiar tracks makes it a nostalgic trip for fans and improve on the tunes found in the game. Art direction captures the game’s dark atmosphere perfectly. The usage of lightning is key since most of the film takes place in the dark. It looks stunning thanks to the clever use of moonlight, the action in the film is easy-to-see while the lighting still manages to keep the setting looking ominous. Locations from the game are brought to life and given a vibrant new look, whilst also retaining the same details that any fan of the game will remember fondly. Plenty of foreboding compositions, oppressive shots, and generally solid direction help to keep things interesting. Animations such as the school turning into Tartarus are rendered beautifully, and many elements of movement and action that were previously left to the imagination are now visually stunning and exciting. The original Japanese voice cast returns to reprise their role and are just solid in the film adaptation. In particular Akira Ishida gets allot more to say besides some grunts and demon names. While limited in dialogue, Akira Ishida grim voice fits the broken character of Makoto.
Persona 3 The Movie: Chapter 1, Spring of Birth feels incomplete as a standalone film. Characters are one dimensional, several questions are left unanwered, and ends with a direct promotion for the sequel. Not since Max Payne have I been disappointed in lost potential for a good film adaptation of a video game. As a fanboy all it does is make me want to play the video game because of the film incessant it is to cram everything into a single film without time for it to be fleshed out. As a movie watcher it feels incomplete with it story withholding information, having no clear ending, a disjointed story with underdeveloped characters, and the last image shown promotes a sequel that might be worth skipping if it’s more of the same. It’s in the middle ground that while it’s no insult to both audiences like “Mortal Kombat Annihilation”, it’s sadly neither an easily accessible live action “Ace Attorney”.
Persona 3’s Suicide Imagery:
So in order to summon a Persona you need the gun-like Evoker and shoot yourself in the head. In the game and film it’s explain it’s not an actual gun, though how it works is rather vague. Like even though it’s said not to be a gun everytime the trigger is pulled it makes a gun shot sound. However, it’s used to simulate fear in order to simulate extreme stress to make it possible to summon a Persona. While they’re not killing themselves the image looks like they are blowing their brains out-often complete with spiritual brain and skull fragments. If you can’t handle fictional characters or the sight of teen suicide. I’m saying this nicely, if that kind of thing upsets you just quit watching any video media. There’s allot teen suicide imagery in the film and also hundreds of years worth films that also go for darker, more unsettling images than what this film goes into.