I have ventured off once again for another movie! This time being the first manga turned live action, Brave: Gunjou Senki. I’m not a big fan of historical films, as this one takes place in the Sengoku period, but with a star studded cast, and time travel elements what’s not to like?
Our protagonist is Nishino Aoi (Mackenyu) a member of the archery club at his school. His high school is known for the superior athletics as well as academics, where Aoi prefers to be above average, but not excel. He’s also incredibly fond of history, and mostly keeps to himself and his long standing friends Haruka (Yamazaki Hirona) a top four in Japan female archer and Kota (Suzuki Nobuyuki) the number one ranked male high school level kendo practitioner. On a seemingly average day, a fog comes upon the school revealing that they have been transported into the Sengoku period. As both his peers and teachers are slaughtered, Aoi and the remaining high schoolers must band together not only to survive, but attempt to return to the present.
I have no doubt that this particular adaptation that a lot of material was cut considering the source material is 17 volumes of manga, verses a two hour film. I haven’t read the manga personally, but I think this adaptation fits more into the the highlight reel with streamlined plot. If you give yourself permission to suspend disbelief as well as overlook the finer details; it does a superb job at being a highly entertaining adaptation.
I have to say one of the biggest faults, but one of the saving graces of the film was the cast. Realistically, it’s too large even when a majority of the school is killed off at the beginning. We are left with the cream of the crop, from the kyudo, kendo, karate, fencing, running, boxing, American football (of all things), and baseball teams. Bonus points that three members from the science club are also still around, and a handful of other students who were smart/lucky enough to survive.
That’s still a lot of characters in the movie, many of whom are named, and given speaking roles as well. I have no doubt that they are fully fleshed out characters in the manga, but the movie didn’t do anyone, not even Aoi, any favors. Everyone’s characterization was cut down to four points: 1) what team they are on 2) who their best friend, or biggest rival is, and at worse who their love interest 3) their attitude about this series of events which is either positive of survival or not and 4) if they are a leader, or follower.
This simplified characterization also worked incredibly well given such a big cast. With such straight forward characterizations, it was much easier to pick up on who worked with who out of friendship, verses circumstance and seeing those dynamics change as events occured. The events occurring, usually being someone dying and well… a lot of kids die in this film.
I say that knowing that I wasn’t particularly attached to any cast member. It still hurts to watch because these are just high school kids in their prime getting killed left and right due to shitty circumstances. We get small insights to their lives before all of this, especially when they’re eating. There’s a scene where the boys reminsince about what food they would eat before a game, and how much effort their mom’s would put into those meals. It’s touching that most of the kids don’t even want to eat the food, so much as thank their mom one last time. It makes them human, and so when they do die: it hurts. They’re just kids who’ve never had to bury a friend, let alone fight fight for their survival.
A poignant point is when you look at the history of kendo, kyudo, and karate. These were arts of war in the Sengoku period. The kids we see using these skills who ‘excel’ at these arts, have never had to use them as intended until they are transported back. It’s a really telling part of the storyline that I didn’t quite notice, or appreciate, until after I finished watching the film.
As for stand out’s in this film, it would be disgraceful not to mention Miura Haruma’s performance. Miura Haruma portrayed the historical figure, Matsudaira Matoyasu who served as the more neutral or ‘good’ samurai lord in the film. Matsudaira ended up hearing out Aoi and Kota when they explained that they posed no threat to him and his army, and requested that they be left alone to reclaim their captured peers and return to their era. As the story progressed, Matsudaira ended up taking a more mentoring role with Aoi, and it’s a moving performance. Not due it being one of Miura Haruma’s last performances, but due to the fact that Matsudaira and Aoi build the most complex relationship in the film. Mackenyu for his part as Aoi, does a pretty good job at speed running Aoi’s character development, especially at the end of the film where he subverts expectations. These two and their relationship are the big draw for the film, and it’s 100% worth it.
I have to say that this film has a lot of interesting tricks packed in. The action scenes are really well done, with some fantastic fight choreographies built in. All the physical hits, from tackles from by the American football team, the baseball team pitching, swords, arrows, etc all have real weight to them. They felt like they connected where they should have. Given how many fight scenes occur, the fact that all of them maintained that same level of believability was excellant. It was really innovative to see how the high schoolers, mostly thanks to the science guys, created their own weapons that the particular athletes could excel with using as well.
Regarding the blood shed of the film, it’s not as gore-y as you’d think. The initial attack on the school is the most brutal. At first I actually thought they were being attacked by zombie samurai, since that attack had a lot of horror cinema homages. This choice was done to set the grim mood, and the true devastation of the school and nothing more. In all following battles, the blood shed is significantly reduced in favor of showing the battle itself.
About the only weaknesses of the film was the lack of detail about certain events, and romantic subplots. In terms of why’s and how’s of the plot; it’s really not explained or was explained so quickly I didn’t catch it with my imperfect Japanese. I was left with a lot of questions about the particulars, which are most likely explained in the manga. Considering there was a huge subplot of how these kids know they are changing history, and then it’s proven to have changed history; I would have liked just a little bit more in-film clarification.
Additionally, yes there were romantic subplots. In the case of the boxer, Toshiaki played by Suzuki Jin, it makes sense as it’s his main motivation for the film. His girlfriend is abducted by Nobunaga’s gang, and thus when the group is deciding to do a rescue mission or not, he’s first in line to say he’s going regardless. With the other pairings that occur in the film, it felt like they were trying to lighten the mood in some cases, or deepen a nonexistent relationship, whereas it should have been cut, in my opinion, just to smooth it out.
While there’s an odd array of good and bad in the film, I have to say that overall Brave: Genjou Senki gets a solid recommendation from me. It’s not a film that will change the way you see the world, but it is a highly entertaining film to pass the time with.