- Genre: Existential horror, supernatural, artsy
- Studio: ufotable
Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around just being you. What does that even mean, anyway? What exactly are you supposed to do with existing? Nothing really, that’s the rub. It’s the same old questions philosophers and emo teens have been asking since the dawn of time and we’re no closer to an answer. Or rather, the answer is different for each person and seeking it out can be a painful and violent venture. Yet this is exactly what each player in this tragedy must do, in their own way, their paths crossing and diverging again as they each must find their own truth within themselves. The only thing we can be sure about is that there will be blood.
I’ve already watched 4 of these movies. I’ve shared my thoughts along the way. There were highs and lows but one thing I can definitely say is that for better or worse, the Garden of Sinners franchise has a very distinctive voice. And in this 5th chapter, it was screaming!
I watched this movie last night and it’s still dancing around my head. Vividly! Throughout the movies, I’ve been praising production and tracking the use of non-textual (verbal) storytelling. It’s what first attracted me to the franchise, and I was sad to see this aspect pared down as the movies progressed. I can tell you, it’s back in full force and then some!
The overall quality of the art, acting and animation is fairly similar to what we saw in the last two movies, but the directing has taken quite the ambitious turn! There are tons of flair in framing and angles. Action is shot with wavering focus, almost simulating motion sickness. Of course, all of it is carefully intertwined with the story and really an integral part of the narrative. I can’t praise that framing enough, which becomes almost a central feature of the second arc (Mikiya’s) but I’ll talk about it more when I get to the story. Like I said, the way the plot is presented is as important as what’s happening in it.
And that’s just one aspect. The use of symbolic colour is liberally applied both in direct touches and in overall ambient tint throughout the movie. Perspective is constantly tweaked (forced, fisheye, panoramic) which gives eerie qualities to scenes or creates uneasy claustrophobia, which then affects how you take in the dialogue and events to ensure both a literal and emotional read of the story.
Finally editing tricks are incorporated throughout. Frequent jump cuts, repeated scenes sometimes identical sometimes shown from different angles or points of view and odd cold cuts before what would be considered the natural endpoint of a scene both focus your attention on specific elements without the need of exposition and creates interesting reveals. We even get tiny slivers of flashbacks that clearly fit into the narrative of previous movies to give you new reveals and flesh out the general lore and world-building of the franchise.
In case I’ve not made it abundantly clear, the technical presentation of the move was a spellbinding act of artistry. So far, the best example in the series and really one of the best I’ve seen in anime in general.
But with a two-hour movie, you need more than just craftsmanship to hold your attention. The Garden of Sinners established its core thesis right from the start. These movies deal with existential angst in a brutal and deliberate way. They attack it from every angle. The meaning and responsibility of life. The vague notion of personal identity. The dissonance of existing in a reality entirely defined by our personal understanding and experiences while colliding with everyone else’s realities.
These are heady themes and to be honest, the franchise can be hit or miss in its attempts at expression, but it is always deliberate and single-minded which I appreciate. Whether you agree or not with the messaging or even the purpose of exploring such grandstanding philosophical questions at all, you can’t deny that the Garden of Sinners has something to say. That’s worth something in my book.
This specific movie is presented in three general arcs. In the first, we follow a young man named Enjo who meets Shiki by accident, and the mysteries he brings with him. Enjo is trying to escape a tragic past with nowhere to go but as the story progresses and dead people seem to be coming back to life, it gets difficult to pinpoint what’s real and what isn’t.
Together, Shiki and Enjo are trying to figure out exactly what happened in this condominium complex when Enjo thought he had lost his family. It’s a very sad story with some downright unpleasant events but it’s framed as a mystery and occasional almost like a procedural. I’ve come to realize that I can enjoy very sad events in a different way when they come with a puzzle. My mind fixates on collecting clues and solving the mystery instead of being sad for the people within it. I think this is why we can watch crime shows without crying or calling them horror.
The second arc gives us intertwining blocks of events from Mikiya’s point of view (I learned that this was Kokuto’s name and I love it). We realize that characters we thought were absent were actually also actively taking part in the story and the two arcs eventually collide.
This is where that framing I was talking about earlier becomes so important. Shiki is part of this arc, but we never see her. She’s always just off camera. We hear her or see the effect she has on objects but that’s all. A disembodied presence, like a ghost moving through a story that’s not really hers.
The final arc brings everything together for the conclusion. I have to admit, simply seeing Shiki again had a powerful visceral impact on me that I did not expect. I like her as a character but I’m more emotionally attached to Mikiya and my beloved Touko (let’s face it, we all know she’s my type). Moreover, Shiki was front and center in the first arc. As such, I hadn’t realized how much I had missed her until she was there. This is smart direction and editing on the next level.
We find out more about Touko’s past here which I enjoyed if only for seeing Touko as a super-hot teenager and Mikiya is a very good leading man for this type of story. The only flaw I can find is with the antagonist(s). Unfortunately, it’s a big one.
The Garden of Sinners Chapter 5, Paradox Paradigm (maybe I’ll talk about this title someday), introduces Souren Araya as a powerful main antagonist and Cornelius Alba as a secondary villain. They take up quite a bit of room in the story and Araya is pivotal to the plot. You could say he is pretty much the entire driving force behind this movie. And they are both painfully dull.
Honestly, they feel like they belong to a different narrative. Basic, uninteresting and not even that scary. They are unworthy of the rest of the cast. Where Enjo brought a vulnerability which created interesting conflict and interplay with both Shiki and Mikiya, Araya and Alba are just there. They advance the plot in the least engaging way possible. And their little magical diatribes are muddled and bog everything down rather than add to the story.
I thought Fujino in Chapter 3 was fairly unrealized, but she is brilliant compared to these two. It has led me to believe that the Garden of Sinners is really much better when Shiki is her own worst enemy as they have not been able to create a villain that can stand on equal footing with her.
The second arc also basically explains the events of the first (with a rather unsatisfying the wizard did it sort of solution) which effectively puts an end to the mystery. This means those unpleasant events suddenly hit you with the full brunt of just how sad the story is. That’s not a flaw in any way. It just makes it a more emotionally taxing experience and I had to turn the TV off and take a little break after.
The ending is fine, it’s constrained by the failing of the second arc so I wouldn’t call it amazing, but it definitely has its moments and brings some nice emotional closure. The last scene before the credits (there’s a cute after credits scenes), has soft snow starting to fall, which ties it in with the meteorological theming of the franchise.
This was a long review. You should see my notes; they are all over the place. So, what’s the takeaway. Up until the confrontation with Araya and Alba, I thought the movie was brilliant. I was gearing up to rate it close to perfect and add it to my favourites. These two guys knocked the rating down a full point. The plot is only truly captivating in the first arc but the technical artistry shines throughout and the other characters make the second and third arc worth it, even if it does start to drag a bit at the hour and a half mark.
Despite its failings, this is still a very good movie and I do recommend you watch it. I’m just a little bitter at how close it got to be an amazing movie!
Favourite character: Touko – is this not clear yet?
What this anime taught me: mechanical pencils are called “rocket pencils” in Japan. That information makes me inexplicably happy.
Technically, alcohol is a solution
Suggested drink: A Time Warp
- Every time someone refuses to stay dead – take a sip
- Every time we see Tomoe’s mom – take a sip
- Every time we see a key – take a sip
- Every time we see a clock – take a sip
- every time we see a key AND a clock – gasp
- Every time anyone stabs anything – take a sip
- Every time we see a doorknob/handle – get some water
- Every time you spot a repeated scene – take a deep breath
- Every time there’s a picture or painting – take a sip
- Every time we see a puppet – take a sip
Being such a visually stunning movie, I couldn’t resist taking an unreasonable amount of screencaps which you can see here. Be warned, although I have chosen fairly innocent ones for the post, some on my Pinterest board are both graphic and potentially spoilery.