JMovie: Kuroshitsuji aka Black Butler
It’s inevitable really. I get excited when I learn that something I have read is coming to life. Well…I actually haven’t read much of the Black Butler series, but I have enjoyed the anime immensely. Plus, I’ve watched both musicals starring Matsushtia Yuya in the role of Sebastian. For whatever reasons, I was cautiously happy about learning of the live action movie adaptation, until I learned that about the major plot change. And boy was it major.
You know those unofficial adaptations of manga, like the Chinese Let’s Go Watch Meteor Showers which was based on Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio? They use a very similar plot, but can’t do it 100% faithful since they technically don’t even have the rights to produce it. Thus you get something that has the same framework, but is completely different. with Kuroshitsuji they used the original plot of the manga series as a framework, but completely made their own story which takes place a hundred or more years into the future than the original.
We open the movie with a voice over explaining that the world is split into the East which is ruled by a king and the West which is ruled by a queen. The queen employs nobles to use as spies or “watchdogs” who carry out investigations and dirty work. The original story from the manga takes place primarily in 1870s England and Ciel Phantomhive works for the British queen Victoria. We then cut to see a car where an announcement is made that another mummified corpse has been found. It’s a stormy day in an Eastern Nation (that’s it, they don’t name it) and the car eventually veers out of control before crashing. Inside, the driver is becoming a mummified corpse! On the seat next to him is a card with a picture of a devil on it. We then get a notice saying the queen has ordered an investigation of the serial mummification deaths.
We then cut to young women getting carted up. One of the women is thrown to the ground and the head of the organization throws down pictures and wishes to know where she got them. The girl [Goriki Ayame] ignores his questions and follows in vein with her own. Well, she also complains about his treatment of the women and then asks what is the contents of the envelope from the picture. The man pretends not to know and starts beating the girl. Enter the calm and collected Sebastian [Mizushima Hiro] garnering the attention of the goons and uncrated women. Who is he? He introduces himself as the Genpo family butler which shocks are head goon. Sebastian then pulls out…a butter knife, nothing like being armed with his trusty flatware. That is true to character…Sebastian using silverware to fight.
This earns much laughter and one goon sticks a gun to his head. Finally the young woman gives the order for Sebastian to kill everyone. Understood. He starts slicing and dicing and kicking butt with his silverware much to the shock and horror of the goons. Soon all that is left is the head goon and he’s got a gun to the girl’s head. Sebastian drops his knife to save her and gets shot in the head. Of course he’s not dead. The goon is all happy thinking he’s killed the kick butt butler and goes back to questioning the young woman. He rips off her eye patch and beneath is a startling blue eye. She’ll fetch a pretty price. They don’t really explain it in the movie, but that blue eye is the woman’s contract with Sebastian. They explain in the anime (probably the manga, too, but I haven’t read much of that) that the more visible the marking means something, but I can’t remember offhand what. Maybe it was just a signification of how strong the contract was.
The young mistress yells at him to stop pretending and get up. Sebastian does so and says that the guns of this age are definitely much different than the guns of a different age. What is he? Sebastian grins and calmly explains that he’s simply one hell of a butler…well at least that’s how it’s translated in the anime. He is using the term ‘akuma’ coupled with the Japanese word for butler in which case it would be more like demon butler. He and his mistress have a nice back and forth quarrel much to the goon’s amazement. You can tell how relaxed these two are so they aren’t really worried or threatened by the goon even though he’s the one with the gun. The goon has his gun aimed at the mistress’s head once more and when Sebastian doesn’t step up citing she’ll get shot, the young girl snaps and tells him what to do. Sebastian scolds her and reminds her that he has properly instructed her on asking, hasn’t he? She sucks it up and grinds out that she “commands” him or orders him, whatever you wish to say. Sebastian, faster than a bullet, makes sure the man doesn’t shoot his charge in the head. Kiyoharu gives the head goon one last chance which he doesn’t take, so Sebastian kills him.
This part, which is the initial stage of their investigation holds pretty true to the characters…not that we technically have the character of Ciel in this movie, but rather a Ciel-like character. Mizushima Hiro does a relatively good job of portraying Sebastian, but I’m so used to Matsushita and the anime that his portrayal doesn’t quite jive with what I have in mind when I picture our demon butler. He’s definitely got that dark vibe and some of his speech and way of doing things really nails the character of Sebastian while others don’t quite measure up. This scene here is probably the most Ciel-like we get with Goriki’s portrayal of 17-year-old Genpo Shiori aka the Earl Kiyoharu. Yes, we have a girl pretending to be a guy. Shocking. Not really. It’s a trend that is more common than you think. Only men can inherit the earldom, so that is why Shiori is masquerading as Kiyoharu. I’m not really loving the character of Shiori/Kiyoharu and I don’t think it’s 100% because of Goriki’s acting. I think this character wasn’t built as strongly as the character of Ciel Phantomhive.
As the two leave Kiyoharu lectures the girl with the cross praying saying there is no God and no one will come to her rescue. Such a cheerful personality, huh? Kiyoharu complains about having uncovered no real information, she pulls off her wig and reveals her short hair. We then cut to a bunch of flashes of just how Shiori became contracted to Sebastian. It follows the typical Kuro storyline. The Genpo parents are murdered and Shiori is branded. Enter Sebastian who saves her and makes a contract with her to gain her soul after she’s completed her revenge as that will deliver him a soul blacker than black. Ah! You know what is disappointing? The lack if shinigami who are at war with demons since demons take souls they are supposed to reap.
Those flashbacks to the contract are supposed to be a dream as after we see them, Kiroharu is startled awake. We then get a voiceover from Sebastian explaining his duties and introducing the Genpo servants—himself, the clumsy maid Rin [Yamamoto Mizuki] who makes Sebastian see red and desire bloodshed for how bad she is, and the Genpo steward Tanaka [Shigaki Taro]. I was so waiting to hear Tanaka’s “hohoho” laughter but we didn’t get that. Instead we did get him drinking his customary drink. A little off topic, but if Kiyoharu is supposed to be male, why the well-manicured longer nails? Just saying. How funny that in the year 2020 (or…near that time frame as the Genpo murders took place in 2010 and they say Shiori is only 17…which puts the year close to 2020) the fashion is more like the fashion of the original series with a more modern twist. I do have to say that Goriki’s masculine voice is thankfully not horribly fake. It’s a deeper tone than when she’s in female mode and seems more natural than some.
Shirota Yu is in this movie…not very long mind you, but he’s got a very small role as an emissary between the Queen and her orders and Kiyoharu. The Queen is very concerned with the mummification case because the dude who got mummified in the beginning was one of her men. Thus they really want Kiyoharu and crew to get to the bottom of the this case as soon as possible. After he leaves Sebastian and Kiyoharu go back to their office in the mansion and look at all the pictures and evidence that they have so far. Kiyoharu instructs her man to get all the info the local police have found.
We then cut to the Eastern officials. I’m not sure just who Nekoma Saneatsu [Kishitani Goro] in the government, but it’s some prominent position. Detective Tokisawa Ichizo [Yasuda Ken] comes to him with news about the Watchdog of the Queen being present. Tokisawa wants to move and eliminate the Queen’s Watchdog who he believes harms innocent people and could hurt their nation, but Nekoma negates this as there is insufficient proof to back up Tokisawa’s claims. The annoyed detective goes to leave, but Nekoma says that if Tokisawa is to eliminate the watchdog, he had better make sure the owner never finds out.
Kiyoharu is in a meeting for Funtom and gets scolded by her aunt Wakatsuki Hanae [Yuka]. I’m not used to seeing Yuka wearing such beautiful and revealing clothes. The last drama I saw her in was Hakuba no Ouji-sama where she was always dressed plainly and a little on the dowdy side. Of course, to have the stories run in a more parallel fashion, Kiyoharu has to have an aunt. Ciel’s only remaining relative was his aunt and she doted on him and worried over him much like Hanae is doing with Kiyoharu.
We then cut to Tokisawa getting information on the Genpos. We get some history that the Phantomhives migrated to whatever Eastern country this is and became the Genpos who create the Funtom company which produces toys and games. At the height of the company’s growth, Arihito and his wife Erika were assaulted and murdered while their only daughter Shiori went missing. Half a month later, the illegitimate son Kiyoharu pops up (with Sebastian) to inherit the Genpo fortune, title, and company. Much suspicion was raised about Kiyoharu’s identity as the heir, but DNA testing proved he was and that Erika’s sister Hanae is his only living relative. And…that is very incorrect. If he is supposed to be the illegitimate child of Arihito, then his mother’s sister would NOT be his relative. And whose DNA did they use? if they used hers as a test, then, again, definitely wouldn’t work.
Kiyoharu meets again with Charles Bennett Sato. She hands over what the Eastern Police have found in regards to Anthony Campelle’s mummification. Charles wonders over how easily Kiyoharu always gets information and Kiyoharu explains that the Queen’s Watchdog has a dog of his own. We then cut to Sebastian in the background playing with a kitty cat. Charles leaves after citing his great expectations for the fourth generation Earl and Kiyoharu asks why Sebastian likes cats so much. Sebastian replies they are his only true companions. The pair then head out to see the deceased’s body to see if they can glean any new information on the case. Thus…we get a meeting with the Undertaker [Kurihara Louis]. Of course he’s relatively normal looking compared to the Undertaker of Ciel’s day. By normal…I mean he doesn’t have white hair, ghostly pale skin or scars all over his face. This Undertaker is very flamboyantly dressed, though. Sebastian and Kiyoharu look over the corpse. Kiyoharu finds a small piece of cigar wrapper on the corpse’s mouth. Sebastian then points out the man’s hankie and on it is a wine stain that ends up being pretty important.
The Undertaker takes the corpse and leaves and Kiyoharu demands to know how Sebastian knew about the stain. Because Anthony was a gentleman, biting off the end of a cigar does not seem very likely unless he was drunk. The wine on the hankie is a rare and expensive one so it shouldn’t be too hard to narrow down the search results to a single place that will sell both Cuban cigars and this wine. Sebastian returns home with the news that only a certain high class club has both that ‘75 Chateau and Cuban cigars. It looks like secret events are being held there. Kiyoharu demands a guest list and Sebastian is already one step ahead. Her butler’s awesomeness really annoys her at times. Sebastian hands it over and says Kiyoharu will need a special invitation to go. She looks at the list and says there must be someone her aunt knows thus she will meet with her to get the invite. Kiyoharu finds meetings outside the home and office to be very bothersome. Sebastian says that is not befitting behavior for the Genpo heir. He talks about how Kiyoharu must be polite and smile. Kiyoharu replies that she has long lost her smile since the incident.
She does meet with Hanae and tries to unsuccessfully force a smile as per Sebastian’s orders. Hanae is quick to agree to her “nephew” and then suffers a small spell. Her butler Akashi [Maruyama Tomomi] is quick to hand her some pills. Enter Rin who can’t help but be a klutz leaving Sebastian to use his supernatural reflexes to catch a falling glass as well as capture all of Hanae’s pills before Akashi could even move more than a step. Flawless Sebastian.
Anywho, Hanae gets the invitation and Rin goes as Kiyohaur’s escort because you can’t go alone. Kiyoharu is startled when she sees the seal on the invite as it matches the brand on her shoulder and on the gun that was used to killer her parents. Just who is throwing the party? Kuzo Shinpei [Ibu Masato] who owns a pharmaceutical company. Sebastian goes to investigate the company while Rin and Kiyoharu go inside to a place that is pure hedonism of the top echelon. Rin annoys Kiyoharu as she defies the young Earl’s orders and remains by her side, thus they both get caught by Kuzo. I must say when push comes to shove, Kiyoharu sucks. I want to say Ciel was a bit better and could do a bit to defend himself, but I could be wrong. Anywho, she fails epically at protecting herself and Rin and both end up tied up with hoods over their heads.
I have to laugh because while Kiyoharu is in danger, Sebastian got distracted by a kitty on his way to do his duty. He goes into the lab of Kuzo’s pharmacy and finds several different drugs…which he tries all of. I’m guessing since he’s a demon, drugs can’t hurt him anyway…but can he really learn something from trying them all? He takes samples of each drug with him. He then notices something and goes over to see a bunch of young women with tubes surrounding them. Looks like he knows what is going on now. He then hears a beeping noise. He locates a blinking ready light and nonchalantly turns to leave when the lab explodes.
Meanwhile the Earl and Rin are with Kuzo and and underworld lord Shinozaki. Kuzo is showing off the wonders of his new drug necrosis. Um…I know these people are already pretty high on whatever other drugs Kuzo has made, but I can’t believe they trusted a drug called Necrosis would be a good thing. The word’s origin is Greek meaning death and has to do when body tissue dies due to lack of blood flow. Needless to say, the guests get a nasty surprise as their body starts the mummification process. Kuzo then has the cure revealed and it’s a stampede to get to it in time. Kuzo is killed by Shinozaki who leaves the room after shooting at the protective glass. It starts cracking. Kiyoharu manages to cut through the ropes and drag Rin out of the club before the glass shatters, infecting them as well. Seriously, that has to be the best anti-drug campaign right there.
Charles is called and Kiyoharu tells him the serial murders are due to the drug Necrosis and that Shinozaki is behind everything. Kioyoharu plans on going to Shnozaki posthaste. Enter Rin saying the police are there to talk to bocchan and Sebastian who pulls out his dinner knife. Charles reminds them about the national exorcism day…is that really right? top officials and people will be there and nothing must interrupt it. Sebastian puts the knife away. Looks like he’ll play nice with the cops while Kiyoharu goes to Shinozaki. Like that makes sense. Before the two part ways, Kiyoharu tells him to act “befitting” which is a code word between the two.
Takisawa leaves Sebastian with his underlings who are instructed to rough the man up so he’s willing to talk to Takisawa. Like that’s going to happen. Sebastian does not have time to play with the police officers and he quickly dispatches all of them in a way befitting the Genpo’s butler. I think he just knocked all of them out and then left them in positions where it would be hard for the casual observer to tell they weren’t conscious. I have to say that while some of Sebastian’s actions seems posed (or rather there’s posing which works in anime and stage plays but looks more awkward in a live action movie) and the speeches and way of speaking don’t really seem to be like they should be, Mizushima does score great points for facial expressions. When he lets other expressions slip in besides the usual bland one, it’s definitely ten times more effective.
Meanwhile, Kiyoharu arrives at the warehouse in time to see Shinozaki’s men being slaughtered. The men are killed on top of a tarp/canvas to make sure there is no evidence left behind. This means that Shinozaki is set to take the fall and all evidence that he’s really dead won’t exist. Of course Kiyoharu is discovered as Rin shows up saying she was commanded to stay by her mistress’s side. Yes, she knows Kiyoharu is really Shiori. We also learn that Rin is NOT a defenseless klutz. Okay, she’s a klutz when it comes to being a made, but she’s also a maid who can totally kick butt once her glasses are gone. Thus she saves Kiyoharu and has the Earl run for her life while she creates a distraction. While her fighting isn’t completely up to Sebastian’s standards. Our demon butler does arrive at the last minute to save Rin as she’s run out of ammo and is about to be shot (again, but this time fatally). It was his mistress’s order that he save their servant to which Rin respond’s that she’s not worthy before passing out. I am confused by what Sebastian means when he asks if she’s prepared for the consequences.
So how did Sebastian get there? Kiyoharu arrives outside the factory and finds him with her aunt. Kiyoharu then commanded him to save Rin and get to the exorcism to stop the diabolical terrorist plot from happening? Kiyoharu notices something is off and says they are going the wrong way. Her aunt assures her they are going the right way. It turns out that her aunt is behind the whole thing! She has Akashi set up a bomb that will burst the Necrosis pills and kill everyone in like a 1 kilometer radius. Does the aunt’s betrayal surprise me…well her hatred of Kiyoharu does, but not her being a bad person.
In the manga Lady Red joined forces with shinigami Grell Sutcliff to become Jack the Ripper and murder prostitutes who had abortions…I think that had to do with the fact she couldn’t have her own kids or something like that. They actually take the story from the manga and make it 10 times more twisted for the movie. What do I mean? We get Hanae’s speech about the Genpos. Being the Queen’s Watchdog was passed down from generation to generation just like the Earldom, but the Wakatsuki sisters did not know this at first. Anywho, it turns out Arihito could choose between the two and he chose Hanae over Erika. This made her happy. Then there was an attack on the Genpo manner and she lost her unborn child and became barren. Since Arihito was a tradition-bound man, he divorced his wife and married her sister. Of course, Kiyoharu doesn’t want to hear such evil things about her parents. Her beloved father could never have done that to her aunt. Believe it or not, that is what happened.
Hanae is gearing up to kill the unwanted brat and take over the Genpo business and fortune. She decided that since she can’t have children and all that jazz, she will become immortal instead and take back everything that was once hers. She also talks about how she knows Sebastian is a demon as Kiyoharu fell to the Genpo curse of selling her soul to a demon to which Kiyoharu screams that she only di that because of her parents’ murder to get revenge and just who was it that killed her parents? Her aunt. Or at least her aunt conspired with some unknown person to kill them.
In the manga, Ciel’s aunt I think did love his father, but they were never married. One of the reasons she doted on Ciel so much was because he was his father’s sons. You also get to learn why she always wore red…and why she also love and hated the color. Yuka’s portrayal of the unhappy aunt Hanae is really rather good. From her psychotic acting to her hurtful acting. She does a wonderful job.
Enter Sebastian who is always there in the nick of time. He knows that the kidnapped women were being used to fashion drugs to keep Hanae youthful and thus he suspected her to be the culprit. In producing this drug by using the essence of young women (kind of a spin of the Blood Countess legend about Elizabeth Bathory), the byproduct was the death-causing Necrosis drug. Anywho, Sebastian gets in a fight wit Akashi who is taking the place of Grell. So no Grell awesomeness, just a drug enhanced super butler who can and does give Sebastian a run for his money. When our evil doers think they have the upper hand, Kiyoharu crushes a Necrosis pill. Hanae gloats about how she has the antidote only to find it missing. That’s fine because butler Akashi has the antidote. He goes to take it out, but it is also missing. Looks like not only did Sebastian teach the girl how to properly ask for favors (by ordering), he also taught her how to be light fingered. Like butler like mistress. Sebastian downs the antidote so there is no cure…well…he kept two for his mistress of course.
I love when Akashi and Sebastian are fighting and Akashi cuts his face with a pure silver blade. It was made to kill Sebastian as legend has it silver is lethal to vampires. Sebastian touches his cheek and tells Akashi not to lump him in with such graceless creatures.
To save herself, Hanae reveals that she isn’t the mastermind and was following orders. Whose orders? She honestly doesn’t know. Thus Kiyoharu makes the hard choice to keep her evil aunt alive in hopes of learning the identity of the mastermind. She goes to hand over half the remedy (you need to have two pills otherwise your risk brain damage) while Sebastian puts head in hands over her choice. Hanae grabs both pills and eats them gloating over her victory until Sebastian’s laughter and worse symptoms appear. What happened? He gave her the necrosis pills died red by his blood to fool her as he was certain she would take both pills since humans are horribly greed creatures. Since she had double the dosage, Hanae turns to dust while her butler is stabbed with his own sword and dropped into a pit.
Sebastian wishes to rush to the lab to get the antidote to save Kiyoharu, but the girl refuses. Her life is not important like all the others. This makes Sebastian very angry. He refuses to help his dying mistress so she struggles to take the bomb up to the roof by herself while the disappointed Sebastian watches all the way. She gets up there and struggles to open the briefcase. It’s not her aunt’s birthday nor her father’s. What could the passcode be? It all started in October 2010 when Hanae helped kill her parents and that passcode works. She removes the bomb portion with only 10 seconds to spare and tosses it into the air as she lunges to cover the drugs so they don’t bust open.
Now that the crisis is passed, she is happy while Sebastian scolds her for being a boring master who chose death. Despite everything he says he does take out the real antidote and crushes it in his mouth and feeds it to her so that she does not die. She needs to live and continue her revenge to deliver him a soul beyond black. I guess her soul isn’t ripe enough for him. Of course, Kiyoharu points out that this is all a front put up by the demon who still does have some expectations in the human realm which is why he stayed all these years. Sebastian then says that isn’t the case as humans show no hope. Kiyoharu then says that she heard demons were once angels who were dissatisfied and fell into hell.
Kiyoharu is recuperating at her mansion and things have pretty much gone back to normal. Her quest for revenge is really only just beginning as they need to unravel the mystery behind it all. Sebastian is by her side like always. The young woman tells him that while everyone else can betray her, only he can’t. Definitely a very interesting spark of vulnerability that she’s showing here. Sebastian accepts this order and goes to leave, but she calls for him to stay until she falls asleep. Our butler smiles and sits on the end of the bed and strokes her head much like her father did. In fact she does see her father in Sebastian at that moment. It was interesting how Kiyoharu points out in this scene that humans in reality are more demon-like than the demon themselves.
I guess this movie did do a good job in portraying the twisted and odd relationship between servant and master, but I do feel less than satisfied overall. It could be because they tried to run the parallel arcs of a modern day story to vaguely match the one from the past, but I don’t quite know. This movie has some great moments and some less than amazing moments. I recommend watching it at least once and if you know nothing of the anime or manga, don’t worry since it doesn’t actually follow the story arc you won’t be lost of horribly confused…except for maybe a few unexplained plot points, but those are few and far between.
Ah, our detective got a note from Sebastian along with the drugs and I almost forgot to mention that Nekoma sent out a letter saying that the Queen’s Watchdog did survive and the seal as that two snake seal again, so he’s involved in all of this too. Will we get a sequel in this series like we have for Kenshin?
The first half of the movie was more of an intro to the characters and how they act and a very brief history. The second half is the duo saving the day and nearly an hour is spent on Kiyoharu/Shiori confronting her deranged aunt. The pacing seems slightly off in that respect. I think the way I feel about this movie is almost. It almost was a really good movie, but it is just missing that little bit to make it so. I think, in the grand scheme of things, there is something missing between the butler and bocchan. I’m not exactly certain what. Sure they have a connection and you see just how desperately Kiyoharu does depend on Sebastian even though she hates to show it and you can see likewise that Sebastian does care about his mistress in some way, but I really do feel there is something missing in this team which was present in the manga and anime between Ciel and Sebastian. Ciel was even younger than Kiyoharu for the main events and he managed to pull of a more dignified and mature air. He was also less prone to panic and get emotional. Kiyoharu plays at being emotionless, but her real feelings always seep through and break that up. I liked how the bickering went between the deadpan Earl and the deadpan Butler in the anime. It’s definitely missing in here. And those rare moments when Ciel actually shows that he is still a child despite all he’s experienced. We don’t have that with Kiyoharu. The only thing you get from her is her “girl” mode where she gets all soft and apologizes to her deceased parents for not being able to honor the revenge all the way through. It’s just not the same.
One of the interesting things about Kuroshitsuji (manga, anime, movie) is the fact that we have demons, but the demons are portrayed as being more human than the humans. Want to see the worst in a person? You don’t need to find a demon, look at the humans around you and you will find depraved beings as bad if not worse than the demons in the story. Even if Sebastian is only doing good deeds to help Kiyoharu/Shiori get revenge so he can devour her soul, you do see that he is a demon with principles. Whether he is an exception to a role, remains to be seen.