Last year, the Japanese anime “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” racked up an impressive $49.5 million at the domestic box office. It even accomplished the rare feat of climbing to the #1 spot in its second weekend after opening at #2 (because “Mortal Kombat” was terrible and fell like a rock). Similarly, the anime “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” opened at #2 this past weekend behind the third weekend of “The Batman” and I would love to see it climb to #1 next weekend. That overstuffed cash cow could stand to be taken down a peg and this movie deserves whatever success it can find.
The story follows teenager Yuta (Megumi Ogata, and I’m going by the Japanese version with English subtitles, rather than the English-dubbed version that is alternately available) as he struggles with a powerful curse he accidentally put upon himself as a child. The curse takes the form of a powerful monster named Rika (Kana Hanazawa) that pops up and attacks enemies whenever he gets too upset. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and even contemplates submitting to an execution to rid the world of his curse, but blindfolded teacher Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura) tells him there is another way. Yuta can come study under him at a special secluded school and learn how to control the curse so that it benefits the world and even help rid it of evil curses. Comparisons to “Harry Potter” and “X-Men” are unavoidable, but the template is used to its full potential.
Yuta has a hard time fitting in the school, but then again none of the other students fit in anywhere either. Maki (Mikako Komatsu) knows everything about curses and how to handle them with various objects, but is secretly inept on a very basic level. Toge (Koki Uchiyama) is an already-established warrior skilled in curse-speak, but limits his standard conversation strictly to ingredients in rice balls (“Tuna Mayo” is the new “I am Groot”). Panda (Tomokazu Seki) is… a panda… with the ability to turn into a bigger panda. He picks up on some attraction between Yuta and Maki. Because in 2022, where there are hormonal teenagers, there has to be a panda.
Yuta and the school soon find themselves pitted against evil former student Geto (Takahiro Sakurai), now a powerful sorcerer with the creepiest smile you’ll ever want to see. He wants to rid the world of non-sorcerers, which would seemingly leave it with a population of about a few hundred people, but whatever. Geto rightly deduces that Rika is the most powerful curse in the world, and all he has to do is kill Yuta to absorb the curse and make him unstoppable. He unleashes a thousand curses in Tokyo and Kyoto to keep Gojo and the other students and faculty busy so he can attack an unattended Yuta back at the school. These urban battle scenes are filled with characters that barely appear elsewhere in the film, and I assume they are cameos from other arms of this franchise. The “0” in the film’s title indicates that it is a prequel to a supposedly-familiar, properly-numbered series, but outside of a few scenes where maybe the world-building was a little too ambitious, I thought this worked perfectly fine as an introduction.
I found myself really getting invested in the culture of “Jujutsu Kaisen.” It doesn’t hurt that the creative curse/creature designs are incredible. They’re nightmarish, but I can’t get enough of them. This movie does have the same problem as “Demon Slayer” when it comes to battle sequences, where there’s a huge explosion every few minutes that should wipe out the entire setting, but often all participants will be okay, so it makes the action and stakes hard to understand. Still, I was eager to see what happens next with these characters. If “Jujustu Kaisen 0” is this engaging, I can only imagine what it’s like when the installments actually have value.
“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is rated PG-13 for violent content, bloody images, language, thematic material and some suggestive references. Its running time is 105 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.