In this pretty good adaptation of the manga that changes a few things from its source, an aristocrat and his faithful butler, who is actually a demon, team up to solve a murder mystery and get more than what they expected.
As a child, Lady Shiori Genpo witnessed the death of her parents by a mysterious assailant. As her family are known as The Queen’s Watchdog, responsible for solving crimes for the Queen, Shiori seeks revenge. However, knowing she will not be able to do it alone, she decides to sell her soul to the devil, literally. Enter the demon Sebastian Michaelis, who takes on a human form and becomes Shiroi’s butler. To throw people off, Shiori disguises herself as a boy and names herself Kiyoharu. As for Sebastian, to ensure he will get her soul after her revenge, he promises to protect her at all costs.
Their latest assignment involves the mummified corpse of an ambassador. Witnesses say that the man had just bled out of nowhere and then dried up, hence the mummification. With the assistance of Hanae, Kiyoharu’s aunt, they discover that a local pharmaceutical company may be responsible. As Kiyoharu and another servant, Rin, infiltrate the CEO’s party, Sebastian investigates the laboratory and soon discovers something horrific and for Kiyoharu, something even more shocking awaits her.
There is a confession. I have not seen the anime version nor read the manga of Black Butler. However, this live action adaptation does take its core story and central character of Sebastian Michaelis and puts him in a Sherlock Holmes- like mystery with boss, in this case, Kiyoharu Genpo, replacing the 13-year old character from the original story, Ciel Phantomhive. Tsutomu Kuroiwa’s script doesn’t hold back in an attempt to lighten the tone of its source, but instead keeps it dark, which should please fans quite well.
Hiro Mizushima definitely carries the film as the titular Black Butler, Sebastian Michaelis. He brings in a vibe that not brings this character to life, but also has a look reminiscent of the likes of perhaps hyde from L’Arc-en-ciel or even Gackt to some effect. While he may seem like an ordinary butler, he is also a demon and quite a fighter who gets to show some pretty good action skills with of all things, a simple butter knife as a weapon. Even his foremanner in the film shows that butler-esque quality. As for Ayane Goriki, she does quite well as the cross-dressing Lady Shiori who becomes Kiyoharu. She is nearly on par with her performance in another live action adaptation, Gatchaman, but seems to up the ante more in this film.
Where some promising live action adaptations tend to dial it down on action and focus more on its dramatic effect (again, in the sense of Gatchaman), this film delivers in the action department and it is done sporadically in a good way. Even the introduction of Sebastian leads to a pretty awesome action scene that just shows him dispatching a gang who has held Kiyoharu, disguised as a girl, although already a girl disguised as a boy. Okay that seemed confusing, but back to the action. In a nod to the bullet ballets of Hong Kong action cinema, Rin shows she is not an ordinary butler herself finding herself blasting away goon after goons in something you would expect in perhaps a John Woo film or even Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium. There is a final fight scene that pits Sebastian against the one responsible for the chaos (in a very shocking and very descriptive plot twist) and it looks quite good here.
If you haven’t read the manga or seen the anime version of Black Butler, it is not truly necessary. However, after seeing this film, you may just want to start checking out the source material and its anime version. Because this was one pretty good live action adaptation thanks to the performance of lead actor Hiro Mizushima in the titular role.
WFG RATING: B
Warner Bros Pictures Japan presents a C&I Entertainment production in association with Rockworks. Directors: Kentaro Ohtani and Keiichi Sato. Producer: Shinzo Matsuhashi. Writer: Tsutomu Kuroiwa; based on the original manga by Yana Toboso. Cinematography: Terukuni Ajisaka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.
Cast: Hiro Mizushima, Ayane Goriki, Yuka, Mizuki Yamamoto, Tomomi Maruyama, Masato Ibu, Takuro Ono, Goro Kishitani, Ken Kaito, Chiaki Horan.