A feature-length prequel to the hugely successful Jujutsu Kaisen anime series, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 follows a young bullied teenager who transfers to a special school that will train him to master a monstrous curse that has hold of him.
Series writer Hiroshi Seko and director Park Sung-hoo take the reins once again for a story that incorporates elements of dark fantasy and horror alongside themes of grief, self-doubt and everyday adolescent angst.
Gege Akutami’s original manga series was first published in 2017 under the title Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical College, until the success of its sequel prompted him to rebrand the series as a direct prequel.
In it, 16-year-old Yuta (voiced by Megumi Ogata) is a timid high schooler who secretly plays host to the spirit of his childhood sweetheart, Rika (Kana Hanazawa), who died six years earlier. They had promised to get married and stay together forever. Now, Rika manifests as a terrifying creature, prone to violent outbursts whenever Yuta feels cornered or threatened.
Following an incident at his school that hospitalised a number of classroom bullies, Yuta attracts the attention of mentor Satoru Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura) – a character familiar to fans of the series – who invites him to the secluded Jujutsu High, where he will learn how to control his curse.
His classmates include Maki (Mikako Komatsu), heir to a clan of disgraced sorcerers; Toge (Koki Uchiyama), who can only speak using onigiri ingredients; and Panda (Tomokazu Seki), who is, well, a giant panda.
Trouble strikes when Yuta also attracts the attention of Suguru Geto (Takahiro Sakurai), an evil sorcerer who absorbs the curse of anyone he kills, and former best friend of his mentor.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 incorporates a variety of animation styles, including crude, hand-drawn renderings during its most violent and shocking moments. This stylistic contortion of an otherwise soft and relatively unassuming aesthetic effectively exacerbates the terrifying, monstrous imagery on screen.
Indeed it is in these moments of surprisingly vivid and haunting terror where the film works best, and the creators have made no secret of the fact that they are most invested in the story’s numerous fantastical fight sequences.
Outside these moments, however, the story drags and gets somewhat repetitive, lingering on numerous training exercises and introspective monologues exploring Yuta’s burdensome feelings of guilt and self-worth.
For the uninitiated, this big-screen endeavour is something of a mixed bag. But the Jujutsu Kaisen faithful should be sufficiently sated, while an intriguing post-credits teaser will whet their appetites for season two, due to arrive some time in 2023.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.