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Saint Young Men (Movie) – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Religion, like many aspects associated with spirituality, can often lead to very personal interpretations of understanding as well as immense controversy. Whether this stems from regional affiliations and the concerns over the application of religious practices, to individuals simply disagreeing amongst one another throughout a variety of denominations, religion is certainly one of the most debatable issues of the today as it was centuries ago. It comes at quite a surprise then to see manga author Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men be made into a full-length animated film considering that it encompasses the contentious topics of religion and faith,  essentially pairing up the figureheads of two of the most popular and well followed religions on the planet, a move that is bound to stir up conversation. Luckily, Saint Young Men is a film that avoids appearing as sacrilegious and instead brings about a light-hearted and extremely comical take on the possibility of how these two individuals would engage and interact with one another in today’s world.

It is a premise that even I pondered could possibly work out well without causing some dissension for its reimagining of two of history’s most popular figures within a modern context, but after viewing the film, it is safe to say that Saint Young Men simply addresses these revered individuals – not in a harsh or mean-spirited way – as simply two young men who happen to be the titular heads of two of the most popular religions of our time. The fashion in which Nakamura and director Noriko Takao makes it work is that, although producing humorous moments surrounding both Jesus and Buddha, they also point out the religious commonalities that each respective faith shares between one another. The film never really delves into the finer points of the Christianity and Buddhism – which is a choice wisely taken – but instead simply tells how a modern contextual understanding of these two individuals can lead to comical situations aplenty, which is an approach I found to be one that works out extremely well in favor of the film.

The humor is extremely clever, which is ultimately a positive trait of the film, but could also lead to some viewers being confused as to much of what the humor actually entails, primarily a concern for those viewers who do not have some basic understanding of these two religions. Not getting subtle hints such as birds landing on Buddha as he is sleeping, or why Jesus performs miracles at a whim, may obstruct some viewers from truly appreciating the overall witty writing of the overall film. Other moments within the film such as Jesus mistakenly getting taking for the head of a Yakuza clan due to him having an “almighty father”, Jesus learning how to swim, or Buddha starting to heavily chant due to him being petrified on his first time on roller coaster, are all moments that are universally comical because they play around with the practices and understandings of both Christianity and Buddhism.

The narrative structure of Saint Young Men is definitely more akin to the structuring of the manga itself. With a narrative setting that is segmented into a diverse range of everyday events, the film nicely allows for situational comedy to hold sway as we discover that simple events such as going to the pool or visiting a theme park are an amusing viewing experience as we witness both Jesus and Buddha apply their respective philosophies to common, everyday occurrences such as these and more. The cooperation between the two is where one can see the film really shining through as showcasing an example – albeit a farfetched one – of two seemingly different people with distinctly different personalities coming together and being friends. We’ve certainly seen this before in other anime films or series, but here it takes a more prominent tone as to mildly address the supposed rift between Eastern and Western faiths. Although not entirely mending it – or even seemingly intending to do so in the first place – the film strives to show how religious differences can be overcome by just lightening up and not taking everything so seriously.

It certainly makes one think of how these two individuals who’ve lived centuries ago would act in a contemporary setting, with each segment within the film detailing how they personally interpret what is going on around them. By essentially plopping both Jesus and Buddha into are modern society, Saint Young Men garners a certain level of respect on the notion that it does not damage the perception on the two faiths showcased. As in Nakamura’s manga, the film adaptation of Saint Young Men is not only hilarious for smartly bringing a surface analysis of both Christianity and Buddhism to the big screen, but also because it is rather courageously entertains the subject matter of religion as a whole. Those familiar with Christianity and Buddhism will find Saint Young Men to be a treat, and even if one isn’t, it is still an uproarious exploration of two individuals living together and attempting to understand and reconcile their seemingly apparent differences.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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