As the third film in the tetralogy, Persona 3: Falling Down faces all the challenges that the previous two movies have already struggled with. At the same time it’s now easy to take the impressive visuals and production design for granted – this look is now to be expected. In light of this I didn’t expect Falling Down to surprise me in the way it did, but the movie has several notable improvements over its predecessors, and the result is the best Persona 3 film yet.
Falling Down’s biggest success is twofold; it adapts what is perhaps the best section of the Persona 3 story, and the adaptation itself is more competent than it was in the first two movies. The plot both begins and ends with action, but between these two points the focus is entirely on the everyday life of the characters. This doesn’t feel disjointed however, instead the middle section focuses on character development as the cast comes to terms with the events that unfolded at the start of the movie.
This structure is unconventional but works surprisingly well. The initial climax feels more like the end of a movie than the beginning of one, but the consequences of these events end up being more compelling than the initial revelations. They allow the film to tell a story of loss, murder and betrayal, and show the impact this has on the characters, provoking a series of thematically linked subplots that run throughout the movie.
When we left protagonist Makoto Yūki at the end of Persona 3 The Movie #2: A Midsummer Knight’s Dream, he was essentially on the verge of a breakdown, and Shinjiro’s death appeared to have a more significant effect on him than it did in the game. This didn’t just allow the film to end on a high note however; it marked the beginning of a transformation in Makoto’s character that takes place throughout Falling Down.
As with Persona 4: The Animation, the portrayal of the game’s silent protagonist is the area in which the largest room for interpretation exists in the anime adaptation. The Makoto we see here isn’t silent because the player is meant to project themselves into him, but rather because he blames himself for Shinjiro’s death, and because he doesn’t want to feel emotionally attached to his friends.
Progressing beyond this requires the intervention of Ryoji, a mysterious transfer student who is the main new character in the film. In the game I wasn’t too fussed about Ryoji, but in Falling Down I was converted to a fan. Not only is he likeable, but his role in the development of Makoto’s character is crucial, making his integration into the story feel necessary.
Meanwhile Falling Down achieves the one thing both of the previous films struggled with – meaningful storylines for all of the extremely large support cast. Movie #3 is admittedly at an advantage; the premise has already been established and we’ve already been introduced to everyone apart from Ryoji. Precious time isn’t wasted on introductions or explanations, and whilst this does mean that Persona 3 knowledge is required before jumping into the movie, that’s perhaps to be expected at this point. If you’ve not played the game or watched the first two films, this one probably won’t make much sense.
Side stories are powered through at relentless speed. I like this; it’s fast paced, there’s an interesting contrast between scenes, and miraculously there’s enough time to show what everyone’s up to. Storylines from the game’s social links are blended together seamlessly with the main plot, and there’s also the school trip to Kyoto – one of the game’s highlights. Persona 3 has an excellent sense of humour, and it’s great to see this hasn’t been forgotten, even if the narrative is quite dark overall.
There’s only a couple of things I don’t really like about Falling Down, and these are largley issues inherited from the original game. Persona 3 doesn’t really seem to understand the concept of subtltly, and the story frequently feels overly dramatic. At one point the cast are captured, the scene cuts and next thing everyone is tied to giant crucifixes. Then there’s the confrontation between Yukari and Mitsuru. This is an emotional revelation that deepens their friendship after Yukari confronts Mitsuru and metaphorically slaps her in the face. Only its significance is compromised by Yukari also literally slapping her in the face too.
I felt the same about the dramatic scene with Chidori at the end of the movie. Here a symbolic sacrifice would have been perhaps more effective than the very literal sacrifice we actually see. Again, perhaps this is more a criticism of the game than it is with the film, and these scenes actually seem to work better in the movie than they did in the game. There’s more emotion in the dialogue, the overall look is more striking thanks to a sharp use of colour, that bit with the crucifixes is actually kinda cool, and the high quality animation adds fluidity to the scenes. With Falling Down we’re now almost ten years on from the original release of Persona 3, and it’s great to have a film that not only pays tribute to the excellent story of this classic game, but one that adds a modern aesthetic and improves upon its source material in many ways.
In my review of Persona 3 FES one of the main things I criticised about the game was its lack of refinement. The same is not true for these films, on an audio, visual, and presentational level they are essentially flawless. They capture the aesthetic of the game perfectly and bring it to life vividly. It’s small touches like the game’s calendar, a sudden change in the music, or locations such as the school or dorm room rendered with impressive detail that achieves this. All of this is true for the series as a whole, but will Falling Down the narrative delivered alongside this style is substantial. From start to finish, this is the best Persona movie yet.
Persona 3: The Movie #4 Winter of Rebirth