This review of Jujutsu Kaisen 0 originally ran in connection with the film’s theatrical debut in Japan. It has been updated and republished to coincide with its wide release in American theaters.
When Jujutsu Kaisen 0 opened in Japan in December 2022, it sold more than 1 million tickets and earned more than 1 billion yen. Over the course of opening weekend, the prequel to the popular anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, based on Gege Akutami’s manga, nearly tripled its box-office take, giving the record-breaking Demon Slayer film a run for its money. That was no Christmas miracle. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 earns its success by doing something many prequels fail at: It tells a satisfying standalone story that connects to the main series and enhances its story, while also welcoming newcomers to the franchise.
Set in a world where humans emanate Cursed Energy that can create eldritch creatures known as Curses or Cursed Spirits, the Jujutsu Kaisen anime focuses on Yuji Itadori, a high-schooler who becomes a vessel for Ryomen Sukuna, one of the most powerful Curses in existence. Following this, a group of Jujutsu Sorcerers — people who can control their Cursed Energy to fight evil spirits — enroll Yuji in the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School to help him control his power while keeping an eye on him. That basic synopsis of the 2020 series is also the synopsis for Jujutsu Kaisen 0, which walks a different high-schooler through the same induction process.
Protagonist Yuta Okkotsu is very different from Yuji — the former starts out as a timid, gloomy, bullied kid, while the latter is a hyper-energetic extrovert with the kind of strength and stamina that would make Batman jealous. Still, the similarities between the setups of the TV series and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 can’t be overlooked. It’s almost like the movie is both a prequel and a remake. A premake? Requel? Whatever you want to call it, this 105-minute movie hits many of the same notes as the show by using a living-weapon outsider character to introduce the audience to the world of Jujutsu sorcery and Cursed Spirits etc.
There’s plenty here for longtime fans to enjoy. For one, Yuta Okkotsu isn’t a new character — he’s been mentioned in the series a few times, but this is his first screen appearance. He’s given a beautifully tragic backstory, since it turns out that the powerful Curse that latched on to Yuta is his childhood love, Rika. After dying in a traffic accident, the gentle, caring girl transformed into a snake-haired, fang-faced monstrosity that may not have the most disturbing design out there, but makes up for it by the way she acts. When the cursed Rika talks to Yuta in a child’s voice about how much she loves him, or kills people who bully him without seemingly feeling bad about it, the juxtaposition of her horrifying appearance with her sweet but sometimes also capricious, childlike demeanor results in one of the most memorable Jujutsu Kaisen cursed spirits ever.
The movie also gives more screen time to its villain, Suguru Geto, who has been a constant presence on Jujutsu Kaisen, though mostly riding backseat to the resident Big Bad Mahito. In Jujutsu Kaisen 0, though, Geto is given center stage, which he proceeds to eat up with gusto. Geto is an extremely fun antagonist with a larger-than-life personality that’s finally on full display in the movie. It’s obvious why Curses and other sorcerers would gravitate toward him, and how his happy-go-lucky attitude while trying to commit atrocities would infuriate the film’s main characters.
This results in a great fight between him and Yuta. With the camera movement trying to replicate the feeling of a regular-sized character moving with lightning speed against Geto’s gigantic Curses — including a Blob kaiju made up of fat demon babies — the battle is additionally enhanced by Yuta’s sudden rage, adding a whole extra layer to the experience. But that’s to be expected from fight scenes overseen by director Sunghoo Park, memorable from the God of High School anime series and its spectacular battles. It’s more than enough to keep Jujutsu-heads satisfied during the 105-minute run of the movie.
But newcomers will get the most out of Jujutsu Kaisen 0. The prequel is basically the essence of Jujutsu Kaisen trimmed down to its most accessible elements, which isn’t surprising given that the movie is based on a manga that actually precedes the Jujutsu Kaisen comic. First published as Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School in the 2017 issue of Jump GIGA, this standalone short series about Curses and Jujutsu Sorcerers was meant to conclude after just four chapters. But it soon gained enough popularity for Gege Akutami to expand its premise and the world he only hinted at in the original comic, ultimately culminating in the creation of Yuji Itadori and the story that took the world by storm.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is very simple, focusing primarily on Yuta, his teacher Satoru Gojo, Suguru Geto, and the second-year students of the Tokyo Jujutsu High School that fans know from the TV series: Maki Zenin, Toge Inumaki, and Panda. Most of them get a sufficient explanation that allows total novices to follow the story, and which may convince them to later plunge into the deep waters of the anime. For those less familiar, Jujutsu Kaisen concerns itself with Yuji trying to give people a “proper death.” To first determine what a proper death is, though, the anime spends a lot of time figuring out what a proper life means. Through the characters of Kento Nanami, the show explores the value of helping others over money, while Maki’s arc is the story of going against the flow and the comfort of being part of a group or family and doing your own thing. Even the cursed wombs from the last episode of the TV series explore the “proper” way to live, as the characters are actually touching examples of the importance of family.
There are traces of this theme in the movie; Yuta’s arc is arguably a lesson about letting go and moving on. His choices around Rika are stirring, but longtime fans are likely to find a lot of satisfaction in the ways the film sticks to a compact, efficient version of the franchise’s ideas, where the anime series goes much deeper into its philosophical messages. And by keeping things simple, the movie invites fans to want more, and gently leads them toward the TV show. It’s the rare movie kind of that actually has something (awesome) for everyone.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 arrives in theaters in America and Canada on March 18.