After several years and three films, the Persona 3 movie series comes to an end with Persona 3 The Movie #4: Winter of Rebirth. It is a relief, then, that Winter of Rebirth makes the most of the film series’ greatest strengths with a smart, cohesive script and interesting direction throughout. This film provides a very satisfying conclusion to the saga by straying from from the source material in the most significant way yet. Fans of the game might not be happy with these changes, but like the best parts of the other movies before it, Winter of Rebirth is a successful combination of the soul of Persona 3 and the makings of an entertaining film.
On the shortlist of “Unsurprising Facts of the Year,” Winter of Rebirth is not at all beginner friendly. The first shot occurs almost immediately after the ending of Falling Down, and no effort is made to explain the pasts of the characters or world they live in. Even if you are a big fan of the game, I’d still recommend that you see the other movies before this one. Winter of Rebirth has some great references to anime-original events from the film series, and feels like an authentic continuation of that world. As a note for this review, I will do my best to limit spoilers to both the game and the movies. However, there are allusions to the events of the game, so depending on your tolerance for spoilers, you may want to stop reading now.
The most obvious strength of Winter of Rebirth is the interesting shot framing and strong direction. The opening fight between Aigis and Ryoji—while not as outlandish as the corresponding scene from the game—captures the otherworldly feel of Death fighting a death-dealing robot. Things only improve from there. Director Tomohisa Taguchi and his staff seem determined to make each scene look striking, adding a visual treat to even the most simple of conversations. Contrasting shots of light and dark are a particularly effective trick. Casting characters in a bright light surrounded by a frame of dark edges is a good way to show the cast struggle against The Fall. This is one of many choices that makes the stakes of the finale more real.
Tone is another strong point, as the film evolves from a sense of despondence and near-horror to a hopeful final battle. The first third of the movie showcases Apathy Syndrome and The Fall as genuinely scary prospects, with scenes that would fit in a horror movie. Characters like Ken and Fuuka feel the dread themselves, often putting their coming demise in very stark terms. The movie gets bleaker and bleaker, until a sudden change is brought about by the delightful introduction of Elizabeth. Whereas the world had been dark and monochrome before, the scenes with Elizabeth are full of colour. This coincides nicely with the characters beginning to find their resolve. The protagonist Makoto Yuki proves to be a strong leader by the film’s conclusion, saving some of his strongest scenes for the series’ finale.
Like the others before it, Persona 3 The Movie #4 does a great job of including a myriad of cool references to both the main game and its spinoffs. From Akihiko showcasing his dodging skills from the FES opening to a Persona 4 Arena Ultimax reference hand-maid for this movie, there’s a lot to catch. The best of the lot is an impressive rendition of the bad ending, perfectly joined with the stellar song “Memories of the School.” It is worth noting at this point that Winter of Rebirth has yet another impressive soundtrack. Between the game’s OST and the new compositions by Tetsuya Kobayashi, your ears will be happy.
As the plot moves along, though, it deviates more and more from the specifics of the game’s story. Yukari in particular gets an entirely new plotline leading up to her resolution to fight. I actually enjoyed all of this new material, as it made the threat of The Fall more real to the members of S.E.E.S. and gave the movie some much needed thematic arcs. Winter of Rebirth feels like the most internally-consistent story in the film series, due in large part to these new scenes. The themes are stated—eloquently, not bluntly—and then followed up on for the film’s 105 minute runtime. The film does not approach key scenes from the game as items to check off a list. Instead, it changes these story beats to create a more engaging movie, while keeping the spirit of the game alive.
Where these deviations start to get more concerning is during the final battle and epilogue. The nature of the changes fit the story very well, and in some cases enhance the story from the game. For a relatively spoiler-free example, the game tells us that shadows are swarming the top of Tartarus. In the movie, these swarming shadows are a very real threat, and one that gives the entirety of S.E.E.S. a chance to shine. However, considering how important these final scenes are to most people’s experience with Persona 3, these changes could potentially affect someone’s viewing no matter how they are handled. All I suggest is that you go in with an open mind. Winter of Rebirth captures the spirit of Persona 3, even if it differs on the details.
When all is said and done, I think that is the most important thing I can say about Winter of Rebirth: it captures the heart of the game. This final movie is the best of everything involved with the film series. The engaging script and tight direction present the heart of the game in the form of an entertaining movie. This movie made me happy to have watched the whole series, and made me miss the members of S.E.E.S. all over again. Their story is a good one, and despite a few stumbles, the Persona 3 movie series made me feel like I was experiencing it again for the first time. Really, I can’t think of much more to ask for.