OUTLINE OF THE FILMS
Here is a breakdown of sequences for the three films. If this turns out to be successful, a fourth film based on the events in Personal 5: The Royal might make for a fun addition to the trilogy, but somewhat separate from the initial trilogy’s three-act structure. Obviously if you don’t know the story or the game, little of this will make sense. Hell, it may not make much sense regardless… but here we go.
1. Ren Amiyama is caught while escaping some sort of casino burglary. Let’s use visual cues from the opening party sequence in La Grande Bellezza (2013). We can introduce all of the characters sneaking and darting into the crowd while the chaos happens above. Let’s make this wild and crazy, lock the audience in the opening sequence.
2. Sae Niijima enters the police station. We will repeat the walking from left to right shot they use in the animation, although in a slight angle. (More on that later.) Interrogated by Sae Niijima at the police station, Ren begins telling his story.
3. Ren Amiyama meets with Sojiro Sakura, owner of LeBlanc coffee, is introduced to his new school, teacher and the principal. It is during this time he discovers the Mementos app on his cellphone.
4. The sequence where Ren meets Ann, then Ryuji, then the initial accidental entry into Kamoshida’s Castle. They meet Morgana there and escape.
5. The Ann Takamaki Storyline, Shiho’s suicide attempt, Morgana’s real-world introduction, and then the burglary of Kamoshida’s Castle.
6. A dream sequence where we are introduced to the Velvet Room, Igor, Justine and Christine. We only get one or two dream sequences per movie. A lot of the game mechanics are removed from Igor’s agenda, as they are not necessary to the story. Let’s give these a full David Lynch treatment. Rumor has it, the Velvet Room was directly inspired by the “Red Room” in Twin Peaks.
INDEPTH: It would be fun to shoot the first celebratory dinner at the Sky Carrot, a Western-style cafe in the Sangenjaya Tokyo Area. I know it’s not a hotel, but the look and feel of the cafe is superb, and would pay a little more homage to the inspiration for Yongen-Jaya. Katsura Hashino is shown dining there in a video about his work at Atlus.
7. Makoto’s introduction, she begins following the Phantom Thieves. Also, Ren notices that on occasion, it looks like something or someone is following him… as if they where in some sort of invisible cloak. Sometimes the background will flicker and distort in the most subtle ways. (This is due to our distorted big bad from the final film spying.)
8. A condensed version of the homeroom teacher’s storyline which leads to the discovery of Mementos. Since Sadayo Kawakami will spill her guts the moment she’s discovered by Ren, which will be done more by accident, the team finds her blackmailers and solves the case with ease, which earns her trust.
9. It would be fun if Sadayo ended up taking a part-time job at LeBlanc just to keep her in the mix, and act as a foil for Sojiro. Also we get a brief introduction to Yuuki Mishima telling Ren about the Phantom Thieves Phan-Site website. This is also where the gang has that run in with Masayoshi Shido at the buffet. Shido’s story is told during the film through television sets playing the news about the election along with a kid named Goro.
10. Makoto’s storyline, the gangster Junya Kaneshiro. And that kid, a sudo-celebrity detective named Goro, becomes a regular at LeBlanc. Needless to say, Sae is stunned to discover her sister’s possible involvement in the Phantom Thieves. In the moment of realization, a jump cut to a brief moment where a younger Sae and Makoto attend their father’s funeral, reinforcing what has caused the divide between them, would be a quick and poignant way to emotionally connect the two together. (The animation actually did a nice job of handling this as well.)
IN DEPTH: When Makoto approaches the bank teller, let’s mimic the opening shot of Sae walking towards the interrogation room. The mood will be similar to the beginning of the heist in Heat (1995). However, Sae walks from the left side of the screen to the right as the camera pans. Makoto approaches from the right walking to the left side of the screen. This gives a subtle visual cue that Makoto is taking the exact opposite direction that her sister has taken.
When Makoto has her awaking, her persona is a motorcycle named Johanna. As stated earlier, it would be fun to see her tear through the banking establishment in pure rage, knocking down enemies by sliding into them. As the shadows poof into their more monster like forms, the Phantom Thieves will start shooting them up before they can attack. If the heist in Heat (1995) was an action sequence that spiraled out of control spilling into the streets of Los Angles, ours stays contained and focused burrowing into the depths of the bank itself.
A poster of Sota Fukushi as the protagonist. Of course by the time the film would go into production, he might age out of the role.
11. The ending will be a montage of events, Ann’s closure with Shiho leaving school while Sae skips dinner with Makoto, calling her a useless child.
IN DEPTH: When Shiho leaves, it would be wonderful to make an homage to the Turkish film Mustang (2015). There’s a moment when one character, on a bus, escaping a life of abuse, looks out the window to a man that rescued her. His reaction, the way he holds back tears, then puts on a brave face and follows the bus waving as they pull away, it kills me. Ann and Shiho’s goodbye needs to feel this heavy.
Once Shiho and her parents are gone, we get the Wes Anderson center shot of the now iconic back of Ann’s head in a crowd of people rushing past with umbrellas. It’s lightly raining. Ren asks if she is ok… she turns, and this is where all of her pent up angst comes gushing out. Making an homage to the ending of Lost in Translation (2003), she sobs uncontrollably as a slow piano solo version of the Persona 5 theme plays. We cut to Makoto making dinner for an ungrateful Sae that berates her for being such a burden, leaving Makoto to eat dinner alone. Ryuji makes peace with the track team. Cut back to Ann and Ren, Ann kisses him passionately. Embarrassed, she bolts into the crowd, pops open an umbrella, and unlike the subway station, this time Ren loses her in the crowd. It’s important events echo other events and films have to be circular in structure.
Cut back to a severely stunned Sae in the interrogation room, obviously guilt-ridden by the way she has treated Makoto. She asks Ren, “This is all?” Ren shakes his head. “No.
There’s so… much… more.”
Cut to black.)
PERSONA 5: RISE OF THE PHANTOM THIEVES
Tagline: Wake Up and Get Out There.
Scene from War Kong Wai’s In the Mood For Love (2000)
1. Panning shot of Tokyo’s nighttime skyline, the camera centers on spotlights for Ichiryusai Madarame’s art show. This would be fun to shoot as a long-take like Spectre (2015) or Goodfellas (1990) where characters (many of them the confidants from the game) are introduced one-by-one as the camera pans from person to person. A fantastic musical choice for this sequence could be Yaeji’s “Feel it Out” from the Yaeji EP (2017). The reporter Ichiko Ohya ambushes Madarame with questions about stealing work from his students, which he casually dismisses. Sae is also there, conducting a little investigating herself. Shogi champion Hifumi Togo is also being interviewed by reporters. Sure, it’s a bit of fan service, but it’s really good fan service, especially if the whole thing has a cinematic War-Kong Wai’s In the Mood For Love (2000) feel, complete with vibrant colors and mood lighting. Ichiryusai Madarame breaks from the crowd, ducks into a dingy darkly-lit backroom, and lights a cigarette. We glimpse that darker side of him. In three seconds we can tell more about this character than a data dump ever could. He suddenly feels a little light-headed. We fade into…
… the cold action opening, Yusuke Kitagawa’s boss battle with his evil artist mentor Ichiryusai Madarame in the metaverse. I love the idea of giant eyes in paintings following the team as they walk past them. Eventually and slowly those paintings form into a large face we see in the game. It’s just amazing imagery. We can borrow a little bit from the Salvador Dali dream sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) just for fun, and to keep the film geeks happy. The main point, since Yusuke’s story is getting cut quite a bit, we need the most visual impact possible to embellish his story. That also reinforces the idea that Yusuke is a visual artist.
IN DEPTH: Now I know, cutting the build up to Yusuke’s Palace raid kills me. The scene where Ann, dressed in a thousand layers of clothes just to delay the nude drawing scheme is one of the few genuine LOL moments I’ve ever had in a video game. But the storyline is a little redundant/repetative. And remember, I’m not actually making the damn movies, this is just a “what if” scenario. We are highlighting some of the possible decisions that would have to be made in order to translate this material into a film series. As Krzysztof Kieślowski, director of the Three Colors Trilogy (1993-1994) once said, every sequence and every shot needs to move the story forward. Besides, Yusuke is such a flamboyant character, his portrayal will hopefully make up for some of the shortened screen time. And maybe some of his cut story can make the Extended Version.
And if you haven’t seen The Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White & Red… you’re missing out.
2. Now in full Phantom Thieves mode, Ren tells Sae (still in the interrogation room) about their sudden rise in subversive popularity. We do a montage of thrilling sequences in Mementos and the results of those explorations, followed by the Phan-Site reactions to all of these accumulated successes. Fully inspired by the metaverse, Yusuke is sketching out the landscape, trying to make sense of the routes they take. Also, it would be fun if we caught Yusuke drawing sketches of the different characters in the same style as Shigenori Soejima. The point being, if the first film was the build up to the full-realization of the Phantom Thieves as a unit (a.k.a. Phantom Thieves Begins), then the first half of the second film should have a fully-functioning team with all of the classic jazzy trademarks of the game.
Futaba’s Mom: One of the many tragic characters from Persona 5.
3. The Futaba Sakura storyline, which is the second most powerful sub-story in the video game. Hacker Group Medjed threatens the Phantom Thieves with exposure, Sojiro confesses his backstory about the death of Futaba’s mother, and the team breaks into Futaba’s Palace. This plays out exactly like the game except…
IN DEPTH: I’m torn about how the ending of Futuba’s meeting with her mom should be portrayed. In the game, she seems unshaken by her mom’s disappearance and it’s played like a gag. I wonder if the movie should have her break emotionally, screaming for her mom as she fades into sand. Swell the J.J. Abrams piano music as the pyramid collapses practically in silence. Cut to the inside of the escape van where Ann is embracing Futaba, still in shock. Makoto, driving the van, puts her hand on Futaba for comfort. For reference, Andy Garcia does something similar when Sean Connery’s character dies in The Untouchables (1987). I think we need to play this up. Characters in Persona are always having to put on a brave face. When they crack, that gives the audience an emotional payoff. The audience finds emotional solace through the characters. As this will take place during the halfway point of film two, this can drive the rest of the film just like Ann’s confrontation with Kamoshida’s Shadow halfway through part one. Each of the three films will mirror each other in structure.
4. After expert-hacker Futaba quickly exposes Medjed for the frauds they are, we have a montage of the gang trying to break Futaba from her social anxieties, wrapping with a celebration victory at the beach. Gazing at the sunset, Futaba is determined to find her mother’s killer. Another dream sequence in the Velvet Room, further explaining and yet not explaining the plot. We know now Igor is behind a lot of this magical mystery, but we’re not really sure how.
IN DEPTH: First off, we need to have Wednesday Campanella’s “Ra” from Zipangu playing softly in Futaba’s room at some point in the film for obvious reasons. Also, the beach sequence needs to have catharsis. I like the idea of Futaba looking at the setting sun, closing her eyes, the wind picks up slightly and a little sand hits her face, she exhales. Like an emotional polar-opposite of the beginning of battle in Jarhead (2005), yet utilizing the same muted sound pitch and slow motion techniques.
5. In the real-world, the Phan-Site shows overwhelming support for the next target Kunikazu Okumara, CEO of Big Bang Burger. This accelerates the Haru Okumura storyline. It is during this part of the film Morgana, insulted by an off-handed remark by Ryuji, disappears for a while. The concern for Morgana builds as the team, now feeling pressure to investigate Kunikazu Okumara, enter his palace.
6. The Phantom Thieves enter the Big Bang Burger Palace, a space station… which will be oddly deserted. They meet Haru and Morgana, which plays out like the video game. Haru seems way in over her head by the whole scenario. Luckily, there are very few baddies in the space station. Even the boss battle at the end seems way too easy. This helps reinforce the whole “this is a set up” aspect of the story.
7. After Haru’s dad commits suicide on camera (he’s driven insane from Goro’s metaverse sabotage), society turns on the Phantom Thieves. That’s when the wheels spin off the wagon.
8. Enter Goro Akechi, the kid who’s been snooping around the coffee shop. Once again, thanks to the outspoken Ryuji, he was able to easily piece together who the Phantom Thieves were. (Of course this time, it was intentional.) He offers a deal. Break into Sae’s Palace, change her heart and thus cripple the Tokyo Police investigation into the Phantom Thieves. The Thieves know he’s corrupt, but they don’t let on. It’ll be pretty obvious, but we’ll keep the audience in the dark for now. Haru, still mourning, offers financial support and equips the Phantom Thieves with sophisticated new gear including communication devices that will work in the metaverse, tweaked by Futaba.
Someone’s In A Hurry…
9. The second film finally catches up with the opening of the first film. We’re at Sae’s Palace, a Casino where City Hall and the police station should be. The events play out pretty much exactly as the game, except keeping within the smaller scale, the Roulette table is not gigantic. This will give the whole sequence a more Casino Royale (2006) vibe meets the Masquerade Ball from the ending of Lady Snowblood (1973).
10. Now in real-time, She leaves the interrogation room, saying she needs to speak with Makoto. She meets Goro outside, shows him Ren’s phone, the lights flicker, then leaves. Goro enters the room, kills the security guard now accompanying Ren, then kills Ren point blank. News spreads throughout Tokyo that Ren was killed by a security guard that committed suicide immediately afterwards. We end the movie here in one hell of a cliffhanger.
PERSONA 5: PERSONA NON GRATA
Tagline: The Game is Over.
1. It would be fun to open the third movie with an homage to Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). We start with what will be the standard opening for a Persona movie, a panning night shot of the Tokyo skyline during a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm helps augment the feeling that we enter film three with a lot of turbulence and uncertainty. From there we get into a rainy car chase sequence, where Sae has broken out Ren (obviously not dead) and is evading Masayoshi Shido’s men. After she sends them off road in spectacular crashes not unlike the film Drive (2011), they regroup at LeBlanc. The gang is relieved to see Ren alive. Ann rushes up to Ren, hugs him. The moment they embrace, cut to opening title.
IN DEPTH: I have always pictured this opening sequence to a somber song by The National “Nobody Else Will Be There” from the album Sleep Well Beast (2017). Imagine a car chase not unlike the opening of Quantum of Solace (2008) expect the sound muted with the song the focus. At some point, I would love to do a shot-by-shot breakdown of this sequence. Check back later as I am always adding and revising this article when I have the time. The concept being, the thunderstorm and the somber music sets up movie three in a way that breaks from the first two narrator driven films. This is in real-time now, this is very serious and actions have real consequences.
2. At a safe room set up by Haru and her seemingly infinite amount of resources, the gang recites how they tricked Goro by sending him into Mementos when he attempted to murder Ren, thus killing a non-existent version of Ren in his mind’s-eye. It still makes little sense to me, but we’ll gloss over it. After the gang leaves the safehouse, this is where Sae and Makoto embraces and finally have their moment of reconciliation.
IN DEPTH: After the gang leaves the safe room and scatters, Makoto stops her sister in a heavy downpour before they hop into the car. Sae is holding and umbrella while Makoto gets drenched. Makoto, trying to hold back beings sobbing, begging for Sae’s forgiveness. Just before Makoto crumbles and drops to her knees, Sae stops her, drops the umbrella and hugs her tightly, holding back tears. None of this happens in the game. The heavy rain symbolizes emotion, Makoto, getting drenched and sobbing uncontrollably is at her emotional breaking point. When Sae drops the umbrella and embraces her sister, both of them are now getting rain-soaked. This is Sae finally coming to terms with the strained relationship with her sister, and her failure to be a good substitute parent. Rain now becomes a symbol of cleansing. A carefully crafted scene like this can tell a ton of story in just a few brief moments, and make for a satisfying end to the Makoto/Sae story arc.
At this point it’s a round-up. All of the adult characters and confidants are rounded up by police at their homes. Makoto barely escapes. The gang immediately heads back to the warehouse where a romantic encounter between Ren and Ann was about to take place. This is when the gang realizes they have a relationship.
3. The gang raids now President-Elect Masayoshi Shido’s Palace, the cruise ship that sails through an underwater Tokyo. They confront Masayoshi, then Goro, who has gone insane. When the conflicted Goro sees the metaverse version of himself and they both die in a Mexican standoff, the ship collapses and Ryuji appears to be killed during the escape.
IN DEPTH: Besides funding all of the Phantom Thieves later exploits, Haru needs her big moment. During the confrontation with Goro, there can be a scene where Goro, now losing his mind, babbles on about injustice and whatnot. He’s suddenly blown back at least fifty feet by a Persona sneak attack from Haru screaming “ENOUGH!” The gang slowly turns, stunned, to see the usually quiet and composed Haru extinguishing her flaming persona mask, breathing heavily. She’s the one that defeats Goro, vengeance for her father’s death. That’s her time to shine. Also… just a side note… in this palace, the night sky should have two moons, paying tribute to Haruki Murakami’s novel “1Q84.”
4. The gang regroups in the real world, and here’s where we can pay an homage to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) where a puzzled Ryuji stumbles into the gang weeping over his apparent demise.
5. As the Phantom Thieves await Masayoshi Shido’s press conference, we get to pause for a moment of levity. At a successful Yusuke Kitagawa solo art show, featuring a painting of a detailed Mementos map, the gang celebrates with Ren hanging around the back alley. Ann runs off with a hooded Ren back to his room.
6. As we know, the press conference doesn’t go well with the newly-elected Masayoshi Shido. Japan goes on lockdown, Sojiro and She are arrested, and the thieves, using Yusuke’s map, goes into the depths of Memento’s looking for answers. We also get to visit the previous villains that have now succumbed to being a part of the cultural machine.
Are you not Igor?
7. Within the depths of Mementos is the Velvet Room. In true David Lynch fashion (in which “Twin Peaks” was the basis of the Velvet Room) we realize the true villain is the ancient God of Control, Yaldabaoth. Yaldabaoth split Justine and Christine while disguising itself as Igor, really messing up the metaverse. The general population has a collective conscious along with a deep fear of chaos which allowed this to happen.
8. Morgana realizes that Igor created him, and that the collapse of Mementos means he’ll lose the more humanoid version of himself. Morgana will remain trapped as a cat forever if they succeed.
9. In the final battle with the Holy Grail/Yaldabaoth, we’re going to make him more human-sized once the grail machine is jammed up. We need to keep the action on ground level. There’s even a sequence where the Thieves suddenly think they win the battle, followed by a delusion in which they are living out their ideal lives free of abuse and sorrow, of course until they realize it’s all made up. Breaking up the sequence with a few odd narrative tangents could help flesh out what’s really at stake, especially since the main antagonist is a Sauron-like faceless figure. (Here’s the thing, I wrote that over a year ago and sure enough, Persona 5 Royal does this exact same thing with the newly added final boss battle. I think we can hint at it in the final film of the trilogy, and then flesh that aspect out in the fourth film Persona 5 The Royal, which will act as a stand-alone coda to the first three films.)
The truth is, the final boss battle of Persona 5 come across kind of like the ending of the first Ghostbusters (1984) film, complete with a frightened but supportive crowd of spectators on the ground. I’ve never been a fan of what I call “crowd confrontation” scenes. Even in classics like The Graduate (1967). it’s just cheesy and overdone. The crowd in essence creates an artificial rise in pressure as they observe the protagonists and their actions. It’s a contrived way to add tension. Besides, we’re going to be on a budget. If the final battle stays more intimate and contained, it will be more effective emotionally on screen.
10. Once Yaldabaoth is defeated through a sudden act of compassion by the female characters, Ren comforts a sullen Morgana. This will be the last time they ride off into safety from a collapsing palace, and Morgana will have to make a huge sacrifice. He will need to be convinced to change into a van and make the ride as his soul is broken. As they race away, we cut to a montage of each character, reliving and reflecting the traumas they experienced. A four year old Yusuke looks into the eyes of his dead mother. Haru is physically assaulted by her ex-finance. Ann watched Shiho from afar, bruised. Futaba sees her mom jump in front of a car. Ryuji knee is busted by Kamoshida. Persona 5 is really a story about surviving abuse, the final sequence should spell this out for the audience. Screaming, Morgana races into the light.
11. The gang regroups in Tokyo, embracing… it’s Christmas Eve, snowing. They all hold Morgana as police lights suddenly ignite around them. For a visual reference, see the resolution of the beach sequence in Roma (2018).
12. Cut to Ren back in the interrogation room. Sae enters, now with several other officers and officials. And this time, all of the Phantom Thieves are handcuffed and incarcerated, including all of the confidants for comic relief. Realizing this case is far too complex and that the Thieves have acted somewhat honorably, they drop all of the charges.
13. The ending sequence is pretty much the same. The gang drives off into the sunset. Only this time when Ren, inspired by Ryuji to always change your perspective, pops out from the roof of the van, he is joined by Ann. Mimicking the first time they met, Ann pushes back her hair and her hoodie, turns and smiles at him. Rattling wind noise swells fills the theater, they turn and face forward symbolically to the future. Ann leans her head on Ren’s shoulder. Cut to black, the theater goes silent. The End.