As an anime fan, I know that what I enjoy as a hobby is somewhat niche. My entire life I have seemingly liked niche things, stuff that the general populous may not enjoy, metal music, anime, manga, and to a lesser extent video games. Like the world of gaming anime is definitely becoming more mainstream, and it has more spotlight on it now than it ever did before. Still it is a niche hobby in my opinion as it is far behind gaming in the west primarily in my opinion because anime is created in Japan, while games are produced all over the globe.
But let’s get to what this is really about. Your Name. The highest grossing anime film of all time from acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai, who is a personal favorite of mine, is getting a live action Hollywood film done by JJ Abrams. There is good and bad to this, mostly bad, at least as I predict.
The subject of live action adaptations is all over the community and while I have talked about my opinions of the live action Ghost in the Shell in the past I feel that I have a feeling about all of this that can be summed up in one word.
Fear because it seems like such a difficult task. Fear because I think that western filmmakers and live action filmmakers perhaps in general make the mistake each time of not quite understanding what makes anime fans like the original product. Because very often, the original product is not something that can be done with live actors. Humor for one thing,in anime is unique and zany. That can’t really be replicated with actors. The crazy faces, slapstick comedy and rants like in FMA would be hard to do in a live action production. Which is what honestly gives me fear about that upcoming film in december. There are certain stories that are better left animated.
With your name, Shinkai’s beyond beautiful art style and character designs make the film so much better because aesthetics matter greatly to a lot of viewers, myself included. It may be a shallow way to look at media, but I generally like stories that are character driven and have a strong aesthetic that appeals to me. Shinaki’s films are excellent in these categories in my opinion. His characters feel realistic and even in supernatural settings I get emotionally ties to them. I don’t know how well that will work with some actor on screen.
This ties into another thing that scares me is that I personally just don’t like live action material versus animated media, and there’s a lot of people out there who feel the same. I wish there was more mature animation sure, but I would even watch old cartoon network shows over most popular HBO or AMC series any day because they feel so different and there is a difficult to describe connection I get to things that are animated.
I am also not a fan of this particular film being adapted because this film is very Japanese to begin with. It has Shinto beliefs and ideals on display, and Mitsuha being from a traditional background is an important aspect both to her as a character and the plot. The beautiful landscapes are snapshots of Japan. Having been there it’s a beautiful country, and while the United States is also beautiful, I don’t think we can achieve the same visual appeal. They can make everything American, like the Death Note live action, but watching that knowing what the original was would feel uncomfortable to me as comparisons would be easily formed within my mind and I either dismiss them or use them as fuel to make me more enraged.
I might suggest Hollywood to got two ways with creating anime influenced or inspired media. One option is to focus on creating their own art perhaps simply inspired by anime, in a manner similar to Porter Robinson’s Shelter music video. That was original, that was entertaining, and that was visually beautiful and still fairly western despite having a Japanese animation studio behind it. The other is to look deeper into what anime means to its fans and try to create more western animated shows that have mature and powerful themes. The latter seems like a long stretch, but I put my faith in the power of God an anime on our side.
Your name is one of my favorite anime of all time, from my favorite director. Not everything he has done is spectacular, but his masterpiece has the potential of being tarnished here and that scares me.
Will I see the film, probably. But I have low expectations as always with these sort of things, and while I am glad that people in the west are interested in turning the spotlight on anime, the idea of taking away what it was originally angers me. I don’t want anyone to see this live action film and judge the original work without seeing it, but that will happen.
Unless Abrams puts a big letterhead at the beginning of the film saying “GO WATCH THE ORIGINAL” I don’t this really being successful in the eyes of fans. But maybe I am wrong, let’s hope so.