I will admit I’m pretty excited. Not Abrams ‘Trek ’09 excited, or Episode I: The Phantom Menace excited. This kind of excitement is definitely on par with some other debuts of course: I was UBER pumped for Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ when it came out in ’05. I was really looking forward to Gaghan’s ‘Syriana’ when that came out in ’05 as well. My wife sleapt through it though, and I can’t really blame her. I think my biggest excitement/letdown was Tony Gilroy’s ‘Duplicity’ in ’09. I’m not sure why but I had it built up in my head that it was going to be THE creative and head-scratching feature of the year. Well, it turned out to be head scratching, but not much else.
So here I am, excited as shit for Ghost In The Shell’s premiere tomorrow. I’m trying NOT to make this mean too much but this is literally the BIGGEST thing in movies right now. Forget Avengers: Age of Infinity Defenders or whatever they’ve got lined up, forget STAR WARS Episode VIIIXLCMIX: The Vibrating Lightsabre, Ghost In The Shell (GITS for all you otaku out there) is the genre cornerstone film of this year. It represents a trend I identify as having started with the Wachowski’s ‘Speed Racer’ (One can argue that ‘The Matrix’ was arguably the first of the examples I’m going to offer, but there are key differences I will outline) and continued with ‘Pacific Rim’ and now into GITS: The trend of adapting Japanese anime to live action.
Yes, most proles will argue that ‘The Matrix’ started all of this, but I do not agree. For sure, ‘The Matrix’ created an entirely unique visual style influenced by the structures and images utilized in Japanese animation (anime from now on, okay? I figure everyone should know by now) but ‘The Matrix’ borrowed from a great deal of sources, and many of its visual hallmarks were original concepts not directly connected to anime’s visual storytelling tropes. ’08’s ‘Speed Racer’, while not being the success it SHOULD’VE been, was far more effective at translating animal visual style into real life. In fact, it was these cuts, edits and interludes which most anime fans found most enjoying about the film that also turned off the audience less versed in foreign imagery construction. Commentators heads wiping past the screen as they deliver their dialogue. Camera cranes, pushes, and dollies that simply aren’t possible using real-life techniques are embraced ad-nauseum to match the ‘overlaid image’ style that makes anime so visually captivating. The fact that the story itself is an adaptation of an anime doesn’t hurt, but ‘Speed Racer’ as an original property was never a bastion of dedicated storytelling. (I make the same argument to people who claim Michael Bay has raped their childhood because of his ‘Transformers’ movies. I really don’t remember the time when ‘Transformers’ were an untouchable safehouse of creative storytelling. I thought they were there to sell toys…)
So we’ve got the visuals down with ‘Speed Racer’, but as observed above, the story tropes themselves fall a little flat here. This brings us to ‘Pacific Rim’ from 2013. While ‘Pacific Rim’ doesn’t necessarily borrow the visual signatures that ‘Speed Racer’ does, it definitely captures the story tropes of anime in a far superior fashion. The basics of ‘mecha’ anime (anime devoted to stories about robots and technology) are all present here: Giant nigh-undefeatable monsters/aliens/extra-dimensional magical creatures. Super tech robot fighting machines piloted by young hotshots. A young woman with dreams of glory, stymied by her perceived place in the world. Mako Mori’s arc through the whole feature can be summed up thusly “Please notice me, Senpai Stringer Bell.” And it’s hard to get more ‘anime’ than that. The film proved that anime conventions and stories CAN translate to North American and international markets, opening up a whole new world of possibilities…
Which brings us to today and GITS. You can’t really pick the ‘definitive’ anime film. Some will argue Dragon Ball Z (I wouldn’t, even if my power IS estimated at 60 000!) is the defining property. Other’s will say ‘Gundam’. Personally, I feel there’s no more pure an anime than Hideaki Anno’s masterwork ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, which provided a great deal of influence on ‘Pacific Rim’ (and essentially any other mecha anime that came after). ‘Ghost In The Shell’ has been a sci-fi classic for more than 22 years, and an excellent example of the more ‘serious’ anime feature. The style, methods and tropes are all there, just presented in a slightly less comic, somewhat more ‘mature’ manner. ***MINOR SPOILER ALERT*** Major Motoko Kusanagi’s raid on the skyscraper from the opening; the ‘invisible’ fight in the abandoned canal; and the Major’s final confrontation with the Puppet Master and the auto-tank are legendary animated action sequences (and actually pretty much ALL the action in the original feature when you break it down. The rest of the movie is existential musing, complicated hacking dialogue and that annoying Japanese children’s choir singing over Ken Burns style slo-mo tracks across the Neo Tokyo skyline…) It lends itself particularly to being adapted to live action, and after years and years of hearing about, it’s finally here.
And that’s what I’m really excited about, not even GITS specifically but what this means for the FUTURE of adapting anime to live action. As long as GITS doesn’t completely shit the bed (unlikely, say it with me folks, “unlikely”) and especially if it makes a decent profit, it opens the floodgates for more adaptations. Unreliable internet chatter has already pegged ‘Get Out’s Jordan Peele as the possible director on the live action adaptation of ‘Akira’, the seminal, defining international anime film from ’88. But i’m not waiting for ‘Akira’. I’m waiting on live action adaptations of ‘Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross’ and ‘Macross: Plus’. I want to see what someone like Rian Johnson can do with ‘Patlabor’. ‘Gundam Wing’ could be it’s own primetime series. The possibilities are amazing.
Most importantly for me, if GITS can prove it can be done, it opens the potential for my 12 episode pitch of a live action ‘Evangelion’ series to be taken seriously. It would be an absolute honour if I had the chance to sit across from Hideaki Anno, express how much his masterpiece means to me, and then get the chance to bring it to real, breathing life. GITS isn’t the culmination of a journey, it’s the first step in a new world where even the most fantastical visual stories can now be told. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker!