Tag Archives: Japanese

Movie Review: Attack on Titan (2015)

Attack-on-Titan-Movie-Poster

I thought I had sworn off live-action manga/anime adaptations since the abysmal Dragon Ball: Evolution (you know, the one where Goku’s a white American high school kid), but a recent trailer I saw of Attack on Titan, based on the Japanese manga of the same name, got me interested. Plus several people have raved on to me about how good the manga/anime is, but given that there are so many volumes now and I don’t have the time to start, I thought I’d cheat a little and try to get up to speed through this 98-minute movie.

Now, since watching the film, I have read that fans of the manga/anime are up in arms because of the liberties the filmmakers took in adapting the source material. None of that is relevant to this review.

Accordingly, my impression of the movie is probably better than he general consensus, which is that it sucked more balls than there are Dragon Ballz. Still, that doesn’t mean I liked it. Attack on Titan straddles an uncomfortable line often seen in manga/anime live-action adaptations, where it tries to be “realistic” to differentiate itself from its source material but stay true to it at the same time to appease fans. The result is a film that pisses everyone off for not being able to do either effectively.

Allow me to backtrack a little. The premise of the film is a very interesting and imaginative one. Some time in the future, these naked humanoid giants with no genitals begin roaming the land and eating people for no apparent reason. After humanity is nearly driven to extinction, the remaining survivors manage to build massive concentric walls to keep these giants out. A hundred years pass and no one has seen a titan — until now.

The story focuses on youngster Eren Jaeger (Haruma Miuru) and his two friends, Mikasa Ackerman (Kiko Mizuhara) and Armin Arlert (Kanata Hongo) when they first encounter the titans, and then skips forward in time to when they are members of a human resistance army dedicated to fending the titans off.

The first part of the film, when the titans emerge, is executed quite well. Though the special effects are not up to Hollywood standards, there is an anime-esque aesthetic to the CGI that suits the eerie tone of the movie — at least that part of it anyway. The titans are grotesque and creepy ass looking, with randomly deformed body parts and facial features. Their expressions are what the Japanese refer to as “hentai”, which basically means perverse sexual desire. These initial sequences are brutal, extremely violent, and highly terrifying, the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in a horror film.

And honestly, that’s what I thought Attack on Titan — a title which, in typical Japanese fashion, doesn’t even make sense anyway — was: a monster horror movie. If it stuck to being that kind of movie, I think I would have liked it a lot. It didn’t take long, however, for the movie to steer towards a more traditional fantasy manga plot. As it turns out, the titans can only be killed by severing something in their nape, and accordingly, the humans develop some kind of mechanical outfit that more or less turn them into Spider-Man ninjas. Yeah, they shoot wires from their belts and fly around in the air, bouncing off walls and shit while carrying swords.

Once this happens, Attack on Titan evolves into a war movie of sorts, but it’s just not a very compelling one. The flaws in the special effects also become a lot more obvious when the characters are flying all over the place. There’s simply not enough story advancement and the characters are all poorly developed, to the extent where I was beginning to get some of them confused with each other. Admittedly, some of the quirks are probably cultural, but none of them came across as real people.

There is a nice twist towards the end (not sure how close this is to the manga/anime), and then the film finishes abruptly. I was like, “WTF?” before I realised, shockingly, that there is a second part to the movie — Attack on Titan: The End of the World —  set to be released in September. When I put that into perspective, I suppose the first part of Attack on Titan didn’t finish on too bad of a note. It remains to be seen whether more thought will be put into the characters in the second part.

On the whole, there are some positives to take out of Attack on Titan, especially in its early stages thanks to some effective and perverse horror imagery. However, it felt like so many aspects of this fascinating world and its characters were barely given any attention at all, and I fail to understand why they couldn’t have extended its relatively short 98-minute running time to 2+ hours to deliver a much more well-rounded film.  Still, by manga/anime adaptation standards, Attack on Titan is a passable piece of entertainment, just not a very good one.

2.5 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: Battle Royale (2000)

I understand I have it backwards. I watched The Hunger Games, which I thoroughly enjoyed, then decided to check out its Japanese predecessor, which many say Suzanne Collins’ novel takes from quite liberally.

I must admit, for the longest time I thought Battle Royale, the movie, was based on the manga (of which I had read chunks) as opposed to the novel written by Koushun Takami. In fact, I didn’t really even know the novel existed.

Nonetheless, the premise is strikingly similar to that of The Hunger Games. Set in a fictional Japan where the structure of society has more or less broken down, a class of junior high school students find themselves in a contest called Battle Royale, created under the BR Act, which forces the 42 students to kill each other until only one remains. Each contestant is fitted with an electronic tracking collar, and anyone who resists the contest or walks into a randomly designated “death zone” (added as the game progresses) will have their collar detonated. Students are each given a bag of necessities and a weapon. Sounds familiar?

I don’t intend to get into a debate about whether Collins (who claims she never heard of the book until her publisher told her) copied Battle Royale, but I will say that both film versions stand up rather well independently of the other.

Battle Royale’s strength is in its relentless brutality, which starts right from the beginning and doesn’t ease until the very end, making The Hunger Games somewhat mild by comparison. Unlike the American film, which takes a long time to set up the contest, Battle Royale gets into it very quickly and efficiently.

The most amazing thing about the 114-minute film (there is also a 122-minute extended version) was how tight the script was. The story may have focused on handful of the 42 students but almost every single one had their own personality and served a different purpose. In fact, I found it incredibly easy to identify each of the characters despite the film jumping a fair bit, and this was notwithstanding that all the names were in Japanese!

Compared to The Hunger Games, Battle Royale had a much wider range of identifiable characters, which is quite a remarkable achievement considering the latter’s contestants are all from a single class, whereas the former’s are from various districts scattered across the nation.

Battle Royale’s lead protagonist would have to be Shuya Nanahara, who is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara (as soon as I saw him I was like, “Isn’t that Light from Death Note?”). The standout characters would have to be the sexually provocative Mitsuko and the psychotic Kazuo, both of whom are the main antagonists of the film.

Despite the similar ideas, I found Battle Royale to be a very different experience to The Hunger Games. The Japanese film was relentless its carnage all the way through, even though some of the violence appeared somewhat (and perhaps intentionally) fake, whereas the American film was more measured in its depiction of visceral violence and had a brooding kind of tension. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the different cultures, but the Japanese film also had some totally WTF moments (that bordered on horror or comedy or both) that underscored its “surreal” feel.

I guess that’s the way I would describe Battle Royale – terrifying in a “surreal” kind of way. While The Hunger Games was arguably more “realistic” from a technical perspective and in feel, I found the films to be equally satisfying but vastly different experiences. I’d definitely recommend the other film for those who have seen one of the two.

As for a rating, I suppose it would only be fair if I gave Battle Royale the same, though if I had watched it first, I think I might have given it a higher score.

 4.25 stars out of 5!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfoNiIXTOgA