Jessica Ginting reflects on the failures of recent live-action anime adaptations, casting doubts on Your Name bucking this trend
It was recently announced that JJ Abrams will be making a Hollywood live-action adaptation of the hit Japanese anime from last year, Your Name, written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Almost immediately, fans and critics raised the issue of whitewashing and were concerned that the remake of the film would follow in the footsteps of recent anime adaptations such as Death Note and Ghost in the Shell, both released earlier this year.
Indeed, the recurring trend of Hollywood adapting anime films rarely ever ends successfully, even when looking further back into the past of Dragon Ball: Evolution (2009). Both fans and critics alike seem to resist these films, yet film studios keep trying to push for more adaptations to be made in a desperate attempt to widen its viewer base. The result usually is a movie that becomes devoid of its original meaning and cultural value, and is simply reduced to a generic Hollywood action film, packaged with a sprinkling of Asian cultural set pieces.
these specific (Japanese) settings play an important role in the film’s complex narrative, often acting a source of dramatic tension
For starters, Ghost in the Shell was filmed around Hong Kong, with noticeable landmarks in the background, despite the original anime being set in Japan. Hollywood blockbusters tend to portray various Asian cultures as interchangeable – its empty commodification at its best, and cultural appropriation at its worst.
The very premise of Your Name would be difficult to translate into the context of another culture. The story revolves around Mitsuha and Taki, two young Japanese teens who swap bodies and end up in a fascinating and mind-boggling romance looped in with complex themes of time and destiny.
Mitsuha lives in the Japanese mountains of the Hida region, whereas Taki lives in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo – these specific settings play an important role in the film’s complex narrative, often acting as a source of dramatic tension between the two characters. Mitsuha’s dream of living in the city comes true, while Taki learns to navigate rural Japanese life and traditional customs. The stunning hand-drawn animation is also second to none, and a live-action remake is bound to lose the magic of the unique visual experience.
If Hollywood decides to go the Death Note route and forgoes these settings for American ones, then the movie simply won’t work. The rural versus urban narrative could be set up, using Missouri and New York for example, but the cultural impact changes completely without its Japanese roots. The movie depicts ancient Japanese traditions older than America itself. It would be a much more interesting adaptation if Abrams decided to portray Native American culture, for example.
But if Hollywood’s track record is anything to go by, the notion of seeing Native American representation seems fairly slim. If they go the Ghost in the Shell route and retain the original setting, will they finally cast Japanese actors? Or will they continue to ignore whitewashing concerns due to perceived “marketability” fears?
It feels like we’re being cheated by Hollywood. With the rise of the superheroes, onslaught of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes, audiences are often voicing their complaints about the lack of original films in cinema nowadays. Your Name was like a shining diamond when it was released last year and is still winning various critical awards and accolades. However, not a lot of mainstream filmgoers seem to know about it, and it was (predictably) snuffed by the Oscars earlier this year. The film had limited marketing support when it was released in the US, remaining mostly under the radar.
So if Abrams and co. fails to properly represent Japanese culture in their adaptation, it would feed into the narrative that only Western stories are worth telling and Hollywood will keep stalling their own progress. In the end, one positive thing to take away would be the fact that perhaps the Hollywood treatment—as sceptical as most people may be of it, can shine a light on this gem and attract a wider audience for the original film.
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