STORY AND PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SCOTT KIRCHHOFER/TRIBUNE
After tapping comic books for creative ideas with box office success, Hollywood has turned its attention to anime as a new source of inspiration and revenue. Adapting Japanese animation into live action will definitely pose a serious challenge for filmmakers as American audiences are not used to its nonlinear storylines, fantastic characters and unique visuals.
With the launch of family-friendly Speed Racer opening Friday (May 9), we get the first look at how Hollywood handles anime. Thankfully the job is safely in the hands of Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) who both wrote and directed the movie.
IMAGES FROM SPEED RACER COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
The Wachowski brothers are no strangers to anime. Besides being HUGE fans of the Speed Racer cartoon, they created The Matrix, which the brothers admit was heavily influenced by Ghost in the Shell, a classic cyberpunk manga and anime series.
The story goes something like this: The brothers were pitching the idea for The Matrix to producer Joel Silver and when he couldn’t understand what they were wanting to do, they showed him Ghost in the Shell and said “We want to make a live-action version of this.”
I have no fear the Wachowski brothers have created a great movie that remains faithful to the source material while blowing our minds. I’m also sure American audiences will devour Speed Racer with gleeful enthusiasm. As with any anime or live-action anime adaptation, even if you don’t love (or even understand) the story, the exciting visuals will offer you something you’ve never seen before. Groundbreaking visuals are something American audiences are always craving and haven’t really seen in a while.
Here are some anime-to-live-action movies coming to the big screen:
Speed Racer (May 9)
Written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, and starring Emile Hirsch as the fearless Speed Racer. Also starring John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci and Matthew Fox. In the film, Speed Racer and family live to race and refuse to loose, even when evil corporate types threaten their lives.
Akira (Summer 2009)
Leonardo DiCaprio will produce two films based on the popular anime story Akira. DiCaprio is rumored to play the lead character Kaneda while Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play the raging Tetsuo. Akira is considered by critics (and myself) to be one of the greatest anime films ever made. The original story is about a biker gang of kids trying to survive in a chaotic, post-apocalyptic “Neo-Tokyo.” Things get really interesting when one of the kids develops psionic powers that threaten to destroy the city again.
Tobey Maguire is producing the film and might play the lead role in what is to be a new sci-fi franchise. The Robotech story is extensive, but basically deals with an alien starship crashing to Earth, providing us with advanced technology in the form of giant transforming machines or mecha that humans must use to defend itself from extraterrestrial invasions.
The Last Airbender (July 2, 2010)
Director M. Night Shyamalan will write, direct and produce a trilogy of live-action films based on the popular Asian-influenced Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which a young hero must master all four elements to bring peace to the world.
Ghost in the Shell (no release date)
Steven Spielberg will turn Ghost in the Shell into a live-action 3D movie. The futuristic police thriller follows the exploits of Section 9, a covert operations section of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission that specializes in fighting technology-related crime.
What do you think? Will Hollywood do justice here and make good quality live-action adaptations of anime classics, or butcher the Eastern artform we all love so much?