Late last month it was announced that Japanese animation blockbuster Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) would be getting the live-action treatment via Hollywood. The film will be produced by franchise savior (Star Trek, Star Wars) J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures and Japanese behemoth and original distributor Toho Co.
Your Name came out of nowhere in 2016 to set box office records (second highest gross for a domestic film in Japan, behind Spirited Away, fourth highest grossing movie ever in Japan, first animated film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki to break 10 billion yen, etc.) and from a business model perspective, this would seem like a no-brainer to translate the property into a live-action film. However, my gut reaction to the news was a cringe-inducing “Why?
Hollywood has all of the right ingredients: the budget, stars, directors, writers, producers, and did I mention budget? Still, in this day and age, the number of successful anime, manga, and video game-to-live-action-film adaptations are slim. Factor in the U.S., and the list of turkeys seems to be longer. Dragon Ball Evolution, Tekken, Speed Racer, Fist of the North Star. You have to wonder if Hollywood ever truly learns its lesson or whether the potential for box office greatness and ensuing merchandising and cinematic universe opportunities is just too great to pass up. After Netflix’s foray into the fold with its State-side take on the popular manga Death Note failed, this move adaptation of Your Name is still not a sure thing.
First off is how screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Oscar-nominated for the sci-fi hit Arrival) will tackle the source material and the changes that will be made, either to cater to an American audience or to tone done some of the more non-PG themes (handled with humor and grace in the animated film) that could cause family audiences to pause when explaining to their kids how one might act if they switched into the body of the opposite sex via a time-bending magical meteor shower.
The second is casting; in order to convey all of the emotions and the urgency of the relationship between the two main characters Taki and Mitsuha, the chemistry needs to be believable, and the actors will have the live-action challenge of balancing romantic comedy and science fiction effectively.
And perhaps most important is the setting. The fictional town of Itomori depicted quaint countryside life, balanced with the amazing visuals of Tokyo, the city in all of its metropolistic glory. The locations were essentially a character on their own and played an integral part to the story. Will the filmmakers opt for upstate New York vs the City? Could you see Kevin and Rachel imagining themselves as worlds apart with her residing in Syracuse and him in the bright lights of Times Square? (Yeah, I thought not). The one thing that I would be interested in seeing is the visual effects. The meteor shower and its beauty and devastation will definitely be a sight to see on the big screen, and Bad Robot will have no problem making this look good.
Adaptations of international properties are hard when things literally don’t translate well from animation cell to live shot. Everything you loved and connected with in the first place sets the expectation for the same, which in turn sets the bar extremely high for the filmmakers. Even in Japan, adaptations of manga properties are all the rage but the well-received films (such as Orange and One Week Friends) tend to rely heavily on the shojo manga genre (geared towards teenage female readers and focusing on high school romances), whereas the shonen manga genre (geared towards teenage male readers) has floundered, most recently with the ambitious but convoluted two-part Attack on Titan.
My hope is that Mr. Abrams and company will utilize original director Makato Shinkai heavily in creating their collaborative vision and that they will at least look to cast Asian actors at a time where the call for diversity and inclusion in the film industry is at an all-time high. Masi Oka, a Japanese bilingual actor (of Heroes, Get Smart, and Hawaii Five-0 fame) and producer of the Death Note remake said that the intent was to cast Asian actors, but they just couldn’t find folks that had command of the language. For what it’s worth, I suggest a bilingual approach to the material that respects its Japanese roots while putting a new spin on its American setting. Two leads that immediately come to mind are rising Japanese-American actor Mackenyu Arata (son of screen legend Sonny Chiba of Kill Bill), and Hawaii-raised Japanese actress Sumire (most recently seen in the film adaptation of The Shack). The possibilities of an adaptation of Your Name done right are actually pretty exciting, but there needs to be a fair amount of cultural awareness and competency in the process.
With a release date still on the horizon, my hope is that they get this one right. I’d offer my pro/con list on the also-announced Hollywood adaptation of beloved manga and anime giant One Piece, but that’s a whole ‘nother article.
How do you feel about Your Name getting the live action treatment? Sound off in the comments section below!
Edited by: Kelly Conley