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Live-action 'Attack on Titan' writer talks about changes from anime, with one demanded by creator

18 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

After more than a year of waiting, the live-action Attack on Titan film hits theaters in Japan this week. Fans of the biggest anime hit in decades are no doubt excited to see the franchise’s animated heroes and world come to life, but maybe they shouldn’t be.

We’re not saying that because of the historically spotty track record of anime to live-action movie adaptations, either, but because the upcoming film’s characters and setting are largely its own. Ahead of its release, the movie’s screenwriter has revealed the reasons behind the changes made during the transition from anime to live-action, such as the absence of fan-favorite Levi, and one alteration that came directly from the series’ creator himself.

Although he’s best known as a film critic, Tomohiro Machiyama was chosen by the film’s director, Shinji Higuchi, and creator Hajime Isayama to write the script for the live-action Attack on Titan. Machiyama recently sat down for an interview with movie magazine Eiga Hiho, in which he shed some light on the adaptation process.

Given the franchise’s European-inspired setting, many fans in the international community expressed dismay at the idea of Japanese actors portraying ostensibly western characters in the live-action film. It turns out many fans in Japan felt the same way, and let their sentiment be known early in the movie’s development.

Taking that into consideration, Machiyama and Higuchi decided the only solution was for their film to take place in an entirely different world than that of the anime and manga. They decided their version of Attack on Titan would be set in Japan, and that they would film at Gunkanjima, the ruins-filled island that’s become easily recognizable to movie audiences as part of the country.

For a time, Machiyama considered giving everyone in the movie Japanese names, but in the end decided to leave the principal characters’ monikers as they are in the anime, under the assumption that new names come into fashion as times change. But even if anime protagonist Eren was still going to be called Eren, it wasn’t certain that he was going to be the live-action version’s main character.

Early on, Machiyama was considering making Levi, by far Attack on Titan’s most popular character, the movie’s central figure. He says the idea was dropped, though, since the letter V, nonexistent in Japanese, and in Machiyama’s opinion rare throughout East Asia, wouldn’t have fit with the Japanese setting, and so Levi was scrubbed from the live-action continuity entirely.

With that, putting the spotlight back on Eren was the logical choice, but Isayama stepped in with a condition. Despite creating the entire franchise, Isayama admitted that Eren’s fearless attitude, even when standing face to face with the monstrous Titans, made him difficult to relate to. Even Isayama himself expressed trouble empathizing with his series’ lead, and so he said that if Eren was going to be the main character of the live-action film, he’d have to have a different personality than he does in the manga and anime.

Specifically, Isayama wanted Eren portrayed as a normal person with regular fears, which would no doubt include a 120-meter-tall naked giant trying to eat you. As such, Eren’s shonen manga-like personality was tossed, as was his backstory of someone who, as a boy, killed a man to protect his childhood friend, Mikasa.

Machiyama was initially skeptical of Isayama’s demand to make Eren someone who would be “paralyzed with fear” upon encountering the Titans, but as production went on, the scriptwriter came around to the idea. Instead of a valorous youth dead-set on revenge and earning freedom for mankind, Eren only takes the first steps towards becoming a Titan slayer because he’s seeking to atone for his failure to protect his home and loved ones.

Machiyama describes the effect as producing a “frightening drama,” and adds that he’s proud of how the finished product depicts an ordinary young man wandering through a hellish environment.

Tonally, that’s a huge departure from the source material, but Machiyama can still draw some parallels between the live-action and anime "Attack on Titan." Machiyama says the live-action production team, Isayama included, weren’t going to be satisfied taking the safe route of a direct copy of the original story. Instead, they’re trying to break out of their comfort zone and create something new and compelling, just like the anime’s Eren isn’t about to cower inside the walls that protect his city and trap his spirit.

They’ll get their chance when Attack on Titan opens on August 1.

Source: Cinema Today

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Live-action Attack on Titan posters show new characters and weapons, plus one huge absence -- Attack on Titan’s author causes a stir with his less-than-stellar sketches -- Finally! Attack on Titan director says TV anime’s second season will start production in 2016

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18 Comments
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Despite creating the entire franchise, Isayama admitted that Eren’s fearless attitude, even when standing face to >face with the monstrous Titans, made him difficult to relate to.

If anything that makes him EASIER to relate to IMO, but I guess military people are a small outlier demographic.....I hate movies with soft/weak main characters (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Spider-Man).

Given the franchise’s European-inspired setting, many fans in the international community expressed dismay at the >idea of Japanese actors portraying ostensibly western characters in the live-action film. It turns out many fans in >Japan felt the same way, and let their sentiment be known early in the movie’s development.

So they had the potential to make a film that might appeal to a global market but instead neutered it, took the easy route of employing an all Japanese cast, and made a film that still manages to irk even their domestic Japanese market fanbase. Needless to say, whenever I get around to watching this, I'm going in with the lowest expectations possible.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Love it. You have a well established international hit with characters the fans love, dress up as at conventions, and then you completely sabotage your best chances of a worldwide hit by just picking and choosing the parts you want to change, the parts you want to scrap all together, and the parts you'll keep after butchering bits here and there.

If the creator was for this, then why make the original the way you did? Did a sense of nationalism all of the sudden kick in? Besides the overly dramatic acting style and the mediocre CGI, I wanted to really like this... Now, I'm just disappointed.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japanese should stop using CG in their movies and dramas, its terrible, they just dont know how to make it look real. The only movie that had great CG was The Sinking Of Japan.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Still gonna go see it. This film is bound to be the best bad movie this summer! #stoked

0 ( +1 / -1 )

52 million volumes in print, critical acclaim for its atmosphere and story. These characters, these story lines made this happen and got you the chance to make this movie. Why discard them and your fans so easily? Why get rid of what got you here?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Looks like a student film. Love the obligitory long gazes slightly away from the camera and the screaming of names/before attacking etc..yawn.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Look up on Youtube Attack on Titan Abridged by Professional Failures. Hilarious!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@sf2k

Thanks for that! I'm laughing like crazy. I love parody videos like this.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Eren gets NTRed in the movie lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese should stop using CG in their movies and dramas, its terrible, they just dont know how to make it look real. The only movie that had great CG was The Sinking Of Japan.

I remember watching the live acting film of Space Battle Yamato (2010) and cannot believe how terrible the CG is! They look like from the 80's! Jurassic Park produced in 1993 has better CG than many Japanese films produced almost 20 years after it. The gap between those CG in Japanese films and Hollywood films are huge. People need to understand anime and CG are different. My expectation for this movie is not high. However, I do love the anime version of it so I hope I am wrong.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Not the first time the Japanese shifted an Anime setting to Japan in its live-action counterpart. Black Butler did the same. This can be easily understood, the Japanese movie industry is very light on non-Japanese actors, making a movie with mostly non-Japanese actors would be next to impossible.

Lucky for them that Japan doesn't have the multicultural (hyper)sensibilities that Hollywood has. If any film company based in US did the same thing, they'd be burned at the stake for "white-washing" by race activists.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@yoshisan88

I remember watching the live acting film of Space Battle Yamato (2010) and cannot believe how terrible the CG is!

The sad thing is SB Yamato is probably one of the better live action anime flicks of late....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So they had the potential to make a film that might appeal to a global market but instead neutered it, took the easy route of employing an all Japanese cast, and made a film that still manages to irk even their domestic Japanese market fanbase. Needless to say, whenever I get around to watching this, I'm going in with the lowest expectations possible.

So let's see, you expect a Japanese production team to hire in a team of proper British or American actors, for a high risk project like a movie adaption of a cartoon? Or perhaps German actors? French too? Have you ever seen a tri-lingual movie? American mainstream audiences (aka 80% of this film's foreign earning potential) won't even go to this movie since it's in Japanese. So then people expect this domestic production team to produce an English language movie? The only people they'd find willing to get into a quagmire like this are the local out of work english teachers, good luck with that film! And this one, since apparently they apparently chopped it to bits :)

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@Magnus Roe

So let's see, you expect a Japanese production team to hire in a team of proper British or American actors, for a >high risk project like a movie adaption of a cartoon?

Mel Gibson did it for Apocalypto. That was a pretty high-risk project by Hollywood standards. And The Last Samurai had a full Japanese cast but I wouldn't call anything with Tom Cruise "high risk". What's Japan's excuse for not finding competent foreign actors, other than xenophobia? What medium the original source material is from shouldn't matter. "Edge of Tomorrow" was a great film, and it was based on a Japanese novel. I don't know anyone who refused to see it because of the source material. The average movie-goer won't ever know Attack on Titan came from a manga/anime.

If John Cameron can sell a movie about blue savages on a jungle planet fighting a mining expedition to practically every movie-goer on the planet, why can't a Japanese team sell a movie about sword-wielding gymnasts on ropes fighting naked giants? Japanese scif-fi and fantasy has a broader international appeal than I think most people realize, partly because it usually deals with different themes and with a much different aesthetic sense than what we usually get out of the West. This alone is a selling point IMO.

American mainstream audiences (aka 80% of this film's foreign earning potential) won't even go to this movie since >it's in Japanese.

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto made 3x its budget while entirely in period-appropriate languages. His movie "The Passion of the Christ" made TWENTY times its budget, again with non-English dialogue. Make a good movie, market it appropriately...people will pay to watch it, subtitles be damned. Hell, make a RIDICULOUS movie with frequent subtitles, such as Inglorious Basterds...and people will STILL give you their money (that movie's best scene, culminating in a shootout in a tavern, is almost entirely in German).

So then people expect this domestic production team to produce an English language movie?

English is the world's international language. It should make dubbing/subtitling in every other language that much easier. Considering the size of the global movie market, it would probably be worth the investment. But hey, nothing exists outside the borders of Japan so why bother, right?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If John Cameron can sell a movie about blue savages on a jungle planet fighting a mining expedition...

I think James Cameron made a movie about that too!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Given the changes and the huge world setting this anime can do...I amsurprised they didnt just make an entirely new cast set in the same scenario. I mean, why not? If successful the series could eventually bridge the two/allow them to meet.

Just not sure what the point is...as it isnt going to really capture a new audience if it uses too much established lore...and it isnt going to make fans happy if you remove the very parts they like the most.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not familiar with the the franchise.. But to me it looks like Machiyama and Higuchi did nothing but make mistake after mistake.. If fans were pushing for one thing.. Why on earth would you do anything different? They clearly know that no matter how risky they go their fans will watch it.. So why not push the letter and hire foreign actors? If they hired ANY European actors it would make the film popular in at least two nations.. Japan and the nation which speaks the language of the actors. Instead they chose to change the story so it would be easier to cast? Disappointing. I for one would have been interested if a Japanese filmmaker had chosen to make a film in a western language; purely because it's so rare so see such a thing! Well, I just hope the film doesn't flop completely.. It would be sad to see actors have their careers ruined because of the producer and writer's mistakes.

Also, subtitled films are exceptionally popular.. Look at "Amelie"! It's a French film that is popular across the globe.. And it's not as if French is too well known a language.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i think its a bad idea to not make the live action movie of attack on titan totally different from the anime and anime fans will hate that so much so stick to the anime

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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