As one of the most celebrated directors of modern cinema, movie fans across Japan are no doubt looking forward to Ron Howard’s upcoming epic, "The Battle with the White Whale."
As we’ve talked about before, Japan’s highly developed movie market isn’t shy about localizing foreign films that are coming into the country. We’ve seen heavily reworked posters for films like "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Birdman." Giving films a new, Japanese name that’s either catchier in the opinion of locals or more evocative than the English original is also a time-honored tradition, which has been carried on by this year’s gritty action hit "Mad Max: Death Road of Anger," as Japanese audiences know it.
Howard’s soon-to-be-released "In the Heart of the Sea" checks off both of these boxes, with a new poster and a new title for Japan. Based on the novel of the same name, "In the Heart of the Sea" is based on the true story of the 19th century whaling ship Essex, which was struck and sunk by a gigantic sperm whale, an event which in turn is said to have been the inspiration for author Herman Melville’s novel "Moby-Dick."
In the U.S., the film is being promoted with the poster at the left of the photo above. It shows a whaler, apparently having fallen overboard, suddenly coming face-to-face with his enormous quarry. The undersea setting, startling contrast in size between the adversaries, and the mysterious yet intelligent expression of the whale all serve to show that this man is no longer in a place where he holds dominion, and that perhaps any superiority he has ever felt over nature’s other creatures was nothing more than a foolish delusion.
Meanwhile, in Japan, the movie looks more like a remake of "Free Willy" staring Thor and three of his blond buds. Maybe the Asgardian prince is out sailing the world on a search for more cool places to take a bath like he did in the "Avengers" sequel?
But the poster’s text points to more ominous events than a relaxing soak in the tub.
"The shocking true story of Moby Dick, which has been kept secret until now. A desperate struggle with the legendary white whale. The final decision these men had to make in order to survive.
From Ron Howard, director of 'Apollo 13' and 'A Beautiful Mind.'"
"THE BATTLE WITH THE WHITE WHALE"
Opens Saturday, January 16
We’re not sure why the movie claims that the story of the Essex has been “kept secret until now,” seeing as how the ship sank in 1820 and the crew’s story has been the subject of at least three books, with the first account published all the way back in 1821. It also seems a shame to toss out the haunting artwork of the whale’s eye, but the mentally advanced marine mammals don’t enjoy quite the same exalted status in Japan that they do in most English-speaking countries.
Still, movies that put their good-looking leads at the vanguard of their marketing blitz consistently do good box office numbers in Japan, so we really can’t blame distributor Warner Brothers for going with “close-up of ruggedly handsome protagonist” instead of “long-distance shot of some dude’s butt and a giant blue eye.”
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