As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hey everyone, this is Mokugyo, the manga-and-anime loving writer of MANGA.TOKYO! The second season of the anime adaptation of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) will finally start this coming April! We can’t wait! Attack on Titan source is a famous manga series, but has been adapted into an anime and a two-part live-action film. It has already been decided that it will get a stage play adaptation in the near future!
Today, I would like to write about the live-action movie adaptation of Attack on Titan, which was severely criticized by many viewers. Although there were many harsh comments about it, I would like to pick up some good parts of the movie.
First, let’s review the story of Attack on Titan. The original work is a manga series written by Hajime Isayama. The series began in 2009 and is still continuing today. The story takes place in a world where gigantic, man-eating humanoids known as Titans are wandering around. To protect themselves from the Titans, humans have built enormous walls and live in the cities surrounded by them. However, one day one of the walls is suddenly destroyed by the Colossal Titan, and this is where the story begins. The protagonist is Eren Yeager, a boy who lives in one of the villages within the walls. After seeing his mother get killed and eaten by a titan, he decides to devote his life to exterminating these monsters. Attack on Titan is a profound dark fantasy illustrating the battle between Titans and humans. The original manga series has become a massive hit, and it has been adapted into an anime series. On top of this, in order to boost its popularity, a live-action movie adaptation titled Shingeki no Kyojin ATTACK ON TITAN was released in 2015.
The live-action adaptation movie of Attack on Titan was released in two parts. Although the original work’s setting is in a German-like country and has a Western European atmosphere, the movie’s setting took place in near-future Japan with a Japanese cast. This difference in setting was one of the reasons why fans were unhappy. In addition, the plot of the movie was completely changed from the original. That is why there were many voices of frustration against the story line and the film direction, leading to the movie’s low evaluation.
Now I, Mokugyo, who has read the original manga and watched both the anime and the films, will introduce you to the good parts of the live-action movie.
— Dori (@Bigwasp80) January 17, 2017
The first thing that should be praised is the fact that the movie was completed. This movie’s production was first announced in 2011, but the project came to a sudden stop. It was first planned to be directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, who also directed Kokuhaku (Confessions) and Kawaki (The World of Kanako). However, he had to step down, and the project was taken over by Shinji Higuchi who is an expert on special effects. Higuchi is best known as the director of Nippon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) and Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence), one of the best movies of 2016. By the way, Shin Godzilla’s general director was Hideaki Anno, but Higuchi also played a big part in the directing. As you can see, although the movie’s project was once brought to a standstill, it was completed after all, and this is a good thing in itself.
In Japan, sci-fi action movies are hardly produced. Their production has started to slowly increase recently because there have been many live-action adaptations of manga and anime. However, when we compare it to Hollywood movies, the number of productions and budgets are still low. Although it is true that Attack on Titan was originally a manga series, I still think it was a great challenge for the staff to make a sci-fi action movie out of it; it’s such a difficult genre.
The live-action movie takes place in a near-future Japan. Thus, the means of transportation to battle the Titans are armored vehicles. This is a big difference from the original work. In the manga, guns and cannons exist, but the characters use horses for transportation. This ‘transportation by horseback riding’ plays a key role in the story. We can even say that the image of the soldiers riding on horses to confront the Titans is one of the factors that contributed to the the fantasy world of Attack on Titan. By watching the movie version, the viewers (paradoxically enough) can understand that the horseback riding scenes are what make the original story look like an event in history.
We can assume that there was not enough time for the cast to practice horseback riding nor enough money to gather so many horses. That is probably why the means of transportation became armored cars in the movie. From the vehicle, we can learn a realistic fact of movie-making: it’s important to save time and money. And that is not a bad thing.
One of the most spectacular factors of Attack on Titan is the action scenes using the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment (Rittai Kidou Souchi). These are very important scenes both in the manga and anime series. The action scenes using the special gears were, of course, included in the movie. The characters use the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment to control the movement of their bodies with two wires. In the live-action movie, the scenes made us realize that the effects of gravity are much stronger than we had expected. In the real world, it is very difficult for humans to fly to a higher place just with wires. Thus, in the movie, most of the action scenes using the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment were created using computer graphics.
In Part 2 of the movie, we get to see a new way of using this equipment. One character stabs the two wires of the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment in a building, breaks the wall, and throws a broken piece at the enemy. The equipment is originally used for holding the user’s body in place by thrusting the two wires in a wall. There has never been a scene in the original manga where the equipment is used for breaking a building. However, because the viewers can feel the gravity and weight in the film, it seemed very natural for the tool to be used in this way. It might even be an efficient way of using it for people with strong arms. The movie has shown us a new way of using the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment.
In the manga and anime series, humans use a special blade for killing the Titans. These blades are long and supple, and the most standard way to kill the Titans is to cut their napes with these two blades. There are scenes where the soldiers use cannons and bows and arrows, but even if they destroy parts of the Titans’ bodies, they heal and recover very quickly. That is why cutting their napes is the most effective way to kill them, and these blades are used in the live-action movie, too.
However, there are also battle scenes using new strategies that only appear in the movie. The first new strategy is the shoulder throw. There is a scene where a soldier holds the arm of a Titan, and throws over this gigantic figure over their soldiers. This scene does not appear in the original story, but it may be an efficient way to battle Titans. For example, if a soldier is confronted by a Titan at a flatland where the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment is useless, the shoulder throw will be very effective to make the Titan fall to the ground. Of course, whether humans can throw this enormous figure over their shoulders in the first place is another story, but it might be effective for the relatively small Titans.
Another new strategy used in the movie is the ax. This is a weapon that does not show up in the manga. In the movie, Sannagi, an original character in the film, uses a huge ax to cut the Achilles tendon of a Titan. I think this is a useful way to battle with them. There are scenes in the original manga where the blades are used to cut the Achilles tendon, so a huge ax might be useful if used efficiently. At least, it seemed useful in the movie.
The live-action movie’s storyline is quite different from the original. It is the same up until the Colossus Titan destroys the wall and attacks the cities, but everything after that is different. There are some similar scenes, but basically, it is a whole new story. Especially in the movie version, it is very well thought-out about what would happen if a Titan suddenly appeared in the real world. In Part 2, the viewers find out about the reason why the Titans appear, and this is one of the most interesting points of the movie. There is a scene which makes the viewers feel, ‘This might occur if a Titan really existed in our world.’ The entertaining part of the live-action adaptation is that it makes us feel like we are living in a world connected to the movie.
Another fun part about the live-action movie is that you get to see realistic figures of the Titans. These creepy humanoids were created with CG using the movements of real humans. It’s nice to see the realistic scariness of the Titans which is creepier than the original manga. The baby Titan which appears in Part 1 is an original character in the movie. Although there have been Titans with physical features like a baby in the manga series, there have never been actual baby Titans. We can say that the baby Titan is a creative aspect that shows up only in the movie.
The live-action movie’s original character, Shikishima, appears in the story as the most powerful soldier of mankind. In the original story, Levi is illustrated to be the strongest human, but Shikishima is a completely different character. Shikishima is a bit of a narcissist who does very ridiculous things. This became some sort of a humorous aspect in the movie.
This unique character was played by Hiroki Hasegawa. He is a very famous actor who played the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, the main character, in Shin Godzilla. He has co-acted with Matsuo Satoshi, who played Sannagi, in works such as Shin Godzilla and Date ~Koi To Wa Donna Mono Kashira~ (Date ~What is it like to be in love? ~). The Attack on Titan movie becomes much funnier if you have seen these other works that Hasegawa has acted in.
Shikishima’s characteristics are said to be ‘too unnatural’ and are often severely criticized by the movie viewers. However, this character was created just for the live-action adaptation, and I think we should just enjoy him the way he is.
Both parts of the Attack on Titan live-action adaptation have received severe criticism. As a fan who has been reading the original manga series, I understand how the people who criticize the movie feel. However, this live-action adaptation is truly the first step of the ‘attack’ of Japanese sci-fi action movies. Making this first step is what really matters. In the original story of Attack on Titan, many characters have learned the ways to battle with the Titans by going through countless pains. Likewise, the Japanese people are to learn the ways to create a splendid Japanese sci-fi action movie by watching this live-action adaptation. I am hoping that one day, the filming techniques will develop more, and a new version of the movie Attack on Titan will get released!