Attack on Titan: Part 1 (live-action film)
Also known as:
Shingeki no Kyojin (live-action film)
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2015
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Format:
98 minutes
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Review date:
5 February 2017
It's the first instalment of a two-part live-action movie adaptation of Attack on Titan. Let's look at this franchise:
MANGA - mega-hit, 60 million copies in print.
ANIME - mega-hit, both in Japan and internationally. One of the rare break-out anime.
THESE TWO LIVE-ACTION FILMS - very nearly killed Japan's interest in the entire franchise, likened by Tomoko and her friends to famously reviled live-action manga adaptations like Casshern and Devilman.
Let's start with the fan perspective. Fans hate this film, for reasons I think are missing the point. I'd go further, in fact, and say that attempted fan-pleasing damaged the film by inspiring the creation of an annoying new character, Captain Shikishima. (As played by Hiroki Hasegawa, he comes across as a posing cosplayer.) He's a substitute for Levi, who's wildly popular among Attack on Titan fans but doesn't appear in the manga volumes that are being adapted here. Hence Shikishima. Anyway, fan complaints about this film have included:
1. The flying equipment is less fast and exciting. (The film made a reality-based choice.)
2. There's no attempt to disguise the fact that all the actors are Japanese, for instance not even dying Erwin's hair blonde. (They're Japanese actors in a Japanese film based on a Japanese manga. I'm not exactly shocked. As for the lack of hair dye, that's another reality-based choice.)
3. The human civilisation inside the wall looks like a slum, instead of the original's more interesting, vaguely European architecture. (It's a change, but that doesn't automatically make it bad. It's been realised very well.)
4. Lots of stuff changed or missing. (Well, d'oh. It's a 98-minute adaptation.)
5. Worse music. (True.)
6. The shot of a human judo-throwing a Titan is ridiculous. (This is also true and it torpedoes everything I'd been saying earlier about reality-based choices. It's stupid. However it's just one moment.)
The film's actually very well made. They've spent proper money on it and it looks as good as any similar Hollywood blockbuster. The Titans look fantastic, the ultra-violence is ghastly and I believed that this world was real. The actors aren't great, but they don't deserve the derision that's been heaped on them. It's not their fault they make little impact. Everything here is excellent, except for one important aspect.
The story. The characters.
It's instructive to compare this with the much-hated Devilman and Casshern. All three are ambitious films with spectacular visuals and a sad failure in the story department. (I have a sneaking fondness for both, actually.) This film is putting so much effort into creating and fleshing out this Titan holocaust world that it forgets to bother with its characters. We see military campaigns. We see carnage. We see an entire city get flattened by mindless naked people who can just pull off the roof of your house, reach in and eat you.
What we don't see, though, are characters who make a difference to anything or can be distinguished from each other. You'd have to concentrate hard to remember them. It's hard even to call Eren the protagonist, since it doesn't feel as if he's earned that title. There's not much to him beyond being a bit of a twat, although his ongoing feud with a similar idiot is at least dramatically clear. Mikasa fares best, I think, thanks to that long close-up near the end after she's learned some bad news. I quite liked her. Jun Kunimura is memorable with almost no screen time, simply because he's Jun Kunimura and not just another pretty boy. Otherwise, though, there's nothing. Potato Girl isn't funny. Shouty Girl is unconvincing at shouting.
Admittedly the film has the underlying problem that its humans are powerless and insignificant in the face of Titans. It feels that way. However that's no excuse for making them insignificant in the story you're telling.
The film's also doing that modern movie thing of wanting to be monochrome. It has three kinds of scenes. There are grey scenes, so desaturated that you'll want to turn off the colour on your TV and watch in black-and-white. (I tried this. It improved the film and I'd recommend it, although it did make certain scenes a bit dark and murky.) The other two colours are blue monochrome, as again in pretty much everything these days, and either of the above with orange. Neither of these is an essential choice. It's a shame they didn't just go the whole hog and release it in black-and-white, although of course that would be commercial suicide.
Apart from that massive problem, though, the film's good. Theoretically it has character-focused scenes like the one about sex and the single mother. (That scene doesn't come alive in practice, alas, but that's not the fault of the script.) The Titans look great. Before the carnage begins, they even look cute. If anything, actually, I'm tempted to say that they look too realistic. Most of them are obviously just naked people and you might find yourself looking at the female ones' boobs. In contrast, the live-action Titans in a Japanese car commercial looked more unnatural and monstrous. (That was for Subaru in 2014 and it's on YouTube, if you're interested.)
One surprise, incidentally, was how little of the original story got adapted here. They don't get past volume 2 of the manga, or the first third of the anime's first season. This isn't promising for Part II.
In short, it's a good-looking bad film. It's still quite impressive, though, and might seem like a good dumb monster flick if you turned off the colour and dialled down your expectations. I liked the first 25 minutes. The film establishes a warm, domestic mood and then destroys it horrifically. I remember that child crying in the street as adults flee in panic. I'm not actually the greatest fan of the source material, so this film being grey, humourless and charmless just strikes me as being faithful to the original. However it's undeniable that the anime has a gripping story, whereas this film has forgotten about the detail of telling a story about its characters.
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