The Promised Neverland (live-action film)
Also known as: Yakusoku no Neverland (live-action film)
Medium: film
Year: 2020
Director: Yuichiro Hirakawa
Writer: Noriko Goto
Original creator: Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu
Actor: Miyu Ando, Minami Hamabe, Rihito Itagaki, Jyo Kairi, Keiko Kitagawa, Naomi Watanabe
Keywords: The Promised Neverland
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 119 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11027510/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 16 May 2022
It's exciting. It's telling a great story. It has emotional power. It's a pretty good film... but I didn't like it. It has two problems: (a) the casting and presentation of the child actors, and (b) the tone.
It's still The Promised Neverland, though. It's still about children in an orphanage who every so often get killed and eaten by demons. It's covering almost exactly the same material as Season 1 of the anime, i.e. the good stuff. If you show this to someone who doesn't know the original manga or anime, they'll probably enjoy it. Nonetheless...
Yeah. This was always going to be a problem. They've raised the upper harvesting age from 11 to 16 (which reduces the horror), but even so the actors aren't up to it. Minami Hamabe (age 19, playing Emma) is the least bad. Her final scene with Keiko Kitagawa's Isabella is reasonably good. Rihito Itagaki (age 18, playing Norman) isn't a zombie and is clearly putting in the effort in the death sentence scenes, but he's still a pretty boy who clearly sings in a band and was cast for his face, not his acting. He also can't do Norman's smile. He's nowhere near the required depth and it was fairly painful to sit through his dialogue scene with Kairi Jou (very obviously age 13, playing Ray). It's like watching two sock puppets.
Incidentally, Ray's supposedly the oldest of the three. It's part of the plot that that character's 16th birthday is due first. Bwahahaha. Kairi's not very good either and I started wondering after a while if he'd been overdubbed in post-production. His voice doesn't match his baby face.
The younger children, ironically, are much better and more natural... but that's because they're not being asked to do much. They're mostly just a mob of children running around being themselves. Emma, Norman and Ray, though, are carrying emotional weight and playing deep scenes that would have been challenging for a mature actor, let alone teenagers.
Furthermore, Norman's wearing a white wig and Emma a pink one. They look stupid. It's like giving the actors clown shoes. You can't take them seriously. (The children's all-white clothes also feel a bit on-the-nose metaphorically and could probably have been rethought for a live-action adaptation, but never mind that.) Admittedly, you'd lose an interesting undertone if Norman didn't have his hair colour, but that's an insufficient reason. Besides, the original's characters are Caucasian. They have Western names, they speak, read and write English, etc. Here, the cast's all Japanese (including Sister Krone, who's thus no longer black) and so keeping the hair colour is painful.
The pacing's wrong. It's too fast. We often lose the sense of a lethal chess game between Isabella and the children.
It's also trying too hard to be a Hollywood movie. The music's too loud, too signposted and often trying to be exciting when the material needs slow tension. I hated some of these music choices. (Even at the finale, when the film's at last earned its urgent music, there's a point where it manages to go overboard.)
Finally, the all-important early reveal isn't particularly shocking. The shot of the murdered child doesn't horrify and the demons lack weight. You look at them and go, "Oh, some CGI."
The best performance is from Naomi Watanabe (Sister Krone), which is ironic since she's best known as a comedian. Physically, though, she makes the role her own and convinces you that she's a perfect fit for it, despite being an eccentric choice and not the canonical ethnicity. She's great fun. She's sinister, but she made me laugh. (She is, though, playing the role that lets you cut loose the most.)
Keiko Kitagawa (Isabella) is I think basing her physicality on a snake's. She's sinister and very buttoned up. There are scenes where I could have asked for more inner life from her, but in fairness that's true to the character she's playing. Isabella keeps up a scary front and almost never lets anything slip. (Ironically, Kitagawa got her acting break in the 2003 live-action Sailor Moon series, in which the acting's so bad that it's unwatchable except on a so-bad-it's-good level.)
The sets and props are fantastic. I love the almost Victorian-style ophanage, radio, books, etc. They provide a ton of atmosphere.
I dislike this film, but it works. I watched it all. I even enjoyed it. It's a sad shadow of what I think it should be and it made me want to shake the director until his teeth rattled, but it's two wholehearted hours in a pretty terrifying scenario. The finale is stirring. I dislike the three main child actors, but they're not film-breaking and I'm sure most of my family would have watched them happily and seen nothing wrong. Personally, though, I'd recommend watching Season 1 of the anime.