A brief history of Hollywood trying — and mostly failing — to adapt anime

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A weird truth: Even in the midst of the current comic book gold-rush, major studios can’t seem to get a good anime or manga adaptation off the ground—although the influence of those works can be seen everywhere. This weekend’s Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic that’s heavily (perhaps even problematically) inspired by anime and manga. As tangentially connected to the art form as Big Hero 6 is, could it be the harbinger of a sea change in Hollywood’s approach to manga and anime?

Tackling this question can be kind of tricky—after all, “anime” and “manga” are styles rather than the names of genres. While works that fall under those umbrella share a general visual language and similar approaches to storytelling, anime and manga tell all sorts of stories—slice of life, romance, mystery, supernatural thriller, action.

One of the reasons it took so long for American filmmakers to even begin considering adapting manga or anime is because of how long it took for the source material to even become popular stateside. The first anime to find success here weren’t the action-heavy, mind-bending sort that would become prominent in the boom years of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but much lighter fare like Speed Racer and Astro Boy in the ’60s and ’70s. But even during those boom years, anime adaptations usually didn’t fare well. For example:

The GuyverOne of the first notable anime adaptations to be made in the US, this 1991 film starred Mark Hamil and was based off the 1985 manga Bio Booster Armor Guyver, by Yoshiki Takaya. Both the film and manga centered on a young man who discovers The Guyver Unit, an alien device that spawns a sort of biological super-suit that an unwitting young man bonds with in order to fight an evil megacorporation (and also alien monsters). The film was panned both for being B-movie cheese and also for straying from the source material’s far darker, more violent story.

A direct-to-video sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero would stay closer to the manga’s more violent roots, but the rubber-suited aliens still left a lot to be desired when compared to the manga’s anime adaptation.

Street Fighter: While not technically based on an anime or manga, Capcom’s legendary fighting game would go on to inspire plenty of adaptations—including the notorious 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme film. There are many reasons why this did not go well, but at least people saw it—unlike the 2009 reboot, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, which you’re probably remembering for the first time right now.

Fist of the North Star: Another hyper-violent action anime received an unfaithful adaptation that doubled as a really bad movie. Here’s clip from that movie. It is very bad. Unless it’s after 2 A.M., and you’re looking for this sort of thing. Then I suppose it’s great.

The MatrixWhile, again, not technically based on an anime or manga, The Matrix represents a watershed moment in how Hollywood looked at anime. According to producer Joel Silver, the Wachowskis pitched him the film by showing him an anime film (according to Wikipedia, it was Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 classic Ghost in the Shell), saying “We want to do that for real.” The 1999 film, with its mix of philosophical science fiction and stunning action scenes, is the closest a major Hollywood release had ever gotten to faithfully depicting the medium of anime. Incidentally, while a large number of anime adaptations would enter development in the intervening years, none would make it to the big screen until the Wachowskis’ next directorial effort, five years after 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions.

The debt that the film franchise owed to anime would be acknowledged in the direct-to-video release The Animatrix, an anime anthology of short stories set in the film’s world.

Stronger: Kanye West’s music video for his hit 2007 single heavily references Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark 1980s anime film/manga series Akira. Let’s talk a little bit about Akira. Both the manga and the film adaptation are pinnacles of their respective mediums, cyberpunk masterworks that use their dystopian futures to explore deep philosophical and societal quandaries. Critically acclaimed in the U.S., Akira is largely responsible for popularizing anime and manga stateside. A Hollywood film adaptation has been in development hell since at least 2002—the last update came in February of 2014—but don’t hold your breath for it. It’s quite likely that Kanye’s music video is the closest we’ll get to an American adaptation—and maybe that’s a good thing.

Speed Racer: While it was poorly received at the time, the Wachowski’s Speed Racer succeeds by being exactly what it set out to be—a bright, colorful adventure for kids. Which, in turn, makes it exactly like its source material. Unfortunately, the film’s poor critical reception and box office performance very likely served to further stigmatize anime adaptations to big studios.

Dragon Ball: Evolution: Akira Toriyama’s seminal manga Dragon Ball and the anime it inspired, was, along with Sailor Moon, an entire generation’s introduction to the medium. As such, the series is pretty sacrosanct in the eyes of fans—and even if it doesn’t hold up all that well, it retained a certain heart and charm that never really gets old. The film that came out in 2009 had none of these things.

Pacific Rim: Like The Matrix, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 blockbuster isn’t an adaptation of any particular manga or anime. Instead, it’s a Western take on giant mecha-action epics like Gundam. While it’s a pretty straightforward bit of sci-fi action, it is very, very good at what it does—and perhaps clears the way for the genre’s stranger, more complex fare like Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Oldboy: Spike Lee’s 2013 revenge thriller is an unfortunate case of Hollywood’s inability to leave well enough alone. Originally a 1996 manga by Goron Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, the story already received an acclaimed film adaptation in 2003 by South Korean director Park Chan-wook—one that’s far preferable to the American version. Which is a shame, because the U.S. cast is pretty stellar.

Edge of Tomorrow: Although it received really good reviews, Edge of Tomorrow didn’t perform so well in the box office. Perhaps if it kept the name of the manga it was based on — Hiroshi Sakurazaka and Yoshitoshi Abe’s All You Need Is Kill—it would’ve been more more memorable to those watching the trailers. But as the latest Hollywood effort in manga/anime adaptation, it’s quite the hopeful note to end on.

[UPDATE — As some readers have pointed out, All You Need Is Kill was originally a novel. The manga adaptation, by Ryusuke Takeuchi and Takeshi Obata, came out roughly at the same time as the film.]

While this list is pretty spare, it doesn’t include the wealth of optioned material languishing in development hell or shelved for any number of years. James Cameron’sBattle Angel Alita is a great example—the director has the rights to make a movie, but won’t even start thinking about that until he’s done with the next ten Avatar films.

But if you’re not too jaded by the number of non-starters, it’s quite possible that we’re now on the cusp of a new wave of quality Hollywood films based on anime and manga. With the previously-noted critical success of Edge of Tomorrow and reports of Scarlett Johanssen signing up for the lead role in Ghost in the Shell, it looks like Hollywood is finally ready to start looking at comic books that weren’t made in America for inspiration. If they do, then movie theaters will doubtless become a stranger—and more interesting—place.

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Korean-French actress Pom Klementieff makes US Debut in Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ remake

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KoreAm Magazine (November 2013 issue):

Spike Lee kept provoking Pom Klementieff. I see in your resume that you did some boxing, but I just can’t see it,” he would say, seemingly displeased with her martial arts skills.

Klementieff was horrified. The Korean French actress, so eager to work with the man responsible for movies like Do The Right Thing (1989) and Inside Man (2006), had prepared for two months with a stuntman in Paris. Now, called back for a second audition in front of Lee himself, her chance to star in the Hollywood remake of Oldboy appeared to be dwindling.

He asked her bluntly, “Do you want the part?

Of course,” Klementieff replied.

Hunching forward on the edge of his chair, Lee told her, “Then show me.”

Out of desperation, Klementieff punched and kicked the air as hard as she could, all while Lee was yelling for more: “Give me some kicks! Stronger! Quicker!

I turned red,” the actress recalled in her thick French accent. “I was exhausted. I was losing my breath. It was completely ridiculous.”

And just when Klementieff thought it was over, Lee asked her to come back a few hours later, but wearing a sexier outfit and makeup. “At that point, if he had asked if I could cut my leg off, I would’ve said, ‘Of course! Right or left?’” she said.

Upon her return and additional auditioning, she and Lee ended up having a conversation. “He was asking me all these questions,” Klementieff said. “So I told him, my father died when I was 5. My mother, she is schizophrenic, so she couldn’t take care of me and my brother, who committed suicide a few months before the audition. But I was just so happy to be there. I was telling him all this and smiling at the same time, like a weirdo.”

A week later, she learned that she got the part. And now the 27-year-old Klementieff, for whom “weird” and black humor are just two of many facets, will make her American debut when Oldboy arrives in theaters on Nov. 27.

Her first name, Pom, even has multiple meanings. While “pomme” means apple in French, her mother, Yu Ri Park, gave her the name with two more words in mind. In Korean, Pom could refer to both spring (pronounced “bom”) and tiger (pronounced “beom”).

Born in Quebec City, Canada, Klementieff has also had numerous homes. Her parents met when her half-Russian, half-French father visited Seoul in the mid-1980s. “My mother is completely Korean, and my father is Russian and French. They met on the street in Seoul, and he fell in love with her. He followed her around like a weirdo. He was obsessed with Asia.”

You know, yellow fever?” said Klementieff, laughing.

A consul with the French government, her father would relocate the family to Japan and Western Africa’s Ivory Coast during Klementieff’s infant years, before finally settling in France.

She said being on the move repeatedly as a child has given her a “gypsy soul.” “I mean that in a good way. No, I don’t smoke weed,” she said, giggling. “It just means that I can be comfortable anywhere. I can go from one place to another and be comfortable.”

But growing up, there would also be great sadness, like her father’s death due to cancer when she was 5. On her 18th birthday, the paternal uncle who ended up raising Klementieff, due to her mother’s schizophrenia, passed away.

My uncle was like my second father,” she said. “When he died, I first went to law school to please my aunt, but it just wasn’t for me. Then I worked as a waitress and saleswoman in Paris. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I was 18 and wanted to do something that can help me express my feelings.”

Klementieff decided to try acting, and started by attending the prestigious Cours Florent, a drama school in Paris, when she was 19. She showed promise immediately, winning a theater competition only a few months later that awarded her free classes with some of the best teachers in France. “Doing things on the stage and being able to move people, it was fun. And winning that competition was a really good sign,” she said. “It meant people saw promise in me.”

But tragedy would befall again, this time on her 25th birthday: Her older brother, Namou, committed suicide. “Now I’m afraid of somebody else dying on my next birthday,” she said with a grin that perhaps masks a genuine fear of loss. “But it’s life, you know? Moving here, it was tough and complicated. But I wanted to move. I wanted to be free of drama, and have a new story to tell.”

If the new Oldboy resonates with audiences like South Korea’s Park Chan-wook’s much-revered and award winning 2003 version, she will have a compelling story to begin with. She’s made an impression on producer Roy Lee, the Korean American with numerous high-profile Hollywood credits, including the remade Oldboy. “I thought she had a great screen presence and an interesting, fresh look,” he said.

Klementieff plays Haeng-Bok, the bodyguard for the film’s villain. Being able to give a beat-down was new territory for her, but the work she put into the physical training was worth the effort. Because it fits with her career goals, one of which is to “be a badass.”

Her bubbly personality showing, she proudly revealed the nickname she earned on the film set: Pominator. But more than anything, Klementieff is now looking forward to her life in the U.S. “I like the American optimism,” said Klementieff. “The [saying] here is, ‘If you work hard, you can do whatever you want.’ And it’s true. In France, it’s different. It’s more like, ‘Yeah, you can do it, but it usually doesn’t work, so let’s just have a cigarette and a glass of wine.’ When I first came here, I felt everything is possible. And it really is.”

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Korean-French actress Pom Klementieff makes US Debut in ‘Oldboy’ remake

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Second trailer for Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” released

Spike Lee has released the second trailer in anticipation of his upcoming remake of the South Korean classic Oldboy, based on the Japanese manga cartoon of the same name. Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), an advertising executive, is kidnapped and held prisoner for 20 years in solitary confinement. After he is suddenly released, he goes on a mission to find the person responsible for his imprisonment, but discovers that his life is still trapped in conspiracy and violence.

This viral video gives a rich and graphic impression of what we can expect from the final film, which hits theaters this October.

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OLDBOY (Redband Trailer)

FilmDistrict has released the uncensored trailer for OLDBOY, starring Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men, True Grit), Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) and Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium). Written by Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend, The Cell, Thor) and directed by Spike Lee.

The film is a remake of the South Korean hit OLDBOY (올드보이, Oldeuboi, 2003) by director Park Chan-wook.

Previously announced for October 25th, OLDBOY will now open November 27, 2013 in theaters.