How many Animes make a Hollywood?

What if I told you Inception was inspired by a 2006 Anime title, Paprika?

Just like Boni isn’t telling Berk a tall tale in this short clip, neither am I ‘avin ya on.

Akira and Ghost in the Shell are both treasured products of the iconic Japanese anime machine. And yet, if you add ‘live-action’ to each one they are almost instantly shrouded in doubt and controversy. Nobody really wants to see these anime classics drowned by Western dramatics and yet if they do come to fruition the chances are they will attract a lot of attention. Mostly due to the cast attached to each project. Scarlett Johansson is rumoured to feature in Ghost in the Shell and until recently Joseph Gordon-Levitt was tipped to lead Akira as Tetsuo. Perhaps due to his turn in Rian Johnson’s Looper which features a similarly powerful psychokinetic entity.

It won’t be long before the discussion on live-action anime adaptations leaves the most passionate classic anime sympathiser in a state on par with Tetsuo’s last hurrah in Neo-Tokyo.

But while these straight adaptations are leaving some anime fans breathless with doubt it might surprise you that some anime inspired vehicles have received critical claim, if indirectly via a major Hollywood picture.

Anime (read: Anna-May) need not be a needlessly inaccessible Eastern double-barrel high schooler with a superiority complex.

On more than one occasion the Western world has adapted Anime’s obscure form for our digestable viewing pleasure. But is it so obscure? The simplest definition classifies anime as a form of Japanese animation traditionally aimed at adults and children alike. Not so different from our beloved Western animation after all. So why the stigma? Is it out of ignorance, or perhaps indifference?

Whatever the answer, here are four Western adaptations inspired by anime. Some may surprise you.

4 The Lion King

Stop me when this sounds familiar. When Panja, Kimba’s father, is killed by hunters Kimba is captured and eventually befriends two humans who teach him the values of life. With his new found wisdom Kimba returns home to lead the pride and African plains in harmony. What a pretty story. Believe it or not a Japanese anime series was created in 1965 based on the Manga of the same name. Although Disney have denied any knowledge of Kimba the White Lion the similarities with The Lion King are hard to ignore. Mufasa is killed, Simba is exiled, befriends Timon and Pumba and then returns to overthrow the tyrannical Scar.

3 The Matrix

It’s no secret that The Matrix is often analysed for its philosophical allusions. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is the most frequent reference but an interesting inspiration comes from one of the greatest anime films of all time. Ghost in the Shell is lauded for it’s conceptual depth, dramatic realisation and mystery plot. Packed with stunning visuals it’s no wonder the Wachowski’s looked to Ghost in the Shell as their primary inspiration for The Matrix. But the similarities don’t end with philosophy or visual edits. Some shots are taken directly from Mamoru Oshii’s iconic anime and reimagined in live-action form.

2 Avatar

When James Cameron’s Avatar came out to much anticipation there was already a major cloud of controversy surrounding the visual marvel. Before the majority of paying customers had even sat down in the cinema they were made readily aware of the similarities between Avatar and Disney’s Pocohontas. But an inspiration often over-looked by Western viewers with limited anime knowledge is the classic Hayao Miyazaki picture, Princess Mononoke. With unfailing ambition Princess Mononoke is often raised above other Ghibli pictures as the greatest Miyazaki acheivement. But Cameron’s ‘revolutionary’ tale falls short of the revolutionary mark when you consider it’s origins. Live-action, revolutionary, visually stunning or not Avatar took a few shortcuts on its way to become one of the largest Box Office earners of all time.

1 Inception

Perhaps the biggest surprise to anyone not familiar with anime beyond the work of Studio Ghibli is Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, Inception inspired by Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Paprika is the alter-ego of Chiba Atsuko, a therapist able to enter the dreams of her patients through dream therapy via a device known as the DC Mini. Although the remainder of the plot varies somewhat from Nolan’s mind-bending journey through Cobb’s dangerous state of mind the core similarity pertains. Remember that iconic hallway scene? Look familiar:

This is not a “Whatever happened to Hollywood originality?” rant. Film history may still be relatively young in the grand scheme of things but a wealth of original content is available to writers and directors of all walks of life for adaptation, inspiration or reference. There are transferable tropes, themes and genre obligations that are difficult, heck almost impossible to avoid unless you want your film to fall into the somewhat ambiguous experimental void.

So while major Western studios produce hit after hit and contend for Oscar glory it is the state of innocent Western ignorance that allows such liberal borrowing.

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6 thoughts on “How many Animes make a Hollywood?

  1. I loved this article, James. This one takes me back.

    Matrix homaged the bullet ridden lobby walls from Ghost too, as well as being inspired by philosophy, like you said about Plato/Socrates, and also Chinese wire kungfu and John Woo gun ballets. Wachowskis did a Tarantino mashup there.

    I hope we see more anime influenced films. Mononoke live action would be ‘king awesome. And DiCaprio has owned the rights for Akira for years an years now. I want that movie bad.

    At least anime has spread now. As a teen in late 90s, I watched Ebert review Ghost in the Shell. My mind was blown. Cartoons for adults? Stories freed from special fx technological restrict? I had to see it. Lucikly, I could rent that, fpund Akira, Ninja Scroll, a handful of available Vhs. I had to turn to this new thing called the internet. No high speed streaming yet, but there was a list of fan subbers, they added subtitles. You sent them a blank vhs and they would dub you anime. I shit you not. This was how an anime fan in Canada back in the way back had to get their fix.

    What anime do you want see get made into film? Like you say the genre’s influence is everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I hate to rain on your parade here Dan but I actually don’t want to see any anime adapted into live action, no straight adaptations at least. I’m fine with ‘inspired by’ influences because they tend to pick bits and pieces from themes to mise en scene but an actual live action adaptation of Akira could be a Nightmare to execute faithfully to the same effect.

      That story about vhs dubbing is ridiculous though, I was born in the 90s so such exotic methods haven’t plagued my viewing ability. Having said that, it is still difficult to find a great copy of Mononoke around. I’m going to buy the blu-ray for my blind spot in November for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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