Here’s a fun fact – earlier this year, JJ Abrams announced that he was formally done with remakes.
The director of Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, who has also played a big role in Westworld, publicly promised that he was going to stop simply rehashing existing ideas for a living.
Here’s his direct quote, from back in January:
“You know, I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten involved in things that I loved when I was a kid…
“But I don’t feel any desire to do that again. I feel like I’ve done enough of that that I’m more excited about working on things that are original ideas that perhaps one day someone else will have to reboot.”
It seems important to bring up this quote in light of recent developments in Abrams’ career.
Not only has Abrams recently signed on to direct Star Wars: Episode IX (which we all hope won’t just turn into a scene-for-scene remake of Return of the Jedi), but he’s also now been announced as the director of a live action version of the popular Japanese anime Your Name.
So, yeah. Abrams managed to stay away from getting involved with a movie remake for approximately eight months. There are babies who were conceived before he “quit” the remake game that still haven’t been born.
Star Wars feels like a given considering all the problems Lucasfilm has been having recently, and perhaps this can be excused as Episode IX won’t actually be a remake (unless it turns out like The Force Awakens or Star Trek: Into Darkness, which stole plot points from earlier movies wholesale).
But Your Name? This just feels like a kick in the teeth to all anime fans around the world. Sure, your love of cartoons is cute, but why don’t we let an experienced film director make an actually good movie out of this story so that proper grown-ups feel comfortable enjoying the premise?
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months, here’s a refresher on the state of Western adaptations of anime stories: Hollywood is obsessed with making bad American movies out of good Japanese ones.
Japan makes an anime, say, Ghost in the Shell.
Years go by, until Western movie studios decide that they need a new Next Big Thing now that comic book movies are so prolific.
The cultural context, symbolism, and message of the original Japanese movie is stripped out. Scarlett Johansson is cast as a Japanese woman in a “perfect” (white) robot body.
The movie bombs. Studio executives all point the finger at each other, refusing to learn any lessons from the colossal mistakes that the project has made.
Executives keep moving forward with Akira. The Ghost in the Shell catastrophe was probably just the result of a bad director. Instead, the studio aims to get Taika Waititi, because he’s popular (even though he’s in no way a good fit for the source material).
Meanwhile, some bright spark figures that they should get the king of movie remakes on one of these anime adaptations. Someone who’s so very bad at coming up with original ideas that his entire career revolves around copying other, better directors, while wrapping empty plot points around convoluted “mystery boxes” that are designed to distract the audience from a movie’s flaws.
So here we are, sitting on a precipice, awaiting a series of live action movies that are based on anime so popular and influential that there’s no way the trite, shallow American equivalent can live up to the hype.
Perhaps the biggest danger here is that JJ Abrams might pull it off. His career, filled as it is with movies that steal ideas from better movies, are generally well-regarded among a large proportion of moviegoers.
Nobody can really be blamed for enjoying the incredibly derivative The Force Awakens. Obviously, if you take a great movie like Star Wars: A New Hope, and remake it with modern actors, special effects, and editing techniques, you’re going to get something that’s at least vaguely watchable, even if it’s nowhere near as good as the original.
At least Ghost in the Shell is a bad film – it can’t supplant the original anime in the minds of any audience who’s familiar with both works.
Giving JJ Abrams free reign to commit company-sanctioned copyright theft means getting a pretty okayish movie about something that is proven to be totally spectacular when made by someone else.
If Abrams manages to make a serviceable Your Name movie, that’s passable; good enough; without being absolutely terrible, then it could do irreparable damage to this emerging genre of anime movies.
Soon, everyone will be copying Abrams’ formula, taking a popular Japanese animated movie, and watering it down for an American audience. We’ll get boring, generic versions of Attack on Titan and Evangelion and heck, maybe even Naruto. None of these will be good movies, but they’ll make money, and that’s all that matters.
The good news is that Abrams’ Your Name adaptation is a long way away at the moment. The director has to churn out another bland Star Wars movie first, and that’ll take a long while. By the point that it comes to actually filming Your Name, Abrams might have cooled towards the project, and could hand it off to one of his underlings.
Seeing someone like Dan Trachtenberg tackle Your Name in the year 2023 is probably a best-case scenario from this deal.
Otherwise, get ready for JJ Abrams to totally miss the point of the anime while aping it as closely as possible. Then prepare for the subsequent wave of praise and adoration the director earns for copying Makoto Shinkai’s homework.