August 16, 2015
I did not even plan to watch this film when I saw ads that it was going to be shown. However, I was surprised when a lot of young people were actually very excited to see it. Apparently it was a very famous manga turned anime series. They wanted to see how the story would be translated into a film with live actors. The film was locally rated R-16 and this actually got me curious as to what could be so adult about it. As the film started, I would not have to wait too long to find out why.
The film is about a dystopian world when what is left of humanity has been confined inside a huge walled city. The tall concrete walls were built to protect them from huge monsters they called Titans who ate human beings for fun. That has been the status quo for 100 years until one day when one particularly gigantic Titan suddenly showed up and kicked a hole through the ancient wall. This enabled the naked bloodthirsty humanoid giants to gain entrance and ravage the town.
The film follows the story of three teenage friends (the rebellious Eren, the mousy Mikasa and the smart Armin) as they first experienced first hand the horror of this new scourge, and two years later when they become soldiers to fight an impossible battle against the insatiable monsters. During one heated battle when he rescued a friend from certain death, Eren gets swallowed down by one Titan. However, it was also then that fortune began to favor the humans when a new, different and more powerful kind of Titan emerged whose enraged fighting was directed against the other Titans.
The film felt like a Japanese "Hunger Games" or "Maze Runner" with its young adult lead characters and dystopian setting. The special effects of the Titans were rather crude and unimpressive. There was perverse sense of excitement in seeing the Titans chomping down humans, but this eventually wore off after witnessing the first few bites.
The pace of the storytelling stalled somewhere in the middle such that the film became tiresome to watch. It was only until the action picked up again by the climactic battle in the end that the film became truly exciting. The way the main characters were portrayed was unlikeable, especially Eren and Mikasa. Something felt off about their characterizations. The story may be interesting, but the execution by director Shinji Higuchi was not entirely satisfactory.
My curiosity sparked, I decided to watch the original 2013 anime "Shingeki-no-Kyojin" online. The events in this first film were only in the first eight of the 25 episodes in the series. (The sequel is already set to be released by next month on Sept. 19 in Japan.) Even in the first two episodes alone, I already saw how much the filmmakers changed the way the anime told the story. I could understand why the filmmakers may changed the European setting (though the Western names for Japanese actors could be puzzling) or why they made the characters older. I also understand how it would be impossible to get all the backstory of the characters in more detail due to time constraints, but I felt they should not have totally ignored this very important aspect.
Eren in the film, as played by Haruma Miura, was immediately introduced as a cocky slacker who could not hold a job more than a few days. We do not know anything more about him at all. So the events that will happen to him in the course of the film would be totally head-scratching for the uninitiated. The painfully awkward Mikasa of the film, as played by Kiku Mizuhara, is really very different from the cool and confident Mikasa of the anime. This character was really very poorly portrayed in the film, even in the second act when she was already supposed to be an elite soldier.
Watching the excellent anime made me even more disappointed with the film version. The film was a dreary version, from the dim color palette to the cheesy special effects. The lacking character development in the film was even more blatant when placed beside the rich backstories in the anime. The voice acting in the animated version was even more compelling and moving than the rather lame live acting in the film version. That the film even took time to inject unnecessary scenes of a sexual nature (not in the anime) felt pathetic.
When I initially watched the film without having seen the anime yet, I already felt the film was not able to deliver the best from what could have been a very potent story. After watching the anime, I am even more disappointed with how the film missed to capture the interesting stories of the characters. It went for the obvious audience draw -- the visually gory thrill of seeing mighty Titans pulling apart or biting the head off puny humans -- without developing its main characters properly. When the novelty of those grim spectacles soon passed, the characters were left without enough heart for audiences to root for in the end. 5/10.