It was the groan heard ’round the internet. Back in September 2017, J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions announced it had picked up the live-action rights to 2016 anime megahit “Your Name.” Reaction from anime fans online was not exactly positive.
To be fair, they had been burned before. The history of anime and manga properties being adapted into live-action Western films is a bleak one. Some are announced only to get stuck in development limbo for years (“Akira”), others feature offensive recasting of Asian roles (“Ghost in the Shell”) and some are just offensively bad (“Dragonball Evolution”).
It seems, at least, as if Hollywood’s “Your Name.” will not land in the first category. Production is moving forward: It was revealed last week director Marc Webb is set to helm the film.
It’s an announcement that has led to cautious optimism. As the director of “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Webb has both indie and big-budget credibility, not to mention the enthusiastic support of “Your Name.” creator Makoto Shinkai. Shinkai took to Twitter on Feb. 15 to say not only that he loves Webb’s work, but that he actually snuck a tribute to “(500) Days of Summer” into his upcoming film. The involvement of Webb, along with screenwriter Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”) means, at least, that the film hasn’t been relegated to a creative B-team.
Something else the live-action remake has going for it: the original’s relatively Hollywood-like structure. Previously known for enigmatic, sometimes difficult-to-market films (2013’s “The Garden of Words” had a 46-minute runtime), Shinkai set out to make “Your Name.” a crowd-pleaser, plotting out the film’s emotional beats on a graph. The film about a pair of body-swapping, time-traveling teens may feature Japanese elements like Shinto shrines but at its core, said Shinkai in an interview in 2016, is “a basic boy-meets-girl story.”
Webb and team will be transplanting that story to the U.S., reportedly swapping rural shrine maiden Mitsuha for a young Native American woman. It’s a move that sidesteps the issue of whitewashing, but raises new questions about whether Native American culture will be properly represented or simply serve as a generic “spiritual” stand-in.
As it happens, the day Webb was announced as director of “Your Name.” also saw the U.S. release of “Alita: Battle Angel,” another Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese property. Based on Yukito Kishiro’s dystopian sci-fi manga “Gunnm,” “Alita,” produced by James Cameron, seems to have struck a chord with at least some Western anime fans. Justin Sevakis of Anime News Network tweeted after seeing the film: “So now when someone asks if a good Hollywood manga adaptation is possible … yes. Yes, it is. You just have to understand the original work and its appeal fundamentally, and have a vision to see it through.”
“Your Name.” isn’t “Gunnm,” and Abrams isn’t Cameron. Still, it’s a sign there may yet be hope for Hollywood’s take on Shinkai’s hit. And if it ends up a failure, well, it’s got company.