Sunday, August 14, 2016

MR Attack on Titan (movie) Part 1 and 2

First let me say, I'm a huge fan of Shingeki no Kyojin (aka Attack on Titan - or as I like to more accurately call it "Attack of the Titans", probably because the American title doesn't make much sense in my eyes). A really popular modern gory manga about giant humanoid monsters eating humans, forcing mankind to live behind giant walls.

As a fan of the original manga, which I keep up to this day, I admit I have never watched the anime outside checking out the opening credits and a couple of scenes, so you know where I came from. But I did read some of the spinoff manga series!

As soon as this live action film was announced we knew there would be plenty of changes from the original manga/anime, so let's review these films as standalone products that can stand on their own. Let's review these films strictly from the perspective of a movie, trying to stay objective for the most part.

Movies: Shingeki no Kyojin: Part 1 & 2 (進撃の巨人), known outside Japan as Attack on Titan: Part 1 Attack on Titan: Part 2: End of the World
Directed by Shinji Higuchi 
Release date August 2015 (Part 1)/September 2015 (Part 2)
Genre Post-apocalyptic/Horror/Tokusatsu/Daikaiju film
Country Japan

Hajime Isayama's horror/shonen* manga Shingeki no Kyojin (進撃の巨人)/Attack on Titan (also known as Attack of the Titans around the world) has become a sort of surprise hit series these last few years. While the artwork is a bit odd and sketchy at times, it did help sell this creepy story about the downfall of mankind. (*while the series seems pretty close to a mature "seinen" series at the beginning, it's actually clearly a show for young boys, or "shonen", specially as the story progresses)

The manga has since then been adapted into an even more successful anime with really impressive production values (they're releasing new seasons pretty slow compared to other series!). And the manga has been receiving various multimedia spinoff titles, including novelizations, books, other manga sister series, parodies, video games and finally, a live action movie adaptation!

The film was directed by Shinji Higuchi, a special effects supervisor best known for his work on the "Heisei era" Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera trilogy from the 1990s. He is currently helming the new Japanese Godzilla film, Shin Godzilla with first-time co-director Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno.

Higuchi got the job after basically making a pilot "test footage" out of a commercial which received a lot of praise at the time.

Wanting to tell a really big story while covering a ton of backstory, he had his Shingeki no Kyojin film split up in two parts.

The first film was released on August 2015. This first part follows the original manga pretty closely.

Our story is set in an alternate history (unlike the original series' mysterious alternate world). Some time in our distant future, these huge humanoid creatures, the Titans, suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started eating people, destroying most of our world and resources. To protect itself, mankind built these giant walls to contain the infestation. Did we trap ourselves in the process?

About a 100 years later, we finally meet our film's protagonists. Eren Yeager and his childhood friends Armin Arlert and Mikasa Ackerman dream to explore the outside world beyond those walls. They meet this Captain Souda from the military who tells them they're finally mounting an exploration division to go outside access the situation. When suddenly... the wall is attacked by this Colossal Titan who breaks a hole on this outside wall "Maria" and soon Titans spread around and start causing a rampage! In the process Eren loses Mikasa from sight and assumes she died.

A couple of years pass and now Eren and Armin joined the survey regiment. We are introduced to a few noticeable faces from the series as well as some newly created characters for the film - most notably Jean Kirstein, Sasha Braus and team leader Commander Kubal. (Unlike the manga, people have died as much so there's a bunch of adults and older military as well.) They want to retake the nearby town inside the outer wall Maria, so they must fill the hole made by the Colossal Titan back then.

They get attacked by some creepy Titans, and are saved in extremis by this Captain Shikishima (apparently based on Livai from the manga/anime) and Mikasa who is still very much alive but now a far colder person after being left behind by Eren.

Long story short, the gang gets stuck between a bunch of Titans. In this final last stand at the end of the film, all things go to Hell, the group is attacked on all sides by these massive Titans. Eren loses a leg, saves Armin, but gets eaten by a Titan! Mikasa witnesses Eren's death and regrets these turn of events. And when you didn't expect it (unless you're familiar with the series), a new Rogue Titan emerges from withing the Titan that ate Eren! It's Eren!!! He turned into a Titan! To be continued...

The second film, "Part 2: End of the World", picks up where the last one left off. And it's when all things go off rails..

First it opens with a cheesy TV-style 3-minute recap and then picks up once Eren turned back into human form. He is captured by Commander Kubal and his troops. Kubal is now turned into this villain caricature. Eren is considered a threat to the rest of humanity. Discussions are slow. Armin tries to defend Eren's innocence, he wouldn't hurt anyone voluntary! But they just want to execute Eren.

Suddenly another strange Armored Titan appears out of nowhere, levels down the place, apparently kills Kubal and captures Eren himself. Eren wakes up in a pretty weird scifi-ysh room. Shikishima comes by and tells Eren the origins of the Titans which is basically a zombie virus gone way wrong. He wants Eren to join him and help face the local military government in place. They reunite with Mikasa, Armin and the others. Without much surprise, Shikishima is revealed to be the Armored Titan from earlier. Eren's Rogue Titan form fights the Armored Titan. 

After his defeat, they try to block the hole in the Wall Maria with a bomb, to finally be able to clean the city inside the walls. But Kubal returns and it is revealed he was the Colossal Titan from the beginning of the story! Shikishima comes back and swap sides, to help our heroes finally close the hole...

The film ends with a post-credits scene, as it is often the case with genre movies nowadays. Someone (or something?) had been observing footage of our heroes all along, calling Eren "interesting"...??

The film was quickly launched in production right in the middle of the craze surrounding the Attack on Titans anime (in its first season). So they didn't have access to a lot of material to go on, aside from a couple more chapters of this first big story arc in the manga. To make a movie at this time they would have to diverge from the manga no matter what, to try making a self-contained plot for a feature film. Splitting the story across two films was a good idea, but it was all shot like a single giant film and both released on a single year.

The biggest and most noticeable (controversial) difference in the film is regarding the setting. For the film the story here happened to our modern day, war culminated in the creation of the Titans, the thematic revolves around the fear of the modern technology which resulted in the Titans, in a way it gives the film a backdrop closer to a Mad Max-style post-apocalypse than the weird feudal world of the manga. Religion doesn't have the same presence as well, but they only kept the irrational fear of technology intact. Also the fact the original first attack of the Titans happened to our heroes only 2 years before the actual plot changes some of the dynamics, since that didn't happen when they were kids this ends up affecting a lot of elements in the various relationships.

Since this was a Japanese film, they also ditched the European-ysh setting of the series for post-apocalpytic Japan. Despite some fans being annoyed by this detail, it didn't change or affect any of the actual themes or the plot. (The whole mystery about Mikasa's "race" and origins is a pretty recent storyline in the manga.)

The film features a bunch of pretty popular recent faces from current Japanese cinema and J-drama, with Haruma Miura as Eren and the lovely and talented Kiko Mizuhara as Mikasa, as well as Hiroki Hasegawa, Kanata Hongō, Takahiro Miura, Satoru Matsuo, Shu Watanabe, Ayame Misaki, Rina Takeda, Satomi Ishihara, Pierre Taki and Jun Kunimura. I found Nanami Sakuraba as Sasha particularly funny in the film and memorable!

Part 1 is about 98 minute-long. It starts pretty great actually, like a great horror film. It's particularly impressive to finally see the Titans coming to life. Like a gross and weird zombie film where the monsters are these giant odd humans eating smaller humans like cattle. It gets a bit dull in the middle (it starts showing hoe the film suffers from being split into two parts, in my eyes), almost boring. Why didn't they use this running time to show some of the training instead? Thankfully the ending was amazing, tense and fast-paced, when everything goes wrong and the cast gets picked on by one.

This first film doesn't have that much deviations from the original source material (I mean, not any more than most adaptations such as Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park from the original book, for comparison). In the film Eren joins the scouts out of revenge for Mikasa, and he kind of forgets his goal to go explore the outside world. Mikasa starts pretty far off her manga counterpart but later gets closer to that version. There's some odd additions though, like an awkward almost-sex scene. The change of the European medieval look for a more realistic modern-day post-apocalyptic Japan setting works in the film's advantage (specially since it didn't force the studio to cast some Westerners), and these abandoned structures made things feel more real. And it all comes down to an epic final with the reveal of the Rogue Titan.

Part 2, subtitled "End of the World", is about 87 minutes. And this is where the differences made from the original source material start deviating the outcome of the story. While the entire original backstory changed for this adaptation (the original Germany-sh medieval setting), the narrative still captured the tone and the atmosphere of the series. This second part gets pretty loose and becomes a daikaiju popcorn flick! It's actually no surprise, director Shinji Higuchi is a huge fan of kaiju films and more specifically the War of the Gargantuas, and this clearly comes to play into the film. Pacing is even stranger here, the film takes a huge chunk of the beginning focusing on Eren's judgement. And then it slows down to a pace to focus on Eren and Shikishima's revelation of the backstory behind the Titans. We have several long stretches of dialogues. When Shikishima proposes a coup, a fight finally breaks between the two titans, the Rogue Titan vs the Armored one. And then the comparison with War of the Gargantuas gets even clearer, they even heavily hint on Shikishima being Eren's brother, somehow (brother against brother is another nod to War of the Gargantuas). This big epic fight is fantastic, and it only gets better when the Colossal Titan comes back. 

The effects were actually a lot more convincing than I expected. The design of the creepy Titans as well as the characters' Titans look pretty amazing! The film has some pretty amazing impressive special effects, aside from a few odd shots. The film uses a great mix of miniatures, costumes and CGi effects. The Titans themselves are a mix of make-up and prosthetics, making Titans look "real" but somewhat always off. They can be pretty creepy. A toddler Titan was particularly creepy. There's some really impressive shots for this budget. (This was certainly no American-made blockbuster film, but more money doesn't necessary equal quality.) They play off different scales.

The first film starts closer to a horror story, with a great dark mature tone. The second is closer to tokusatsu films (special effects-driven action films) and it's clearly a tribute to kaiju films more than anything, specially once you reach the climax of the fight.

These films were not only released in Japan but they even got a worldwide release through a few select countries and distributors. The two parts were released next to each other. It just goes to show how impressive Attack on Titan's success has been these last few years!

Finally a word on Shiro Sagisu's musical score for the film. Some fans would say the music was much inferior to the anime series', but it wasn't going for that same epic/patriotic imperial vibe. It's a darker horror story, and that's probably why it didn't work as well in Part 2. The film also features two credits theme pop songs, "Anti-Hero" and "SOS" performed Sekai no Owari.

Overall, these Attack on Titans live action films were pretty good and enjoyable for the most part.

By itself, I would say the first part is a great horror/fantasy film which blends various genres. It has really impressive aesthetics, it can be pretty creepy and also has a good story which sticks pretty close to the original manga faithfully despite some changes to the settings. It tells the same themes and holds up for the most part.

Part 2 is where it kind of jumps overboard. It was clearly not as good and more like a big budget B-movie, with a lot of tired clichés. They tried improvising a resolution for several plotlines and an ending to close this 2-part adaptation.

Separately I would Recommend checking out at least Part 1, and maybe Giving a Look to Part 2 if you're a fan or want some closure. It's worth a look, but it's a really disjointed work.

The film's release overseas was famous for encountering a huge problem when subtitles stuck when the film aired in the US, (thanks Funimation, Madman Entertainment didn't had any problem, you know!). But since I both didn't watch the film on the big screen with english subtitles and don't even live in the US I didn't take note of that in my review here.

Despite the post-credits scene of Part 2, the story is complete and no continuation was expected. But a live-action miniseries Shingeki no Kyojin: Hangeki no Noroshi (Attack on Titan: Beacon for Counterattack) featuring the same actors as the films streamed in Japan around August 2015. They made 3 webisodes focused on Zoë Hange and her work on the Titans.

I give it:
2 / 3 Astroboys!

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