After more than a year of waiting, the live-action Attack on Titan film hits theaters in Japan next week. Fans of the biggest anime hit in decades are no doubt excited to see the franchise’s animated heroes and world come to life, but maybe they shouldn’t be.
We’re not saying that because of the historically spotty track record of anime to live-action movie adaptations, either, but because the upcoming film’s characters and setting are largely its own. Ahead of its release, the movie’s screenwriter has revealed the reasons behind the changes made during the transition from anime to live-action, such as the absence of fan-favorite Levi, and one alteration that came directly from the series’ creator himself.
Although he’s best known as a film critic, Tomohiro Machiyama was chosen by the film’s director, Shinji Higuchi, and creator Hajime Isayama to write the script for the live-actionAttack on Titan. Machiyama recently sat down for an interview with movie magazine Eiga Hiho, in which he shed some light on the adaptation process.
Given Attack on Titan’s European-inspired setting, many fans in the international community expressed dismay at the idea of Japanese actors portraying ostensibly western characters in the live-action film. It turns out many fans in Japan felt the same way, and let their sentiment be known early in the movie’s development.
Taking that into consideration, Machiyama and Higuchi decided the only solution was for their film to take place in an entirely different world than that of the anime and manga. They decided their version of Attack on Titan would be set in Japan, and that they would film at Gunkanjima, the ruins-filled island that’s become easily recognizable to movie audiences as part of the country.
For a time, Machiyama considered giving everyone in the movie Japanese names, but in the end decided to leave the principal characters’ monikers as they are in the anime, under the assumption that new names come into fashion as times change. But even if anime protagonist Eren was still going to be called Eren, it wasn’t certain that he was going to be the live-action version’s main character.
Early on, Machiyama was considering making Levi, by far Attack on Titan’s most popular character, the movie’s central figure. He says the idea was dropped, though, since the letter V, nonexistent in Japanese, and in Machiyama’s opinion rare throughout East Asia, wouldn’t have fit with the Japanese setting, and so Levi was scrubbed from the live-action continuity entirely.
▼ We’re not sure how Lil and Kubal got a pass when the Japanese language doesn’t have an L, though.
With that, putting the spotlight back on Eren was the logical choice, but Isayama stepped in with a condition. Despite creating the entire franchise, Isayama admitted that Eren’s fearless attitude, even when standing face to face with the monstrous Titans, made him difficult to relate to. Even Isayama himself expressed trouble empathizing with his series’ lead, and so he said that if Eren was going to be the main character of the live-action film, he’d have to have a different personality than he does in the manga and anime.
Specifically, Isayama wanted Eren portrayed as a normal person with regular fears, which would no doubt include a 120-meter (394-foot) tall naked giant trying to eat you. As such, Eren’s shonen manga-like personality was tossed, as was his backstory of someone who, as a boy, killed a man to protect his childhood friend, Mikasa.
Machiyama was initially skeptical of Isayama’s demand to make Eren someone who would be “paralyzed with fear” upon encountering the Titans, but as production went on, the scriptwriter came around to the idea. Instead of a valorous youth dead-set on revenge and earning freedom for mankind, Eren only takes the first steps towards becoming a Titan slayer because he’s seeking to atone for his failure to protect his home and loved ones.
Machiyama describes the effect as producing a “frightening drama,” and adds that he’s proud of how the finished product depicts an ordinary young man wandering through a hellish environment.
Tonally, that’s a huge departure from the source material, but Machiyama can still draw some parallels between the live-action and anime Attack on Titan. Machiyama says the live-action production team, Isayama included, weren’t going to be satisfied taking the safe route of a direct copy of the original story. Instead, they’re trying to break out of their comfort zone and create something new and compelling, just like the anime’s Eren isn’t about to cower inside the walls that protect his city and trap his spirit.
They’ll get their chance when Attack on Titan opens on August 1.