2016’s Your Name was the fourth-largest grossing film in Japan. In Asia, it broke several records for how much is grossed and how many box-offices it topped. ‘Your Name’, a touching drama/fantasy story about two people who connect in unlikely way, was critically acclaimed in the West too, screening in Western cinemas. Newspaper critics gave it five stars every time, it scored 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the general consensus was that it was a damn good film. Hollywood’s response? Announce a remake.
This isn’t the first time a hit movie has been remade by Hollywood studios. Notable examples include adaptations of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Dragon Ball Z, and most-recently Death Note. What do these movies have in common? Two things: they’re live-action remakes of animated media, and they’re all known for being extraordinarily awful. We don’t know how the remake of ‘Your Name’ will go, but hopes aren’t high. In fact, unless the director chooses to put an incredible, creative spin on an already creative and incredible film, it’s doomed to either flop completely or perfectly replicate the original movie— a high-budget exercise in pointlessness.
It makes you wonder why they bother. Taking movies that boomed because of their originality and copying them, removing the entire appeal to the film in the first place, is a horrible idea. In fact, the only reason behind remaking these films was to appeal to a wider, older, western audience. The Western audience part we can chalk down to Hollywood’s dominance in the West— Disney films and Hollywood action movies alike fare perfectly well in Asia, and the reasoning behind refusing to screen them could be a whole article in itself. But let’s look at the other goal: the older audience. It highlights something backwards in the film industry that’s only just coming to light: Animation as a kid’s medium. ‘Death Note’ and ‘Your Name’ weren’t kids films, but the prevalence of Disney and Pixar has made studios opposed to marketing animated films towards adults. It’s their refusal to take animated films seriously that causes the grab for animated film concepts: ‘This is great, but what if it were a real movie?’
It could be argued, of course, that audiences won’t watch animated films. Evidence is largely to the contrary. Disney’s films are for children, largely, but fare fantastically with adult audiences. Rick & Morty and BoJack Horseman, animated shows with strong plots and serious aspects (although still comedies) are relatively new, but have been readily accepted into the mainstream. Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time and Steven Universe are childrens shows venturing further into the medium of creator-driven, darker-themed, longform storytelling in animated shows. And, of course, the popularity of anime— Japanese animated TV shows— has been growing, having gone from obscure nerd culture to mainstream media in a matter of decades.
In fact, the success of animation and comics in Japan is something the industry has had its eyes on for a long time. American animation often tries to copy the method— the big eyes, the fast frames, the stylised art— to try and mimic its success. It misses the point: Japanese animation doesn’t succeed because of invisible noses or big boobs (mostly): it succeeds because it isn’t exclusively for children, a point which is just starting to sink in.
Back to the question: Why remake ‘’Your Name’? Hollywood is trying to piggyback on the success of the film without understanding how it was successful. You could probably try and convert ‘Your Name’ to the live medium, re-frame the film’s point, put a unique spin on the telling. Hollywood probably won’t: they’ll probably lift the plot straight out of the original, remove any parts deemed foreign to American audiences, and attempt to tell the story with its context entirely removed and replaced with something subpar and generic, in the hopes of bagging both fans of the film and “regular consumers”, ending with a diluted compromise that neither side wants to watch.
It’s as though, when translating a French novel into English, the translator ran the whole thing through Google Translate, then replaced every instant of the word “France” with “America”. Metaphor, description and word choice don’t carry across languages: they need to be interpreted, replaced, and sometimes explained. It requires creativity on the part of the translator, a literal understanding of the language but an appreciation of the literature too. In much the same way, you can’t take animated Japanese films and make them into American live action ones without an appreciation of the animated adult film as a medium, a trait which Hollywood sorely lacks. Instead they remove the unappealing parts: the animation, the cultural differences and the setting. They inadvertently strip the idea of its context and never have the skill or originality to replace it with an equivalent. Then, when the film flops entirely, they wonder how that happened when they had everything right
How do they remake animated films tastefully, then? Well, ideally, you don’t. Nobody’s suggesting remakes of ‘Get Out’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2’ within a year of their coming out. What would be the point? The films are still contemporary, after all. Let’s start by affording animated films the credit they deserve. But if you really want to tell a Japanese animated story as an American live action one, all you need is a good, legitimate reason for doing so. A tie to American culture, a test of film as a visual medium, whatever. In fact, there are probably plenty of legitimate of reasons, but as it stands, “because this is isn’t good enough” isn’t one of them. If it has no appeal to audiences as it is, after all, why bother remaking it?