斉木楠雄のΨ難 (Psychic Kusuo)

Director Yuichi Fukuda’s Gintama broke box office records and became the biggest live-action film for 2017 but his follow up comedy flick failed to repeat the success. Despite claiming the second spot at the box office on its release, Psychic Kusuo earned only 35% of Gintama‘s debut weekend.

Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan (read as Saiki Kusuo no Sainan and literally translated as The Disastrous Life of Saiki K) is a gag manga by Shuichi Asou which started its run in 2012 and officially ended in February 2018. The anime adaptation is currently airing its second season.

The story focuses on a high school boy who was born with every psychic ability imaginable. He’s so strong, he has to put on a pair of antenna-like limiters to avoid disasters like destroying the entire school building with a kabedon or making world satellite signals go haywire.

The live-action film under the English title Psychic Kusuo follows Saiki’s attempts to live as an ordinary student but things get complicated when he’s surrounded by eccentric classmates: Hashimoto Kanna as the angelic beauty Teruhashi Kokomi, Kasahara Hideyuki as passionate sportsman Kineshi Hairo, Hirofumi Arai as idiotic Nendo Riki, Yoshizawa Ryo as the chuunibyou Shun Kaido, and Kaku Kento as former delinquent Kuboyasu Aren.

From Saiki’s pink hair to Nendo’s butt chin, the characters’ costume designs are all on point. Despite having a powerful ESP-er as protagonist, the story isn’t set in a fantasy world like an alien-infested sci-fi version of Edo. It takes place in an ordinary high school (PK Academy) so it’s a bit painful to watch since the slice of life atmosphere doesn’t match the low quality special effects.

This movie also has the same comedic elements as Gintama (fourth wall breaking, pop culture references, and even poop jokes) but the big difference lies in the actors’ execution and delivery.

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Deadpan snarker Saiki Kusuo is a difficult role to portray and Yamazaki Kento has to keep a straight face the entire time. However, acting with inner monologue doesn’t seem like his strong suit. His eyes aren’t as expressive as Kamiki Ryunosuke or Masataka Kubota’s so without the voice over, it’s hard to know what he’s feeling. Moreover, the movie dismissed a notable trait of the original character: Saiki isn’t supposed to speak using his mouth.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast shows some apparent uneven acting. The script requires them to overact but while some are really good at it (like Yoshizawa Ryo), the others are just cringeworthy (like Hashimoto Kanna). Chameleon-like actor Hirofumi Arai transforms into a different person once again as he plays the role of Nendo. On the other hand, Kaku Kento’s exaggerated facial expressions made the supposedly badass yankii Kuboyasu look really weird. Kaidou’s admirer Yumehara Chiyo and pervy spirit medium Toritsuka Reita are MIA but green-haired magician Chono is present in the live-action because someone’s gotta say “Illusion!” every time nonsensical things happen. Tsuyoshi Muro did a great job but the other Fukuda regular, Sato Jiro, is sadly underused.

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The film follows the usual 3 Act Structure but it feels like a very long exposition due to the continuous introduction of characters who are mostly unrelatable and unlikeable for the uninitiated. Saiki is avoidant, Teruhashi is petty and manipulative, Nendo is stupid, Shun is childish, Hairo is too intense, and Aren is strange. Shun Kaidou is the only likeable one but that’s just because I’ve always liked this character and I love Yoshizawa Ryo. His chuunibyou behavior and his face-off against the Dark Reunion will surely baffle the audience who aren’t familiar with the source material.

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Psychic Kusuo reminds me of the Daily Lives of High School Boys movie that was released in 2013. They’re both comedy gems but stories like these that show trivial experiences of high school students aren’t meant for live-action since it’s hard to build the climax and the short running time isn’t enough to make the audience care about the quirky characters. Unlike how Gintama live-action managed to please the fans, followers of Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan will probably feel disappointed since the trailer and the behind-the-scene NG clips are funnier than the actual film.

 

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HiGH&LOW 2: End of Sky

End of Sky is the third movie in the HiGH&LOW media franchise mostly starring the members of EXILE tribe and other artists from their management, LDH. Though a bit weaker compared to the first film, HiGH&LOW 2 End of Sky still premiered atop the Japanese weekend box office. The story continues from where The Red Rain left off.

The Amamiya Brothers obtained an important piece of evidence that could destroy the reputation of the powerful Kuryu organization. Masaki and Hiroto join forces with Mugen’s Kohaku and Tsukumo to reveal this information to the world. Meanwhile, Cobra tries to unify all gangs of SWORD but White Rascals’ Rocky prefers to confront their enemies on their own. However, their scouting rival Doubt has become stronger with the release of their vicious leader Ranmaru and the addition of the notorious Prison Gang.

End of Sky opens with a parkour setpiece wherein the Rude Boys rescue several abducted children and is followed by an intro of the main gangs and a recap of the events from the first two HiGH&LOW films. But as if the previous movies didn’t have way too many cast members already, End of Sky continues to introduce more characters. Aoi Nakamura plays Ranmaru Hayashi, Naoto as Jesse, Mandy Sekiguchi as Pho, and Naoki Kobayashi as Genji Kuki to name a few. Kuryu includes performances from veteran actors Goro Kishitani, Masahiko Tsugawa, Koichi Iwaki, and more.

Valentine, Rui, and Afrojack comes up with a soothing English track as the film’s main theme song. 

Cobra established his central character status by holding a meeting to suggest an agreement among all the SWORD members. It’s impressive that he’s charismatic enough to make everyone show up (and on time!). Ironically, while he tries to unite SWORD, his own Sannoh Rengokai has some internal division going on.

This scene also addresses some changes such as Tetsu’s dramatic hair transformation and the witty reason for the disappearance of Golden Bomber from White Rascals. It’s disappointing, though, that they just vaguely mentioned about the Rude Boys’ situation. Smoky is missing in action for the most part and Shion’s been replaced by a new member.

Mugen and Amamiya Brothers work together to topple the big fish but it doesn’t really make much sense since Masaki’s idea of handing the USB over to Kohaku is pretty useless. They already had it one movie ago. Had they inserted the damn thing into the drive at that time, they could’ve exposed the illegal transactions and finally crush Kuryu. But of course, they had to wait until Kuryu regroups to chase them. ‘coz inserting a USB needs to be done inside a moving van while being pursued by a bunch of ruthless mafia members led by a poker-faced guy with swords.  

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To resume their unfinished business at the Kokuhakudou Station years ago, White Rascals and Doubt must face each other again and finally put an end to their rivalry.

My favorite Rascals member Kizzy gets a little more screen time compared to the previous films but it’s disappointing to see their leader Rocky act so out of character. I thought he’s one of the most mature leaders of SWORD but he’s become stubborn and short-sighted for no reason. He keeps repeating his vow to protect women but aren’t his men worth protecting too? Doubt obviously outnumbers them but he just risked his men’s lives by going to that battle unprepared. Good thing, in spite of the undecided agreement talks, the other gangs of SWORD naturally comes to their rescue.

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Sannoh Rengokai arrives at the scene to save Rocky just in time and to take on the Prison Gang. Noboru adorably asks Pho to go easy on him since it’s been a while since the last time he joined the fights. Yamato goes “huh?!” everytime his opponent Brown speaks in English. And finally, there’s Cobra who never fails to deliver satisfying one-on-one scenes. This time, he’s up against Jesse played by Naoto, the badass dancer and leader of his group Sandaime J Soul Brothers.

Murayama Yoshiki is probably the best character Yuki Yamada has played so far. He appears to be childish but he’s actually intimidating. Plus, his real life friendship with the tall and handsome Furuya and funny bald guy Seki totally resonates on screen. Too bad, Todoroki is not in this film to join in the fun.

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Smoky had a hair and eye color makeover but sadly, Masataka Kubota’s appearance is reduced to cameo level. Takeshi serves as the acting leader while he’s away. Pi (Zen) flaunts his parkour expertise and new member Yu (Gaku Sano) also impresses in his individual shot.

Hayashi Kento sets the bar high for all the villains that appear after him. Even though Ranmaru is described as someone more dangerous and uncontrollable than Hyuga, he doesn’t have enough backstory to make him as interesting as the Daruma Ikka leader.

Mighty Warriors’ leader Ice casually said that Ryu decided to move to Kuryu. It’s quite an unsatisfying explanation for something that confused so many viewers in the previous films. Besides, I don’t see the need of putting Ryu in Kuryu since he overlaps with the new sword-wielding character that Naoki plays.

Under the direction of Sigeaki Kubo and Tsuyoshi Nakakuki, HiGH&LOW 2 End of Sky comes with show-stopping chases, martial arts techniques, parkour acts, and motorcycle stunts. It’s weak in terms of narrative and character development since the only goal is to get into one big fight. It’s an entertainment project meant to be a pastiche of yankii movies so you just have to go into it expecting that it’s gonna be a hot mess.

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The old Kuryu bastards have declared payback time. Don’t miss the scene during the end credits since it gives a preview of the impending doom that awaits SWORD in HiGH&LOW: The Final Mission.

Will they be able to turn the tables and finish Kuryu once and for all?

亜人 (Ajin)

After a six-month delay, Ajin live-action finally gets released in our local cinemas. The showing date, however, falls at the time when I’m supposed to leave the country for a quick vacay. Films like this don’t usually last in theaters longer than a week. So after my morning job, I quickly packed my luggage and went to the mall to catch the first screening on the first showing day. It was a Wednesday. 12nn. Once again, I had the entire theater to myself.

The movie starts at the operating (torture) table where Nagai Kei lies to get mutilated, die, and “reset”. As he asks why of all people these horrible things have to happen to him, we get a quick flashback of how he survives a tragic car accident that reveals his identity to the world.

Sato, a highly skilled and influential Ajin, comes to his rescue. He aims to take the government down and wants Nagai Kei to be a part of his revolutionary team. But his ambition and thirst for blood is so off-putting, Kei abruptly rejects his invitation. More so, his refusal to kill his captors makes Sato reveal his true violent nature. 

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So as not to be confused with the lead actor’s name (Sato Takeru) and the antagonist’s name (Sato), let’s address the actor by his first name from hereon.

To match Takeru’s real age, the high school student from the original is changed into a medical intern. Nagai Kei, who is emotionally distant and was even regarded as a sociopath in the manga and anime, becomes more cooperative and less of a jerk in the live-action movie. Thus, giving us a hero worth rooting for. Takeru proves that he is made for shonen and seinen roles. Though he’s also good at other genres, it’s apparent that he totally shines when it comes to more action-heavy scenes. Choreographed by the same action team of Rurouni Kenshin, he puts Ajin on top of the Japanese box-office during its run. 

Sato is the stereotypical bloodthirsty villain but somehow, viewers can sympathize with him since humans aren’t exactly on the moral side either. The government conducts inhumane experiments on Ajins and Sato’s been on that torture chamber for 20 years. Despite being too young for the role, Ayano Go (who appeared as Gein in the Rurouni Kenshin movies and Goemon in Lupin III live-action) shows his versatility as he plays the charismatic but malevolent terrorist.

Yu Shirota is a pleasant surprise since he’s too handsome for the role of Koji Tanaka, the second Ajin discovered in Japan. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a real delight to see his face on the big screen and he has some smashing action scenes together with former AKB48 member Rina Kawaei who plays Yu Tosaki’s loyal bodyguard.

Tosaki, however, is a bit disappointing in the live-action. As a high-ranking member of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, he is a morally ambiguous character who has an ironic working relationship with Kei. Tetsuji Tamayama is a talented actor but the live-action version doesn’t give him the same level of authoritative air as the original.

Yudai Chiba who plays Masumi Okuyama (Sato’s underling who has a weak leg but is an expert when it comes to computers and weapons) is one of the best live-action actors I’ve seen. His babyface allows him to convincingly play student characters despite being 28 years old and it doesn’t matter whether he plays a good genki guy or in this case, a bad expressionless one, he always has a way of totally bringing out cool anime-ish vibes to real life.

Yuki Yamada also looks too cute to play Takahashi. He should’ve played Kaito instead. Sadly, Kei’s best friend gets written out in the film and his absence gives more screen time to Kei’s sick younger sister. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas’ adorable lead actress Minami Hamabe plays Eriko Nagai whose illness was not explained even in the manga. Originally, she harbors some resentment towards his brother but in the live-action, they’re in good terms and they even ran away together.  

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Ajin follows the formula for generic action flicks: garden-variety protagonist with newfound abilities, seemingly invincible antagonist who wants to take over the world, and a sick younger sister who gives the protagonist the motivation to fight. People might say it doesn’t offer anything new to the table but being formulaic is exactly what makes it a good live-action movie. It’s fast-paced, straightforward, and gives a clear a distinction between the good guys and the bad.

Having characters who can revive themselves after death may seem a bit tedious to watch, but their “immortality” only increases the tension since the battle has become more than just a physical one. Kei and Sato are equally incisive.

Directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro, Ajin successfully puts together some exhilarating video game-like action scenes with energetic background music and impressive computer graphics particularly the IBMs. It’s also worth nothing that Kei’s “ghost” is voiced by famous seiyuu Mamoru Miyano (the voice actor of Nagai Kei in Ajin‘s animated series).  

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I was really tired on the day I watched the movie but the suspense (and the eye candies!!!) kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I chose Ajin over sleep and I don’t regret it one bit. I loved it so much I even bought this “awesome!” magazine at MagFreak when I arrived in Taiwan.

 

 

鋼の錬金術師 (Fullmetal Alchemist)

It’s impossible to be an anime fan and not come across this series. Fullmetal Alchemist is a popular 2001 shonen manga written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa. The first anime adaptation came out in 2003, the era of some of the greatest and most timeless animes, a big trigger for nostalgia.

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The story is set in Amestris, a unitary state governed by a parliamentary republic headed by the Fuhrer. Elric brothers Edward and Alphonse live in a town called Resembool. Their father is an alchemist so naturally, the two of them try to practice this science as well. The movie starts on the fateful day when their mother passed away and the brothers decide to use the forbidden human transmutation that they thought could bring her back to life. Scene cuts and goes fast forward to a few years later with a grown up (but not grown taller) Edward chasing a religious charlatan. Meanwhile, Alphonse is now in the form of an enormous empty armor. Carrying the consequences of their ritual gone wrong, Edward vows to obtain the philosopher’s stone to bring his brother’s body and soul back together.

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Fullmetal Alchemist has a continuous plot with interweaving arcs, deep character developments, and epic fights. Writer- director Fumihiko Sori tried to compress several chapters altogether but this is not something that can be condensed into a two-hour flick. Even three or four hours won’t cut it. As a result, the movie writes off some key characters. We get to meet the live-action counterparts of swoonworthy Roy Mustang, mirthful Col. Maes Hughes, and badass Lt. Riza Hawkeye. There’s perfect casting and costumes for the villains Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. The cast also includes Dr. Marco, Shou Tucker, and even Nina and Alexander. It is, however, disappointing that the film is missing Scar, King Bradley, and even my personal favorite Ling Yao/Greed.

The movie uses picturesque European backgrounds and spectacular special effects but despite being visually engaging, it is apparently problematic from the get-go. The flashback scene is a vital part of the story but it’s extremely difficult to find child actors who can convey the strong emotions needed for it: the sadness of witnessing their mom’s death, the desperation in practicing the tabooed alchemy, the pain of losing a part of themselves, and the guilt that Ed’s been carrying in his heart the entire time.

The movie started with the flashback first, cut it halfway through and then continued later in a dream sequence. And in that dream, grown up Ed appeared instead of the child actor. I get that it might be the all-this-time-he’s-been-blaming-himself-for-what-happened-to-Al metaphor but that scene is totally confusing for the uninitiated viewers.

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The reduced cast and lackluster plot can somehow be forgiven if the movie managed to give us the best main trio. HEY!SAY!JUMP!’s Yamada Ryosuke is physically perfect to play the titular character but the costume design team failed to give him a realistic blond mane. He actually got his hair dyed but it still looks like a cheap cosplay wig on screen. Yamada is cute, energetic, and convincingly just as strong-willed and hotheaded as the original Ed but there’s this same issue that I had with him when I watched Assassination Classroom: I feel like his presence and his acting can easily get upstaged.

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On the other hand, the CG work on Alphonse is impeccable. The younger Elric is voiced by Atomu Mizuishi who also filmed the motion capture for his character. Probably due to the difficulty of animating Al, the script’s been tweaked to lessen his appearances.

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So Ed continues his investigations as a State Alchemist sans Al. Instead, he’s accompanied by brown haired Tsubasa Honda who plays Winry Rockbell, the (supposed to be blonde!) automail mechanic. The actress’ forced genkiness is quite annoying and she turned Elric brothers’ vivacious childhood friend into an irritating sidekick.

The live-action film has a lively Harry Potter-esque opening but it ends up being off-kilter due to a drastic tone shift after the first hour. The second half is dreadfully boring. It recreates some iconic scenes from the original but also missed equally important ones. The lack of Scar and King Bradley affected the depth of the storyline. And though we get some stellar acting from the Homonculi, they are sadly underdeveloped and their presence seems unrelated to the rest of the characters.

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I don’t set any unrealistic expectations for live-action adaptations. I don’t even get so worked up about the casting controversy. My only criteria for a decent live-action is its ability to give us likeable characters and a plot that’s coherent enough to be understood by those who haven’t seen or read the source material. That’s why even though Rurouni Kenshin and Gintama also have their flaws, I consider them both as excellent adaptations. You can say all the negative things about the Tokyo Ghoul movie, but I thought it was well-made too. With most of the characters’ colorful hair foregone, the film doesn’t look uneven since it focused on the horror aspect of the story and its protagonist’s main struggle. In the case of Fullmetal Alchemist, its biggest flaw is missing the whole “brotherhood” theme which is supposed to be the very heart of its narrative. There’s a brotherly brawl scene that tries to elevate the drama but it just feels nonsensical and utterly cheesy.

Fans and critics disagree. Every viewer has his/her own thoughts about this movie. Technically, Fullmetal Alchemist is a bad adaptation but compared to the other live-actions on Netflix, at least it’s a tad better than Death Note 2017 and Mob Psycho 100. 

君の膵臓をたべたい (I Want To Eat Your Pancreas)

The ‘gloomy boy meets genki girl with terminal illness’ is quite a common formula for the good ol’ tearjerker. Despite being a recurrent trend, a movie’s ability to touch its audience is no mean feat. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas successfully grabs the viewers’ attention with its peculiar title and manages to surprise with its endearing overall tone and narrative. The characters explained the meaning of the title early on, and then reiterated its significance in the latter half. 

Adapted from the 2015 novel Kimi no Suizo wo Tabetai by Yoru Sumino and directed by 100th Love with You director Sho Tsukikawa, the movie follows the grown up male protagonist (Oguri Shun) who now works as a teacher at the school where he graduated from. Being in the library brings back a lot of memories particularly the bittersweet ones he spent with classmate Sakura Yamauchi. She’s a cheerful and popular student who was willing to become friends with him in spite of his aloofness. One day, he accidentally picks up Sakura’s “Disease Coexistence Journal” which reveals her suffering from an incurable pancreatic disease that gives her only a few more months to live. They try to tick the items off her bucket list as they learn more about each other, about friendship, and about how to make the most out of the moment.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks with smooth transitions between past and present through the male lead’s point of view. This non canon 12 year jump makes the movie more appealing to both young and old viewers. Oguri Shun is one of my all time favorite actors and once again, he proved his versatility by starring in this movie and in Gintama- two very different genres that both made it to the top 5 of the highest-grossing Japanese films for 2017. 

On the other hand, Kitagawa Keiko who plays Sakura’s bestfriend Kyoko, is a bit underused. I didn’t get invested in her friendship with Sakura since their younger counterparts didn’t spend that much time together. The performances of the two male leads also overshadowed her crying scene. 

Takumi Kitamura plays Oguri Shun’s teen counterpart. Sometimes, when singers appear in movies, they give a pretty lackluster performance but Kitamura’s acting is subtle yet so moving, it’s hard to believe that he’s the leader of Japanese pop/rock band DISH. He gives his character some restraint with cute awkwardness and matched Shun’s performance in delivering the emotional moments. His gentle speaking voice also sounds perfect for the shoujo genre. Maybe he should consider becoming a seiyu. 

17-year-old Minami Hamabe, who looks like a mix of Shida Mirai and Nagasawa Masami, plays Sakura Yamauchi. I wasn’t blown away by her acting skills but she is naturally and effortlessly adorable, her presence alone can light up the screen.

It’s nice to see these two students from the opposite ends of popularity spectrum to develop an unlikely friendship that’s endearing and not cloying. But all good things must come to an end. The inevitable happens but in a plot twist that’s incredibly more heartbreaking. Thus proving that we can never tell when and how our life is going to end.  

I Want To Eat Your Pancreas may sound like a title of a gory B-rated horror flick but it’s literally a beautiful movie with gorgeous cherry blossoms paired with good looking actors who offer a sensitive portrayal of terminal romance. But since I’ve seen a lot of stories like this before, it didn’t emotionally wreck me as much as 1 Litre of Tears and SekaChu (Crying Out Loud in the Center of the World) did. Though there’s also little too much soft focus, I just consider it as part of the movie’s technical charms. Mr. Children provides the theme song “Himawari”.

As if the novel and the movie haven’t broken enough hearts, I Want To Eat Your Pancreas will have an anime adaptation slated to be released later this year.

打ち上げ花火、下から見るか? 横から見るか? (Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?)

Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka?) is based on Shunji Iwai’s 1993 live-action movie of the same name. There are three reasons why I went to watch it on the big screen: 1. The film includes themes that are similar to Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 hit Your Name, 2. It is produced by well-known Japanese animation studio Shaft, and 3. It features the voices of Hirose Suzu, Masaki Suda, and Mamoru Miyano. Now I kinda regret I did. I should’ve just watched this one online. 

Following the screenplay of Bakuman live-action director Hitoshi Ohne, Fireworks takes place one summer as Norimichi Shimada and Yusuke Azumi get into a senseless debate with their friends about the shape of the fireworks. Nazuna Oikawa is their long haired mysterious classmate. An impromptu swimming race gives one of them a chance to go on a date with her but it turns out that Nazuna actually wants something more. She’s been secretly planning to run away with Norimichi on the night of the fireworks’ festival. Unfortunately, Norimichi loses the race but a magical glass ball allows him to go back in time to make up for his mistake and change their fate.

These days, it’s hard to write about a Japanese animated movie without mentioning Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name) since the exquisite and heartwarming gender-bender phenomenon contains the winning formula that captured the attention of audiences around the world. Fireworks also includes supernatural elements paired with a theme of longing reminiscent of Kimi no Na Wa but instead of a body swap, we get a temporal loop. The movie presents striking visuals but it’s not as gorgeous as Makoto Shinkai’s works. At times, Fireworks‘ is actually a bit off-putting with they way it incorporates the CG images. And more than just its incoherent art style, the narrative contains scant substance. The time travel device is unexplained and all too gimmicky. 

The characters are all pretty generic, apparently underdeveloped, and somehow inconsistent. Norimichi is a super plain main character that by the time the movie ends, my friend has already completely forgotten his name. It’s also impossible to develop second lead syndrome because other than having Mamoru Miyano’s voice, there’s nothing cool about Yusuke’s personality. Plus, we don’t really know anything about the boys. How did they become friends? How much do they like Nazuna? Is it just a simple crush? Is it hot-blooded teenage desire? Is it true love? We don’t know who they are and what their motivations are. Their hairstyles also make them look similar and the lack of personality sometimes make it hard to tell them apart. I can only recognize them based on their voice which means that at least Masaki Suda and Mamoru Miyano were both spot on in the voice acting department.

Hirose Suzu also convincingly gave her character a voice that’s both sweet and daring. Nazuna, however, is a totally unlikeable heroine. She is angry about the fact that her mom is going to get married again so she decides to elope with Norimichi. Why did she choose him? There wasn’t a scene in school that indicated their closeness. She has familial issues but dragging her classmate into her personal matters is a bit of a selfish move, like she’s taking advantage of the fact that he likes her and will follow her wherever she wants to go.

The problem with Fireworks is that it tries too hard to be the next Kimi no Na Wa but fails so hard since it didn’t bother to give us characters worth knowing and worth rooting for. Illogical fantasy elements are easily overlooked as long as we get to see relatable characters and endearing relationships. Fireworks don’t have any of that. I have yet to watch the original live-action film so I can’t compare but I think it probably isn’t as boring as this adaptation. The movie is supposed to be a drama but the scenes make it seem like this is under the romance genre. 

Without the magical time travelling device, there really isn’t much story to tell. Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka? is repetitive, tedious, and trying so hard to be mysterious. Way before the scene where the fireworks from the lighthouse go off, I’ve already stopped caring.

銀魂 (Gintama)

Japanese films only run at our local cinemas for a limited time so in spite of my hectic schedule that weekend, I met a friend to catch the screening of Gintama’s live-action movie together. And it turns out to be one of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had thus far! It felt like a mini-fan gathering as the sound of applause and laughter from the small crowd filled the entire theater. Until now, though it’s already been a couple of days since I watched the film, I still can’t move on from its awesomeness. I was right to put Gintoki as the cover of this article that I wrote. Gintama is this year’s best live-action movie after all.

21687893_1489819551110322_7623854300484892751_nSet in an alternate Edo where aliens rule and samurai swords are banned, Sakata Gintoki tries to make ends meet through Yorozuya, an Odd Jobs business that he runs together with Shinpachi, a bespectacled dojo heir and Kagura, an alien girl with monstrous strength.

After Gintoki and Shinpachi’s iconic first encounter, the movie adapts the hilarious Beetle Hunting episode to introduce the supporting characters followed by the more serious and action-packed Benizakura Arc. This arc features two clients’ requests: one is the search for Kotaro Katsura and the other is the retrieval of the legendary demon sword called Benizakura. Soon, the members of Yorozuya realize that these missions are connected and that they’re in for a more serious danger than expected. 

Creator Hideaki Sorachi had been reluctant to have a live-action film for Gintama while the manga is still ongoing until he met the only man who could change his mind: Yuichi Fukuda! His directorial projects all have the same comic elements that can also be found in Gintama and my favorites are Yuusha Yoshihiko and Mr. Nietzsche in the Convenience Store. As expected, Fukuda achieved a great feat in completely recreating Gintama’s alien-infested Edo. Some viewers might feel a bit disappointed with the CG but the director confessed that he intentionally dropped the computer graphics’ quality to keep the anime-like parody atmosphere and to match it with the colorful characters’ features.

Speaking of characters, the biggest asset of the film is casting the best actors who all look perfect for the part. More than just the spot-on “cosplay”, they have genuine talent to boot.

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Oguri Shun already appeared in the Gintama manga as Shunnosuke Oguri, a parody of himself who made a cameo as a guest in Yagyuu Kyuubei’s birthday party. Who would have thought that the real Oguri Shun would actually end up playing Sakata Gintoki. And not only does he rock that silver hair, he also comes out channeling a mix of his own previous live-action characters- Lupin III’s goofiness, Takiya Genji’s swag, and Rui Hanazawa’s charms- to pull off the perfect Gin-chan.

Shinpachi Shimura is a plain-looking geek whom Gintoki once described as “someone who is 95% glasses, 3% water, and 2% garbage”; but Masaki Suda is no way as ordinary as the character he’s playing. The versatile 24-year-old actor starred in 9 films in 2016 and continues to be a top headline-maker in 2017 with his films,dramas,music, and voice acting.

Hashimoto Kanna, a former member of the JPop idol group Rev. from DVL, breaks out of her “beyond angelic” image and “once in a millennium idol” title to play the show’s unconventional heroine. The cute red-haired alien girl with a voracious appetite likes to pick her nose and puke in public.

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Twitter Image: @nana_zawa

The cast comprised of accomplished actors include:

Masaki Okada as Joui faction leader Kotaro Katsura
Masami Nasagawa as Shinpachi’s fierce sister Tae Shimura
Kankuro Nakamura as Isao “gorilla” Kondo
Yuya Yagira as mayonnaise addict Toshiro Hijikata
Ryo Yoshizawa as sadistic prince Sougo Okita
Tsuyoshi Domoto as Kiheitai leader Takasugi Shinsuke
Yasuda Ken as renowned swordsmith Murata Tetsuya
Akari Hayami as Tetsuya’s sister Tetsuko Murata
Hirofumi Arai as the blind assassin Okada Nizo
Nanao as sexy sharpshooter Matako Kijima
Tsuyoshi Muro as the wacky inventor Gengai Hiraga
Sato Jiro as lolicon strategist Takechi Henpeita
And guess who’s playing Elizabeth? It’s Yuusha Yoshihiko himself! Takayuki Yamada!

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The film covers as much as its running time allows and we get to see most of the characters’ quirks but the seriousness of the arc doesn’t have enough room to reveal Katsura’s oddities. There’s also plenty of eye candies around, I didn’t know where to look first. The actors alone make me want to watch the movie a second time. They all gave amazing performances but as usual, Fukuda regulars (Sato Jiro, Tsuyoshi Muro, Hirofumi Arai, and Yasuda Ken) are the scene stealers. The weakest in my opinion is Tsuyoshi Domoto. His appeal is not on par with Shun and he’s just not as charismatic as the original Takasugi.

The humor is totally on point. Gintama is famous for its irreverent comedy that includes nose picking. vomiting, fourth wall breaking, and parodies. The movie does everything flawlessly by reenacting the exact scenes from the Benizakura Arc while inserting some newer gags and big time references without holding back. It also comes with a rockin’ theme song by Oguri Shun. HAHAHA! Yes but no, the real theme song is UNDECIDED by UVERworld.

The plot, however, is a tad convoluted and fast paced so it is understandable why the uninitiated have some negative reactions about it. Unlike other live-action films, Gintama is difficult to judge as a stand-alone sans familiarity with the original source. It requires knowledge of the manga/anime style, plus some historical and pop culture appreciation to completely get the humor. The action scenes can be used to attract new followers but even though the fight choreography is pretty good, it’s not as impressive as Rurouni Kenshin’s.

Some critics have expressed their disappointment and even disgust but numbers speak for themselves. Gintama earned almost 5 billion yen at the domestic box-office and continues to get distributed in many theaters outside Japan. It’s a proof that success is certain when you please the fans.

東京喰種 (Tokyo Ghoul)

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I got this poster all the way from Cannes Film Festival. ^__^

Tokyo Ghoul is one of this year’s most anticipated Japanese live-action films. However, fans have expressed their unease before its release. It’s hard not to worry considering the erratic results of live-action adaptations, the director’s unfamiliarity with the source material prior to making the movie, and the sudden controversial retirement of its lead actress. The film had several festival screenings before its official public showing in Japanese theaters. Fortunately, the first batch of published reviews were mostly positive.

After a bit of delay, I was finally able to catch the screening of Tokyo Ghoul live-action at a local movie theater. And yes, I’m happy to report that the film did not disappoint.

Based on Sui Ishida’s famous dark fantasy manga, the story is set in an alternate modern-day Japan where humans co-exist with indistinguishable ghouls. Kaneki Ken frequents a coffee shop where he meets Kamishiro Rize, an attractive woman who shares the same interest for books. During their bloody date, Kaneki discovers her real identity way too late. He survives her attack but waking up from the hospital bed just marks the beginning of his real nightmare. Now a half-human half-ghoul hybrid, Kaneki finds solace in Anteiku where he meets friends who help him as he comes to terms with his new life. While Kaneki tries to deal with his insatiable hunger, the clash between humans and ghouls takes place and eventually, he has to pick a side.

Through the use of good lighting and cinematography, director Hagiwara Kentaro successfully recreates the Tokyo Ghoul universe in a more “realistic” tone that’s less comic book but more of a conventional horror flick. With a few tweaks here and there, it manages to cover the first three volumes of the manga and capture its philosophy by making its viewers question about whose actions should be considered as the real monster. Using costume designs by Christian DADA founder Masanori Morikawa, the characters are given their iconic looks without going full ‘cosplay’. No purple hair for Rize or white hair for Kaneki. Instead, we get characters who look like actual people who can exist in real life. Kureo Mado, however, gets to keep his trademark hair and bulging-squinting eyes. 

The lack of the original brightly colored character designs is compensated by the actors’ gripping performances. The movie is easy to follow even for those who aren’t familiar with the source material because aside from its gruesome moments and badass kagune battles, the film remains to be character-driven and the main actors certainly deliver.

Kaneki Ken

After his memorable Death Note stint, Masakata Kubota gives another riveting performance as Kaneki Ken. As he goes from shy and dorky young man to desperate and vicious half-ghoul, he enters a world that no human has ever crossed before and learns the intricacies of having to survive as a flesh-eating creature. The first act focuses on his transformation as we literally see food in his new point of view. While witnessing Kubota’s display of acting range, Kaneki’s struggle to retain his humanity is exactly what keeps us invested in the story. His aberrant existence is relatable to those who feel alone and his iconic mask is a representation of the face that he wishes to show the world.

I’ve been following Kubota’s career and I’ve seen most of his projects so I thought there’s nothing he could do to surprise me anymore BUT he proved me wrong. Kubota even exceeded my expectations. I’ve been telling people that he’s really good at playing crazy characters and this time, he totally went all out to show Kaneki’s mental vulnerability. Some viewers say that his acting is over the top but I personally don’t agree with that idea. Considering the limited time, it’s extremely difficult to physically express the inner struggle of a character as conflicted as Kaneki and I find that Kubota’s “exaggerations” are actually necessary.

Kirishima Touka

Kirishima Touka knocked some sense into the despairing Kaneki by asking him how a cake tastes like. It’s a subtle yet heartbreaking moment when Kaneki realizes that the appalling life he’s cursing ever since he’s been transformed is the exact same life that Touka’s been living ever since she was born.

Touka belongs to the group of ghouls who simply wish to live peacefully. She studies, works, and even chows down disgusting human food for the sake of her friend. She’s a ferocious fighter behind the Rabbit mask but her “tsundere” personality is what makes her even more endearing.

Fumika Shimizu impressively brought Kirishima Touka to life. Too bad the 22-year-old actress has retired from the entertainment industry to devote herself to a fringe religious organization called Happy Science so if Tokyo Ghoul gets a sequel, it’s unlikely to see her reprise her role.

Fueguchi Hinami

Young Hinami, a ghoul couple’s offspring, stands right in the middle of the war between ghouls and humans. Her abilities are awakened by the sight of an injured Touka during her fight against Mado. Despite gaining the power and opportunity to kill the person who annihilated her family, Hinami sticks with her pacifist nature.

Teen actress Hiroyi Sakurada delivered a heart-tugging performance as her character’s actions’ strongly make viewers think about whose behavior is more human-like: Hinami’s warmth and compassion or Mado’s thirst for carnage?

Kureo Mado

Kureo Mado, played by the multi-talented Yo Oizumi, is a veteran investigator who is obsessed with hunting ghouls and making quinques (weapons) out of their kagunes. The movie doesn’t have enough time to provide his backstory and explain his apathetic and sadistic actions towards ghouls but his line, “Why does your kind want to live a life built on sin?”, is enough to stir the philosophical differences between humans and ghouls.

The brief moment that reveals the ring on Mado’s finger tells a bit about his character. If we shift the story’s point of view to the humans’ side, then we can see that this seemingly psychopathic ghoul hunter holds someone dear and is driven by human emotions such as rage and revenge.

Koutarou Amon

Tall, fit, and handsome Nobuyuki Suzuki meets the physical requirements to play the sympathetic First Class Ghoul Investigator Koutarou Amon. The film clearly shows his strong sense of justice and his fear of losing the people around him. We don’t get to see his journey towards earning his position at the Commission of Counter Ghoul but we get to see his physical training in preparation to defeat ghouls and avenge his colleagues.

Viewers who have watched the HiGH&LOW franchise know that this isn’t the first time for Masataka Kubota to go on a one-on-one action face-off against Nobuyuki Suzuki. Though the scene deviates from Kaneki and Amon’s original showdown, the movie’s version of their exciting and well-choreographed CGI-filled fight scene provides the movie’s main tension. More so, it’s an emotional turning point as Kaneki tries to cling to his human side at the last moment while Amon realizes that not all ghouls are completely evil after all.

The other cast members with noteworthy performances are:

  • Yui Aoi as the voracious ghoul Kamishiro Rize
  • Kunio Murai as Anteiku manager Kuzen Yoshimura
  • Shunya Shiraishi as the dangerous teacher Nishiki Nishio
  • Shoko Aida as Hinami’s mother Ryouko
  • Kai Ogasawara as Kaneki’s best friend Nagachika Hideyoshi
  • Minosuke Bando as the mask creator Uta

Fleshing out characters is one of the most challenging aspects to accomplish when a film tries to cover several manga chapters in a span of 119 minutes but in spite of the shared screen time, the actors’ convincing portrayals of their characters’ plight manage to strike a chord. Tokyo Ghoul proves that good adaptations are those that have well-presented narrative and an adequate understanding of character motivations.

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There’s some good flesh-biting horror and humorous martial arts training. However, the biggest hurdle that the film has to overcome is the use of computer graphics for the quinques and kagunes. Due to the live-action’s serious atmosphere, the special effects look a tad out of place — at times even awkward — but not to the point of being completely distracting.

The film does not include my favorite “What’s 1,000 minus 7” line but overall, Tokyo Ghoul live-action is a faithful adaptation and a visually satisfying movie. It comes with a theme song performed by RADWIMP’s Yojiro Noda. Instead of a fast track like the iconic Unravel from the anime, Illion’s BANKA gives off some emotional coming of age vibes.

 

Netflix’ Death Note VS. The Previous Japanese Death Note Adaptations

I attended a three-day ComicCon last month and I queued outside the Netflix booth where I successfully experienced the Death Note virtual reality game. I met Ryuk, held the infamous Death Note, and got to be “Kira” for a few minutes. I know very well how the story goes, but at that very moment my hands instinctively followed my moral compass and hit “Live” instead of “Die.” I burned the page where the hostage taker’s name was written but as I spared his life, I lost mine instead. My friend said she chose to kill the bad guy but she still ended up dying. There was no way to escape death after all. Even though it was just a game, the struggle was real. The idea of dirtying our own hands for the sake of the greater good is not something an average person can handle. Who are we to determine who gets to live and who deserves to die? This philosophical conundrum is what makes Death Note a compelling story and Yagami Light an extremely charismatic, albeit antagonistic, character.

The controversial Death Note adaptation by Netflix took away the Grey and Gray Morality trope that stands at the core of its source material. Director Adam Wingard promised originality but instead, we got an 80% insipid teen melodrama mixed with 20% Death Note elements. The movie, unfortunately, has turned Light and L’s intense psychological battle into a literal chase. Our beloved detective with a sweet tooth goes completely out of character as he runs around whilst holding a gun. From casting choices to character development, from rushed sequences to cheesy background music; Death Note is just so wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Several Japanese live-action adaptations have already spawned from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s famous supernatural manga. Should Netflix decide to push through with the sequel, here are three points that I think they should learn from the previous Death Note films and series.

Running Time Should Not Be An Issue

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The 2006 Japanese live-action movie was two hours and twenty minutes long. It brought some of Death Note’s most memorable scenes to life that tangible things like apples and potato chips have become even more iconic. The leads, Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama, delivered convincing performances especially the latter who was a scene-stealer for being every bit of how L should be.

The movie also proved that it’s possible to adapt Death Note’s main storyline without taking away the original characteristics and quirks of its protagonists. This adaptation has an exclusive character. Yuu Kashii plays Shiori Akino, Yagami Light’s principled girlfriend. Her existence emphasized Light’s “evil” side when he orchestrated his own girlfriend’s death and used her as leverage to enter the Task Force. In spite of the difference from the original, the addition of such a character still fits the overall narrative. The film is immediately followed by the sequel, Death Note 2: The Last Name.

Netflix’ Death Note has a running time of an hour and forty minutes and considering its vague ending, it’s open for a follow-up. The duration is certainly not enough to cover more than a hundred chapters of the manga but this constraint should never be used as an excuse for lazy writing. The wasted moments on sappy zero-chemistry romance should have been wisely spent on character build-up, emotional conflicts, and mind games. Hopefully, if they ever get another two hours for a sequel, they’d use the entire time to fix the gaffes from the first film.

It’s OK to Start With a Non-Genius Light

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The original Yagami Light is highly intelligent and perceptive. As Kira, he’s a cold and calculating sociopath. Light Turner is a typical angsty teenager. His initial encounter with Ryuk sparked some online outrage not just because of the actor’s hair, his girly scream, and the B-rated horror flick amateurish acting. It’s because of his off-putting initial motivations that include personal revenge and getting laid. Instead of being in total control of his goal to build the “perfect world”, he just seems like a pushover who can easily be persuaded by Ryuk and Mia.

If having a “normal” Yagami Light is an attempt to make him a relatable character then the film totally missed the point. Being relatable isn’t exactly what made him a riveting protagonist. Even with his conceited nature, Light is a victim of the Death Note in many ways that there’s no need to turn him into a beaten-up high school outcast just to make the viewers sympathize with him. If there really is a need to modify the character, then Nippon TV’s live-action television series shows the proper way to do it.

The 2015 Death Note drama also drew some flak for tweaking Yagami Light’s character. Masataka Kubota’s version started out as an average student and had the same histrionic reaction upon meeting Ryuk for the first time. However, as the story progressed, the series was able to flesh out his character. His fascinating transformation from upright to megalomaniac unfolded right before our very eyes and we witnessed how the arrival of a worthy opponent like L has awakened his inner genius. Soon, the harsh criticisms subsided. People eventually realized that it’s refreshing to see a friendly, conscience-stricken Yagami Light even just for a while. The Netflix sequel should also aim to make the viewers retract their initial disappointments by giving Light Turner some traits that would make him more likeable.

Create New Characters Instead of Failing Miserably at Replicating the Original

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The setting is moved to Seattle, the actors are all Americans, and deaths are Hollywood-style gory; there is so much room for carte blanche that they could actually make an entirely different story out of the source material just as Death Note: Light up the NEW World did.

The 2016 movie starring Masahiro Higashide, Sosuke Ikematsu, and Masaki Suda is set a decade after the epic showdown between Yagami Light and L. The world is in chaos and the unexplained deaths indicate that the Death Note is being used once again. Following in the footsteps of Soichiro Yagami, Detective Tsukuru Mishima works together with L’s biological successor Ryuzaki to secure all six Death Notes that have been scattered across the human world. Cyber terrorist Yuki Shien, an ardent Kira worshiper, also vows to acquire the Death Notes in the hopes of fulfilling his mission for the late Yagami Light.

It’s a convoluted three-way battle but fans are more lenient because the film is a decent police procedural and the characters are not Light and L. So instead of a sequel, how about a do-over? Fans have seen the death of the main characters so many times, I bet they won’t mind if both Light and L dies in Netflix’ Death Note and be replaced by a set of new, non-canon characters as long as the film provides a creative and coherent storyline.

Death Note’s Japanese live-action adaptations can’t hold a candle to the original manga and anime series but they’re not as heavily bashed as the Netflix movie because in spite of their flaws, the positive aspects outweigh the negative. They did not leave out Death Note’s knack for puzzles and reveals, the famous battle of wits, and the exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase that provided the main tension of the story. Netflix’ Death Note is visually appealing but with its hackneyed back stories, insufferable characters, and awkwardly placed ’80s classic hits, it exhibits a clear example of how adaptations can go wrong.

Director Adam Wingard said that sequels are never guaranteed. They have to be earned.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of places to explore where to take Light. And ultimately the series is sort of about almost his downfall as a character. This is sort of the beginning of it or the origin of it. There are definitely lots of places to go, and we know generally where we would take it. Hopefully people will watch it and Netflix will order a sequel. They definitely are ready to. They just need people to watch it.”

The big question is, are people still going to watch it?

Which Hana Yori Dango Live-Action Adaptation Is Your Favorite?

Fervent manga fans are not so thrilled about the Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell. More worries ensue as Netflix releases the trailers for its adaptation of the psychological thriller, Death Note. In contrast to the cynical reactions towards Hollywood remakes or reboots, Asian adaptations receive more favorable responses. Such was the case when the producer of Meteor Garden announced the upcoming reboot of the popular Taiwanese television series based on the well-loved shoujo manga, Hana Yori Dango.

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Hana Yori Dango revolves around Tsukushi Makino, a determined young woman who manages to enter the elite Eitoku Academy, an exclusive school for the wealthy. She tries her best to not stand out and just finish her studies peacefully. This all changes when her best friend Endo Makiko accidentally offends Tsukasa Domyouji, the feared leader of the F4. F4 members belong to the richest and most powerful families in Japan and that gives them the privilege to have a free reign over the entire school. This incident leads to Makino becoming the target of all their assaults. She is also ostracized by everyone except Rui Hanazawa, the introverted F4 member who, at times, even steps in to save her. Tsukushi falls for the quiet violinist Rui, while she wages war against the almighty Domyouji. Domyouji finds her plucky attitude both amusing and attractive and as a result, Makino finds herself in the middle of a romantic triangle between these influential heirs. The other two members of the F4 are Akira Mimasaka, the cool peacemaker who prefers to date mature women, and Sojiro Nishikado, the charming and relentless playboy.

Hana Yori Dango is written and illustrated by Yoko Kamio. The manga’s original run started in October 1992 until September 2003. It was followed by a 51-episode anime adaptation in 1996. It then became one of the most popular mangas to have been adapted so many times in different countries.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of Hana Yori Dango’s main live-action adaptations.

Hana Yori Dango (1995)

The first live-action adaptation of the manga is a Japanese feature-length film of the same title. Released in the year before the anime came out, the movie stars Yuki Uchida as Tsukushi Makino, Shosuke Tanihara as Tsukasa Domyoji, Naohito Fujiki as Rui Hanazawa, Koichi Hashizume as Akira Mimasaka, and Kensaku Saeki as Sojiro Nishikado.

Yuki Uchida as Tsukushi Makino dons a Single White Female-like hairstyle and unlike the other fawning female students, she confidently walks past the F4 without giving them much attention. Instead of having a friend involved, it’s her direct confrontation with Domyouji that earns her the dreaded Red Card. This super spunky version of Tsukushi is the one who started the whole mess when she slapped Domyouji for no reason so it’s hard to sympathize with her. The movie is fast-paced, overacted, and the F4 members sadly lack charisma.

Meteor Garden (2001)
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Taiwan’s Meteor Garden starring Barbie Xu, Jerry Yan, Vic Zhou, Vanness Wu and Ken Zhu, is Hana Yori Dango’s first live-action television series. This version alters the main characters’ names into Shan Cai, Dao Ming Si, Hua Ze Lei, Xi Men, and Mei Zuo. A few more minor changes include making Shan Cai into an only child, moving from high school to university, and giving more screen time to Xi Men and Mei Zuo.

Compared to the first Japanese movie, the characters in this version have more distinct traits that enable the viewers to easily tell the F4 members apart. It also gives us a strong and principled female lead worth rooting for. Despite the obvious low-budget and the awkward acting from then-newcomers (like model Jerry Yan who began his acting career that year), Meteor Garden became a runaway success and started the Asian drama phenomenon in several Southeast Asian countries. The series’ theme songs also became a nationwide earworm. In 2003, F4 even held a live concert in the Philippines. A few years later, the launch of the drama reruns still generated a lot of buzz all over social media particularly on Twitter and Facebook.

Meteor Garden was followed by a supplementary mini-series entitled Meteor Rain, which featured three stand alone episodes focusing on each F4 member except Hua Ze Lei.

Meteor Garden II (2002)

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In the following year, the main cast reprised their role for the sequel, Meteor Garden II, which tackles the events that happened after their graduation from Ying De University. The setting is moved to Barcelona, Spain where Dao Ming Si attempts to propose but a car accident changes his supposed happy-ever-after with Shan Cai. As a result, Dao Ming Si suffers from memory loss and ends up in the care of the other accident victim named Ye Sha. Shan Cai asks the other F4 members to help her find her missing lover. However, when Dao Ming Si learns about his past self, it makes him wish to continue forgetting about everything and just live peacefully as a new person with Ye Sha. Will Shan Cai’s love be strong enough to bring him back?

The sequel uses the amnesia trope but the strong bonds of friendship and the likability of the characters totally make up for the hackneyed plot.

Hana Yori Dango (2005)

Following the success of its Taiwanese counterpart, Japan finally launched its own Hana Yori Dango series starring Mao Inoue, Jun Matsumoto, Shun Oguri, Shota Matsuda, and Tsuyoshi Abe.

Mao Inoue and Jun Matsumoto both debuted as idols: Mao as a member of U-15 (junior idols) in 1999 and Matsumoto as a member of Arashi, one of the best-selling boybands in Asia. Out of all the Hana Yori Dango versions, they are the only lead stars who are romantically paired in real life. After a number of paparazzi photo leaks and denials, the two finally revealed that they have been in a long-term relationship. Mao Inoue and Jun Matsumoto’s genuine and unparalleled chemistry totally captured the essence of the manga.

Oguri Shun, who plays Rui Hanazawa, is a scene stealer, too. He exudes mysterious, swoon-worthy and a bit of devious vibes that make him the perfect personification of Rui. This role established Shun as one of Japan’s most versatile actors and favorite leading men.

Hana Yori Dango was followed by its sequel, Hana Yori Dango Returns. Just like Meteor Garden, the setting takes place overseas, this time in New York, with a storyline that includes revenge and amnesia.

Hana Yori Dango Final (2008)

This film is the last installment of the Hana Yori Dango Japanese live-action trilogy. Domyouji announces his marriage plans to the public and shows everyone a picture of Makino stuffing her face with ramen as a way to introduce her as an unconventional and memorable fiancée.

Makino receives an expensive present from Domyouji’s mom. The Smile of Venus is filled with precious stones that represent eternal love but it gets taken away by a masked thief. So the couple sets off on a trip to Las Vegas and Hong Kong to find the culprit. The three F4 members follow and help them in their mission to retrieve the missing tiara. The former Rui Hanazawa actor, Naohito Fujiki, makes an appearance as hotel businessman Kazu Kaburagi.

Boys Over Flowers (2009)

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The main cast of Boys Over Flowers (Kkotboda Namja) is comprised of Lee Min-ho as Gu Jun Pyo, Ku Hye-sun as Geum Jan Di, SS501’s leader Kim Hyun-joong as Yoon Ji Hoo, Kim Bum as So Yi Jung, Kim Joon as Song Woo Bin, and Kim So-eun as Chu Ga Eul.

The Korean storyline has major differences from its original source. Geum Jan Di witnesses a suicide attempt that takes place in the prestigious school. She enters the school after Shinhwa Group offers her a scholarship in exchange for covering up any negative scandals following the incident. The characters start in high school but the F4 members move on to Shinhwa University in the latter half of the show. So Yi Jung and Chu Ga Eul’s arc gets more screen time and becomes the secondary romantic plot.

From fashion to fancy cars, the South Korean series is the most flamboyant adaptation but exuberance and eye candy can only do so much. It cannot compensate for some of it’s actors’ lack of acting skills. Fortunately, the Hana Yori Dango magic works on its male lead as the series propelled Lee Min-ho’s career to superstar level.

Meteor Shower (2010)

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The Chinese version that aired on Hunan TV is an unofficial adaptation unauthorized by Hana Yori Dango’s publication, Shueisha. It stars Zheng Shuang as Chu Yuxun, Hans Zhang as Murong Yunhai, Yu Haoming as Duanmu Lei, Vision Wei as Ye Shuo and Zhu Zixiao as Shangguan Ruiqian. The first season follows Chu Yuxun’s entrance to the prestigious Aliston College and her encounters with the four richest students who lord over the school. Some parts of the second season take place in Singapore when Murong Yunhai loses his memory of Chu Yuxun.

The producer claims that this series is simply inspired by the manga. Even though this is an unlicensed adaptation, Meteor Shower still became one of the most influential shows in China bagging several Most Popular Awards at that time.

Boys Before Friends (2014)

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The worst adaptation is the American series Boys Before Friends. It has unpopular actors and is filled with behind-the-scene controversies. The female lead character, Zoey, is a dancer who gets accepted in the Grad School for the rich and powerful. The funniest episode is when she gets a makeover and literally comes out as a different person. Then, news about the lead actor getting fired surfaced all over Twitter. The show changes both leads while the drama is ongoing. As more cast members leave, the producers announce that they have filed a lawsuit against their own actors. After six episodes, Boys Before Friends went into hiatus. With low budget, bad camera angles, cringe-worthy acting, and a whole lot of off-screen drama, I wonder why they even bothered to release this disastrous series.

Hana Yori Dango has also been adapted exclusively in countries like Indonesia as Siapa Takut Jatuh Cinta, in Turkey as Güneşi beklerken, and in India as Kaisi Yeh Yaariyan.

Have you seen these live-action adaptations? Which version is your favorite?

In spite of the highs and lows experienced by these Hana Yori Dango live-action films and dramas, fans can’t get enough of the age-old love story and still get all hyped and nostalgic with the announcement of a 2018 Meteor Garden reboot. It’s been exactly 16 years since the Taiwanese series aired and its creator, Angie Chai, reveals that the upcoming 48-episode series will be fuller and flashier with a budget that’s 30 times bigger than the 2001 drama. The actors have not been officially decided yet so there are many speculations and suggestions as to who should play the famous female lead and the legendary F4. The project is still at the screenwriting stage but it will be amazing if it includes a cameo from its original stars.

How do you feel about this reboot? Who do you think should play this generation’s Tsukushi Makino and F4?