I don’t know about you but I don’t go to the cinema very often. It’s just so expensive these days. It is very rare that I really want to pay so much just to see something on a big screen surrounded by crashes and bangs. Since 3D got popular, it has only gotten worse. The last thing I want to do is pay more for an over-hyped special effect which at best is unnecessary and at worst distracting.
Most of the time I only go to the movies to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, which means having to endure (and paying extra for the privilege of wearing) those 3D glasses but it does give me the relief of understanding everything in the film. In Japan dubbing foreign films is not so popular, even with animation, so non-Japanese films appear in their original language which 9 times out of ten will be English.
I can happily sit in the cinema for a couple of hours, turn my brain off and enjoy some vacuous entertainment the way Hollywood wants me to. The only distracting thing is the presence of Japanese subtitles which you can’t help but try to read during a film’s duller moments (or in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the whole damn film). In 3D movies the subtitles annoyingly jump out at you as well, making them even more in your face, literally.
However when I want to see a Japanese film, I would prefer to see those subtitles that seem like such an annoyance when watching films in my native tongue. Thus with Japanese movies, despite living in Japan, I generally have to wait for some sort of American DVD release before I can watch them. There are some films though, generally adaptations of things from other media that I love, which I just have to see NOW. Thus I have been to the cinema a few times to sit there straining away, trying to work out what is being said while all around me sit there all relaxed munching on popcorn.
The feeling I get from other people and, to be honest, deep in the dark recesses of my own heart is that people would rather not pay expensive cinema prices to sit in a dark room and have incomprehensible words played at them at high volume. I think there is a bit of a fear there and I can say that the few Japanese movies I’ve seen at the cinema are all remakes of stories I know well anyway.
I watched the first Evangelion film a long time ago and went in with no delusions that I would actually understand anything. I hadn’t been studying Japanese for very long and was just along to watch the pretty colours and flashing lights projected on the screen. There was very little different from the tv show that I had watched an obscene number of times so I knew everything that was happening even if I didn’t understand what they were saying.
The 2nd Eva film played havoc with my expectations however. I left the theatre pretty proud of myself, happily declaring that I had understood 70% of it despite them deviating from the TV series in some ways. I also marvelled about how unexpected these changes were, especially when they switched around characters and had me thinking they had killed an important cast member off. That had caught me totally off guard and I was so shocked. It was only when I watched an English subtitled version of it that I realised they had flat-out said that the character would be there two scenes before hand AND that she wasn’t dead just in sick bay all along. I felt like a right fool and watching the English translation made the film worse in my eyes. They should have kept it a secret until the last-minute and they should have made it seem like they had killed that girl off, it would have been so much better.
With Phoenix Wright, the first part stuck close to the original story, so I took it all in my stride and enjoyed it. The finale of the film took place in a court room, with all the specialised words that entails, coupled with the fact that it differed from the game quite a bit by the end. I was completely lost as the credit began to roll.
It felt like the end had dragged on for ages and as a result I did not enjoy it as much as I could have. The fact that the English version of the game it was based on changed all the names of the characters didn’t help me keep track of who was who either.
And so, 800 words into this post, I finally get to the reason I’m writing this. Last week I saw the Rurouni Kenshin movie. I thought it was as about as good as a live action anime adaptation can be. All the actors cast looked and acted the part, there was a nice mix of playing it mostly realistically with the odd impossible moment.
Before I watched it I was wondering how it could tell all of the first third of the (rather large) Kenshin story in one movie. In the original, the stories were told one after the other but in this film it had them happen concurrently and it weaved the various tales together well. Sure, they cut out one fan favourite character but replaced him with another to make up for it. Kenshin is an anime that I really loved when I first watched it and there is even a flashback scene that is almost shot for shot the same as in the Kenshin OVA, which I thought was a nice little bit of fan service for those that know its significance.
I thought the film was wonderful and I felt that I had understood a large chunk of it, I have been studying Japanese for a good 5 years now after all and I know the original story pretty well. I am eager to watch a translated version of the film to find out if I understood the plot correctly or I just made assumptions based on educated guesses.
Finally, I have to mention the best reason to go to the cinema in Japan, the anti-piracy message that plays before the film. The camera may be doing something illegal but he sure can dance!