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"Cool Japan" Takes Hollywood by Storm

Japanese Manga, Anime, and Games Become Hit Movies


Dragonball Evolution (Special Edition). DVD on sale now. ¥3,990 inc. tax. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC.
(C)2009 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved.

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Hollywood is the latest place to experience the worldwide boom in Japanese pop culture. Studio executives in America's movie-making capital cannot get enough of the manga, anime, and video games for which "Cool Japan" is famous. Astro Boy, Dragonball, Evangelion, Gatchaman, Onimusha . . . These are just a few of the Japanese comics, cartoons, and games that are being made into live-action or computer-animated movies by US and international film makers.

A Global Phenomenon The Dragonball multimedia franchise began in the 1980s as a manga by Toriyama Akira. It has since been adapted into three mega-hit anime series, numerous video games, a trading card game, and now a Hollywood-made live-action movie. The hero of Dragonball is Son Goku, a boy who is on a quest to find magic orbs ("Dragon Balls") that can grant wishes; above all, Goku is determined to prevent the balls from falling into the hands of the villains who want to take over the world. The action-packed movie, titled Dragonball Evolution, opened in Japan in March 2009 and hit screens in the United States and many other countries in April.



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Street Fighter IV. (C)CAPCOM U.S.A., INC. 2008, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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The late Tezuka Osamu is considered by many to be the "father of manga and anime." His most famous creation, Astro Boy, is a young robot who first appeared in a manga in 1952. In October 2009, audiences all over the world will get the chance to see a computer-animated feature film of the Astro Boy story, in which the hero - created by a brilliant scientist in the image of his dead son - experiences adventures as he battles evil forces and seeks acceptance from his creator. The English voices for the film's characters are provided by an all-star cast including Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, and Donald Sutherland.

The Transformers range of robot toys that can be "transformed" into vehicles and other forms, along with comics and cartoons following their adventures, have been a perennial favorite of children, especially boys, in many countries since the 1980s. These toys were originally created in Japan, and the latest addition to the hugely successful franchise is a series of live-action movies. The first film, Transformers, has grossed over $700 million worldwide since its 2007 release, and the second, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is sure to enjoy similar success when it hits screens in June 2009.

Another Hollywood smash hit, 2008's Speed Racer, was based on the Japanese manga and anime series Mach Go Go Go, which was originally created in the late 1960s by manga artist Yoshida Tatsuo. It tells the story of a young man named Speed Racer (or Mifune Go in the original Japanese) as he pursues his dream of becoming a motor-racing champion.

The wave of "Cool Japan"-inspired movies is set to continue. Two of the most highly anticipated anime adaptations are Gatchaman and Neon Genesis Evangelion, both of which are at the development stage. Gatchaman, a 1970s TV anime set in space, achieved popularity in the English-speaking world in the 1980s as Battle of the Planets. Neon Genesis Evangelion, meanwhile, is the story of battles between giant machines (Evangelions) piloted by teenagers and monstrous beings called Angels. The involvement in the Evangelion project of Weta Workshop, the New Zealand visual effects company famed for its work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is an indication of the story's blockbuster potential.

Video Games on the Silver Screen In addition to manga and anime, Japanese video games have also been providing movie makers with ideas. Perhaps the best known example is the Resident Evil (known in Japan as Biohazard) series of science-fiction horror games, whose three movie adaptations have together grossed over $370 million worldwide. Meanwhile, the long-running Street Fighter video game series, which has been entertaining gamers since 1987, was recently adapted into Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, an English-language martial-arts action film directed by Polish cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak and starring Canadian actress Kristin Kreuk.

Onimusha, another movie based on a Japanese game series, blends real characters from Japanese history with mythical elements like demons and dragons. This action-adventure, scheduled for release in the autumn of 2009, is set to feature a truly international cast, headed by Japanese actor Kaneshiro Takeshi, who also provided the voice and the physical model for the hero of the games, Akechi Samanosuke.

Adapting Japanese pop culture into English-language movies is a win-win arrangement. Movie studios gain access to the vivid imaginations of Japanese manga, anime, and game artists, while the creators of the original works gain new fans, some of whom are sure to be inspired to check out the works in their original forms. (July 2009)

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