How to make a Successful Live Action Naruto Movie
How to make a successful Live Action Naruto Movie
In 2015, we first heard the news of a live action Naruto movie (Hughes, 2015). Following that, we heard little about the idea until recently, when Masashi Kishimoto announced in an interview that he would be “involved” in some way with the movie (Peters, 2016) Fans are, of course, apprehensive about this project. It is just difficult for us to imagine that this movie could turn out good. There are few, if any, examples of Hollywood creating a good live action anime adaptation. More specifically, fans will compare this project to the films Dragonball: Evolution (14% on Rotten Tomatoes, 45 on metacritic) and The Last Airbender (6% on Rotten Tomatoes, 20 on metacritic. Not technically an anime, but similar in essentials), which were panned by fans and critics alike. The fact that it is being directed by a relatively unknown director named Michael Gracey (Peters, 2016) does not inspire much confidence.
I believe that a live action adaptation of Naruto has the potential to be good, as long as it is done correctly. For this movie to work, the writers and directors need to understand what parts of the story are essential, and which parts can be taken away. There needs to be an understanding of Naruto’s story and characters. Furthermore, there needs to be a successful translation between the media of animation and live-action. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a desire to make this a well-respected and entertaining movie instead of a slipshod, generic action film which uses a popular title to make money.
Those who do not understand Naruto (such as haters of the manga/anime, as well as the writers of the many filler episodes and movies) will say that Naruto is a mindless action story where teenage protagonists use their magical powers to beat up bad guys. Those of us who actually do appreciate the anime and manga know it to be much more. Naruto is a story that relies heavily of its characters to work. The varied main characters and side characters all have their unique designs, motivations, and development, all of which are essential to the story. What is essential to understand is the relationships that the characters share with each other (i.e. the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke, the rift between Hinata and Neji etc.) are the driving force of the story. Even the fight scenes are deeply rooted in the characters. One of the best examples of this is the fight between Gaara and Rock Lee, which is actually a battle between their conflicting ideologies of hard work vs effortless talent. If these aspects of the characters are not a major part of the adaptation, then it is guaranteed to fail.
As a shounen action anime, the fight scenes in Naruto play a big part. It is essential to understand that they are not the most important part of the story, but still play a big role in shaping it. I already discussed how the characters involved in the fight scenes are the one of the key parts. Another vital idea to understand is how the fight scenes in Naruto are structured. The combatants analyze each other’s powers and skills and come up with a strategy accordingly. The winner is not always the most powerful, but often the cleverest, the sneakiest, or the most creative. This type of fighting is rarely seen in live action fights, which are usually fast paced and simple. However, if Naruto is to be successfully translated into live action, then the strategic, creative type of fighting must be utilized.
The themes of Naruto are also a key aspect of the story. These themes are important because any movie must have a “purpose” to story, or else it is merely a sequence of meaningless events. Naruto explores many themes. A major one is the idea that hard work (such as done by Naruto and Rock Lee) will beat natural talent if those born with talent do not work hard. Another similar key idea is the conflict between existentialism and fatalism. Characters such as Naruto, Sasuke, Neji, and Obito are seemingly trapped in a preordained fate, and are involved in the struggle of whether it is possible to control one’s own destiny. Furthermore, the idea of passing knowledge and responsibility to the next generation is seen throughout the story.
The translation between animation and live action is always difficult, not just for anime but for all animation. The creators of this movie will be faced with a difficult choice for every decision they make: should the movie try to look for realistic or more like the anime? I personally believe that since this movie is live action, it should be realistic whenever possible. Of course, it should stylistically be based on the anime, but if the movie looks overly cartoonish then no one will take it seriously. Naruto should have normal looking blond hair instead of overly spikey, bright yellow hair. Kakashi should not have white hair sticking straight up. The fight scenes must be carefully choreographed to be based on the style of the anime but still look good in live action. CGI should not be overused, as too much CGI makes like action movies look like cartoons.
I understand that there is no perfect formula for adapting an anime into a live action movie. However, I am merely asking for a certain amount of effort to be put in, as well as for there to be an understanding of what makes the anime and manga work. Hollywood has a great opportunity to make a respectable, entertaining adaptation that will make fans proud. They also have the potential to make fans cringe in shame at the mention of the film. We can only hope that the creators of the move, along with Masashi Kishimoto, will put there all into making a great movie.
Hughes, William. “Lionsgate is making a Live Action Naruto Movie”. Newswire. July 31, 2015.
Peters, Megan. “Naruto Live-Action Hollywood Film Confirmed, Creator Involved With Project”. “Comicbook.com. December 17, 2016.