Monday, August 3, 2015

Movie Review: Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人) Part 1 - More An Appetiser Than A Main Course

Whether the live action movie adaptation of "Attack on Titan" (進撃の巨人) is worth feasting one's eyes upon would depend on one's palate.

Essentially, "Attack on Titan" is about the remaining clusters of mankind battling to survive against enormous creatures who stampede through the cities' barricades, and whose single purpose is to devour every single human being in sight.

Both the original manga written and illustration by Hajime Isayama, as well as animated series, are hugely popular with anime fans. For such fans, the live action movie may turn out to be a disappointment.

Red Dot Diva understands that there is an almost impossible challenge to adapting the character-rich world of manga and anime into a two-part movie, but in this case, she felt that the key changes made were not entirely to the film's advantage.

Before the movie was released, hardcore "Attack on Titan" fan were already raging over the exclusion of fan favourite and battle-ready Levi Ackerman. The writers have decided to remove Levi from the movie because of a change in setting from European to Japanese, and hence, Levi's name would sound unusual when translated into traditional Japanese. Furthermore, the characterization and dynamics of Eren and Mikasa have also changed, and many backstories seem to have been tossed away for the sake of gore and action.

On the other hand, those who are totally new to the franchise, and are eager to stomach a new kind of horror movie, "Attack on Titan" brings a different and visceral kind of experience.

The world portrayed on the big screen is more grisly monster-kaiju horror than the layered dystopian-fantasy of the manga and anime. Its frenzied pace and nightmarish visuals are filled with enough shock and acts of human cruelty, so that the viewers could always feel the emotional discomfort clawing at the surface.

The best thing from the movie, Red Dot Diva thought, were the Titans themselves. (Those actors behind the Titan suits seem to be enjoying the heck out of their jobs!) There is no denying how terrifying the Titans are in the film, stomping around with their grinning gaping maws, gleefully crunching bones and tearing flesh.

Out of the entire cast, Red Dot Diva found Nanami Sakuraba's Sasha Blouse (aka Potato Girl) to be the closest to her anime counterpart. Her scenes were hilarious - a much needed reprieve from the nearly continuous state of heightened fear during the film.

Despite the shortcomings, Red Dot Diva thinks "Attack on Titan" Part 1 is worth a watch, especially for those who are open to a more concise and scarier retelling of the anime.

There is still a mystery concerning why the Titans do what they do and where they come from. These may be revealed in Part 2. Red Dot Diva also hopes that the main Survey Corps trio - Eren, Mikasa and Armin - will be fleshed out more too, so that there will be more reasons to root for their survival.

Meanwhile, Red Dot Diva is off to munch on some bak kwa. *hunger pangs*


For an alternate view, do check out Vernon's thoughts on "Attack on Titan" Part 1. Vernon is Red Dot Diva's movie-watching companion, and he writes reviews on his own blog, A Persistent Vision.

Pacific Rim was Hollywood's love song to Japan.
Japan now returns the compliment with Attack on Titan.

Behind the imposing walls of the city, the remnants of humanity huddle together against a monstrous, existential threat from without. There, they hope against all hope that their outclassed, under-equipped, and gutsy defenders have what it takes to prevail.

If Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" was a Hollywood tribute to Japanese kaiju films, "Attack on Titan" repays the compliment with interest to the American zombie apocalypse genre.

In "Attack on Titan", the monsters are giant sized, mindless humanoids with a taste for human flesh, and only human flesh. Although the zombie word is never mentioned, what's sufficiently clear is the role these monsters play in the film: they are the mindless invading horde whose threat and appearance inspire paranoia, anxiety, military stupidity, political incompetence, and cold-blooded bureaucracy.

Visually, the titular titans resemble Goya's Saturn devouring his son. Functionally, they take the role of the monsters from the zombie apocalypse flick. But "Attack on Titan" takes the zombie apocalypse genre tribute one step further.

The film's social and political allegory is uniquely and contemporaneously Japanese. The anxiety in the film stems from an ambivalence towards living as individuals and as a society under an enforced peace and pacifism following humanity's loss, the resurgence of a hostile, mindless, and rapacious giant sleeping enemy outside its borders, and the rearmament of society by an assertive batch of leaders.

Director Shinji Higuchi is to be commended for striping the original anime series down to its essentials for this adaptation, and reworking the story to shift its allegiance from action sci-fi to the zombie apocalypse genre. His directorial choices are more than sound: there is a real atmosphere of existential dread and horror in "Attack on Titan" that cannot be done with any other monsters, any other CGI approaches.

Needless to say, we look forward to "Attack on Titan" 2.



Thanks to Encore Films for the invite to the preview screening.

"Attack on Titan" Part 1 opens in local theatres on 13 August.

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