Hugh David on Guillermo del Toro’s anime influences
This month sees the single greatest example of an American blockbuster film with clear anime influences. Legendary Pictures and Warners’ Pacific Rim comes from writer Travis Beacham and professional fanboy par excellence Guillermo del Toro, and it looks from the trailers to be the sort of big-budget mecha vs. kaiju smackdown that fans have only dreamt of. Yet before the film has been released, as is now par for the course, netizens are crawling out of the woodwork to attack the film, either for not being an actual anime adaptation, or for simply being derivative of their preferred favourites. One has to ask if the original Star Wars with its mix of 1930s serials, World War 2 films and Japanese samurai flicks would have ever achieved such lasting impact if internet-enabled commentators existed then.
But del Toro is not just any director of summer blockbusters. His track record with features big and small show him to be a genuine fan of many media, harnessed to tell the story at hand: be they comics (he was once associated with an unmade adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu), horror, Mexican wrestling, Hong Kong actioners, video games, monster movies of every stripe, and of course, anime. In interviews to publicise Pacific Rim he has talked about the Japanese films he watched on TV and in the cinema growing up in Mexico, including such kaiju classics as Godzilla (1954) and The War of the Gargantuas (1966).
But it is his list of anime and special-effects TV series that is most intriguing, and makes for a fascinating glimpse of the “hidden imports” into Mexico across three decades. It includes the expected Tezuka titles such as Astro Boy (1963), Kimba The White Lion (1965) and Princess Knight (1967), the last two airing in Mexico in 1975; but also Gigantor aka Tetsujin 28 (1963), Ken the Wolf Boy (1963), Paaman (1967), Skyers 5 (1967) and Ogon Bat a.k.a Fantaman (1967), the last two being aired in Mexico in the 1980s. Like many a European or South American anime fan, del Toro was raised on anime in a way few English speakers have been, on shows that sometimes were never bought, translated and dubbed for English language channels, or which had content considered unsuitable for Anglo children. In that sense, he draws on a wider pool of anime influences for his films than many of his online critics, with Fantaman particularly germane to Pacific Rim with its world-threatening kaiju villains.
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The live-action series he cites are equally interesting: again a mix of the expected, such as Ultraman, Ultra Seven and Ultra Q, and titles such as manga adaptation Comet-san or late 1970s hidden import Space Giants. It isn’t all just about Evangelion, Gundam, Transformers or Power Rangers – there were mecha and kaiju before 1990! Ultimately, though, all of these are just influences, and the interest lies not in what nod a fan can spot to this mecha design or that kaiju feature, but instead how del Toro, Beacham, and the united talents of such an immense crew tell the story they have in mind using this rich history that has gone before. Enjoy the nods for what they are: a gift from the fans behind the scenes, to the fans in front of the screens.
Pacific Rim opens tomorrow.