Hugh David on the live-action remake of the anime classic
Right, hands up those of you who have been betting on which 1990s anime would get a Western live-action remake first. Ok, who had Ghost in the Shell
? Cowboy Bebop
? But Yasuomi Umetsu’s notorious sexed-up actioner Kite
(1998) has beaten them all to the screen, starring anime fan Samuel L. Jackson. The tale of a teenage girl assassin brutally wiping out street criminals at the behest of a corrupt cop while pursuing her own vendetta has come into its own, with Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl making the core violence more palatable to modern audiences and Western live-action films borrowing from Japan all year (e.g. Godzilla
, Edge of Tomorrow
The version arriving now is not the one reported several years ago from The Fast and the Furious
director Rob Cohen, but an international co-production written by producer Brian Cox and directed by South African Ralph Ziman, who did the solid 2008 gangster pic Jerusalema
. Sadly, Ziman had to take over from American genre specialist David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane
), who died during the making of it, but the film clearly bears Ziman’s stamp.
South Africa has become a popular location for filming, with Cape Town and its environs often standing in for other locations. However, the anime-influenced SF actioner District 9
helped move the focus to Johannesburg and the Transvaal, where several films have now been shot, including 2000AD
comic adaptation Dredd
. With its history of actual crime and poverty it seems that Joburg is Western cinema’s new vision of near-future urban decay, which is what it serves as here. Between the various accents on display (American, British, South African) the intent is clear: this could be any major city of the future, given the way crime is going.
The anime may be internationally popular, but its most notorious element was never going to make it to a live-action version. Removing the underage erotic component means that Jackson’s cop character has to control our heroine Sawa in a different way, and a future drug that causes memory loss becomes the key to that control. However, the original anime was only an hour long, so the script adds in a new component to make a ninety-minute feature: street gangs that sell children to the criminal underworld, whom Sawa goes after when they take one girl in particular. Now her actions are about much more than just her own concerns.
Ziman keeps things gritty and stylised, with most of the major action scenes from the anime intact e.g. the initial elevator encounter, the mens’ bathroom shoot-out; outdoor action scenes are enhanced with parkour stunts, while the f/x crew give their blood bags a real work-out, staging some gory kills. All in all, the film keeps a big part of what fans of the original were fond of, but adds a kick-ass heroine in U.S. actress India Eisley that should attract a whole new audience in between Kick-Ass
Kite, the movie, is out this month on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay.