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Pacific Rim reflections

Monday 11th November 2013

Andrew Osmond considers a good rimming

 Pacific Rim

As Pacific Rim hits UK homes in Blu-ray, DVD and UltraViolet formats, let’s look back at Guillermo del Toro’s movie monument to mecha-v-monsters. (Spoiler alert: we’ll be talking about some plot details, though not the ending.) Pacific Rim has gone through some surprise twists, involving box-office rather than kaiju. You may have heard it was one of the summer’s blockbuster flops. Actually, it underperformed in America but it made a mint of money elsewhere. Its world gross was $400 million, though you need to set that against a budget approaching $200 million.

Ah, we hear you say wisely, it must have been Japan that saved the film’s bacon. No, it was China. In Japan, the film fared disappointingly, trounced by zombie flesh-eaters on one side (World War Z) and Miyazaki airplanes on the other (The Wind Rises). In China, though, Pacific Rim topped cinema charts and earned more than $100 million. That’s a quarter of its world take!

And to think that Pacific Rim seemed to have ‘Japanese market’ written all over it. Not only was the film steeped in the traditions of Japan’s movie monsters and mecha, but it had a Japanese heroine, the lionhearted Jaeger girl pilot Mako, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Before Rim, Kikuchi was known for playing the troubled deaf teenager in Babel, but the actress has anime connections too. She voiced the imperious base commander in Mamoru Oshii’s The Sky Crawlers and appeared in a lesser-known live-action Oshii film, 2009’s Assault Girls. She’s not the only familiar Japanese face. The little girl Mako who appears in a terrifying flashback is nine year-old Mana Ashida; her credits include the adopted waif in the live-action Bunny Drop film and the child victim in the shocking Confessions.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim also enjoyed Japanese endorsements by some of the biggest names who’d helped inspire the film. Go Nagai, arguably the creator of the mecha anime genre, said he was “overwhelmed” by the monsters v robot battles. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Evangelion’s character designer, described the film as a huge feast. Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear game franchise, went further. He called Pacific Rim “the ultimate otaku film that all of us had always been waiting for. Who are you, if you are Japanese and won't watch this?”

But as Japanese film pundit Mark Schilling pointed out in his measured report, neither pro testimonials nor local actors had the clout of, say, Brad Pitt (the star of World War Z, who travelled to Japan to promote his film). Schilling also noted that Japanese monster movies may be beloved by fans, but they’re greatly diminished from their glory days. Even a decade ago, when Godzilla died “for good” in Godzilla: Final Wars, the kaiju films were playing to a niche market. In that context, let’s give a shout-out to the forthcoming Attack on Titan anime, based on a popular manga where humans fight man-eating giants. A neo-kaiju epic, Titan might revive the genre in Japan where Pacific Rim failed.

As of writing, we don’t know what the extras will be on the Pacific Rim U.K. home edition. However, it would be fascinating if the Japanese dub was included. The hero, Raleigh Beckett, was voiced by Tomokazu Sugita, best-known to anime fans as Kyon in the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Sugita was also hapless Hideki in Chobits and the policeman protagonist in the current TV anime, Samurai Flamenco. Idris Elba’s granite-solid Jaeger commander was voiced in Japan by Tessho Genda, formerly the dreaded Violence Jack, Spy D in the Project A-Ko film and Transformers’ Optimus Prime in cartoons and Michael Bay’s juggernauts.

The really odd thing, though, is that Rinko Kikuchi was also dubbed in Japan, giving us a Japanese actress dubbed by another Japanese actress! In fact, the Mako character was dubbed by the queen of anime actresses, Megumi Hayashibara, who’s voiced everyone from Evangelion’s Rei to Ranma of Ranma 1/2. Presumably Kikuchi was too busy on the whirlwind interview circuit to dub her character herself, or too exhausted.

It’s worth reflecting on Mako’s character arc, and its contrast with kaiju films of yore. Pacific Rim has an on-screen dedication to two monster pioneers: Ray Harryhausen, who needs no introduction, and Ishiro Honda, who directed the dead-serious original Godzilla in 1954. In that film, there’s a scene when Tokyo is burning from the monster’s attack and a mother and her children are trapped by the flames. The mother tells her kids, “We’ll be joining Daddy soon.” Think about it a moment. It’s a very barbed line, considering when the film was made. Daddy, we can presume, was one of the millions of Japanese soldiers who fell to the Allied Forces in World War II, whose carnage is recreated by Godzilla.

Now consider what we learn about Mako in Pacific Rim. When she was little, her Japanese city was destroyed by a kaiju. Her family was killed, but she was saved from the terrible monster by a British giant-robot-piloting soldier (the Idris Elba character), who then raises her as his own daughter. As an adult, Mako ends up falling for the younger American hero. If Mako 'represents' Japan, you could see her arc as a Hollywood counter-fantasy of postwar history, where the West liberates Japan from its oriental barbarism. Okay, it’s hard to believe del Toro had that in mind, especially as he’s described Pacific Rim as an “airy and light” antidote to Chris Nolan-style broodbusters. But remember that del Toro also made Pan’s Labyrinth, which centred on a baby who must grow up innocent of his country’s sins…

In fact, Mako has provoked fan discussions of a very different kind. They’re about her significance as an Asian woman in a Hollywood blockbuster, and her hero’s journey to avenge her family, even over the orders of her adopted dad. There’s some argument over how progressive Mako is, but also enthusiasm over how much she gets right. Some fans even claim that Mako expands the definition of an “empowered” heroine. For a very interesting discussion of the subject, see here.

Whether Mako will influence other heroines, or if Pacific Rim will have a wider influence or a sequel – remains to be seen. (It’s already prompted a cartoon parody and at least one Z-grade rip-off.) A sequel may depend on how well Pacific Rim does on home formats; the Jaegers’ biggest battle could be to come.

But let’s hope that the film also gets return visits to the cinema. We want to see del Toro’s skyscraper creations at full size! If there’s a film designed to be rolled round the eyeballs on the biggest screen possible, it’s Pacific Rim. It’s a film for anyone who looked curiously at those cheesy-yet-awesome “suitmation” Japanese titans of the 1960s and 1970s. We’d see them duking it out in photos in horror film books, or in graveyard slots on late-night TV. If you wondered what these god-monsters would look like “for real,” then Pacific Rim is a dream come true.

Pacific Rim is in UK video stores.


Akira (the Collector\'s Edition) Triple Play Edition (incl. Blu-ray, Dvd, Digital Copy)

was £29.99
Iconic and game-changing, Akira is the definitive anime masterpiece! Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of Japanese animation and forced the world to look into the future. Akira’s arrival shattered traditional thinking, creating space for movies like The Matrix to be dreamed into brutal reality.

Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is being rebuilt post World War III when two high school drop outs, Kaneda and Tetsuo stumble across a secret government project to develop a new weapon - telekinetic humans. After Tetsuo is captured by the military and experimented on, he gains psychic abilities and learns about the existence of the project's most powerful subject, Akira. Both dangerous and destructive, Kaneda must take it upon himself to stop both Tetsuo and Akira before things get out of control and the city is destroyed once again. 
AKIRA The Collector’s Edition features both the original 1988 Streamline English dub and the 2001

Pioneer/Animaze English dub!



Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.

Akira's Ancestors

Andrew Osmond on the unexpected forerunners of Neo-Tokyo
In Akira’s opening moments, a sphere of white light appears from nowhere in the centre of Tokyo, and swells to obliterate the city. Many Western critics saw the image as a symbol of the Bomb, like the earlier Japanese pop-culture icon, Godzilla. But the designer apocalypse could be taken as Akira’s own mission statement – to be a new kind of entertainment, blowing away its peers and reshaping the cinema landscape.

The Impact of Akira

Andrew Osmond reviews the reviews from 20 years ago.
On its explosive arrival in the West, Akira crossed the Pacific to catch the generation that grew up on the films of Spielberg and Lucas; it was also the generation that read adult superhero strips such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Akira, though, offered the shock-and-awe widescreen violence akin to that of enfant terrible live-action director, Paul Verhoeven. For example, both Akira and Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) have a gory money-shot scene in their early minutes, in which a luckless bit-part player is graphically torn apart by a hail of bullets. Unsurprisingly, such imagery excited reviewers.

Akira 25th Anniversary Screenings

Your chance to see it in the cinema in the UK
Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. Katsuhiro Otomo’s debut animated feature AKIRA had its Japanese premiere on 16th July 1988. We are very proud to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of what is undoubtedly, one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time. Voted by Empire readers as one of the top 100 best films ever and cited by everyone from James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Daft Punk and Kanye West as a massive influence on their work, AKIRA kick-started the anime business all over the world, opening the doors for everything from Pokémon to Princess Mononoke.

The Art of Akira

Joe Peacock tracks down the original images from the anime classic
Watching Akira for the first time provokes a universal reaction of awe. And justifiably so: there’s often an overwhelming sense among audiences that this animated film is unlike any other they’ve ever seen. Casual viewers won’t be able to put their finger on it; they just know that Akira is visually striking. Art and illustration aficionados appreciate the intricacy of individual scenes, sometimes pausing the film to appreciate the detail in a particular frame.

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.


Jordan and Fray pick their favourite new shows from the autumn anime season, what are yours?

The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition

Jasper Sharp reviews the biggest anime book in the world
The ever-expanding volume of anime released in Japan, which includes theatrical one-offs, TV serials and videos, is truly mindboggling, and the authors have really done an amazing job in cataloguing titles emerging on new media platforms such as the internet and mobile phones.

Fam, the Silver Wing 2

Andrew Osmond finds Emperor Hirohito in Japanese animation
The Sara storyline in Fam the Silver Wing seems to echo a view – many would say a myth – of Hirohito, encouraged not just by the Japanese but also by the victorious Americans when they rebuilt the country. Namely, it was the story that Hirohito was a helpless figurehead, at the mercy of his warmongering government.
With the release of Danganronpa: The Animation just under a week away, we thought we'd share with you our trip to last year's Danganronpa event in Ikebukuro.

Giovanni's Island

Jonathan Clements on this season’s classy anime feature
Ever willing to poke around in the interstices of history for children’s stories of the war, the Japanese animation industry alights here on the true story of Hiroshi Tokuno, on whose life story this film is partly based.
Love Kyoto Animation as much as we do? Then here’s a title you’ll want for your collection.
Grab your straw hats and weigh anchor - we’re setting sail for a One Piecesummer!
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