Inspired by the hit Manga by Hajime Isayama as well as the hit anime series and franchise spawned by it, the live action feature films Attack On Titan Part 1 and Attack On Titan Part 2 aka Attack On Titan: End Of The World, are abridged adaptations that combine elements of dystopian science fiction, dark fantasy as well as horror and arguably a bit of the Kaiju sub genre that as a kid I found Americans lumped into the overly general label of "monster picture." Regardless of the medium, Japanese artists and filmmakers have proven there is much more cultural resonance to their international media exports than many can imagine. Culture I find is an important concept to keep in mind when watching these films because outside of English subtitles, these are the same feature films that opened in Japan and have become a worldwide hit. The key to understanding some of the artistic choices if not simply accepting them is to realize the audience these films were made for at first was for the huge Japanese fan base. Now I have never read any of the English translations of the Manga nor have I watched the anime series as a whole though I have researched a bit into the manga series online as well as watched clips from the anime on YouTube. Of course I also consulted with friends who know a lot more about this than I do, but I also feel I may have had the advantage of seeing the live action films first because I still had no real media point of reference to compare the live action film version to and thus I entered into this franchise somewhat cold, I found I actually enjoyed both films in the series a lot more that I expected too.
The basic premise involves the sudden appearance of what has been dubbed "Titans." Titans are gigantic humanoid creatures that vary in size that have a seemingly mindless hunger for human flesh and despite their slow movements and odd body language, these creatures are deadly and frightening. I think Mr. Isayama tapped into the same primal fear that George A. Romero tapped into 47 years ago with the release of Night Of The Living Dead, which one can see dates back across the collective conscious of humanity going back thousand of years. The fear of being mercilessly eaten alive by a predatory force from which there is no means of reasoning with. Like the zombies before them, Isayama's Titans appear to operate on pure motorized instinct, motivated by the desire to eat living humans and nothing more since like much like their zombie counterparts, when their is no food to prey upon, the Titans just wander about of simply stand in a dazed state aimlessly. Titans have no genitals so no one knows how the procreate and they regenerate lost body parts and can only killed by slicing away the nape at the back of the neck.
After a Great War, surviving humans built three great walls where they have been able to live in peace for a century. Then the peace is broken when an unprecedented colossal Titan larger than the outer wall breaches it and thus many Titans enter through the breach and massacre the farming communities that existed there. Two years later, young survivors trained to use what the film calls Omini-Directional Maneuver Gear, which allows them to use wires to grapple onto and jump high into the air with swords used to disable and kill the Titans. The design and use of these outfits and weapons are very exciting to behold and the fight sequences between the Titans and the heroes are the best part of both movies.
Where the films fall short is that in trying to tell an epic episodic and complex tale, characters are reduced to types and the secrets revealed in the second feature is piled on and may make viewers unfamiliar with the story a bit confused. Personally I had no problem following what was explained in the second film and in fact in some ways I like it better than the first. I should note that I had the advantage of screening both films back to back and I think seeing both films together or maybe a day or week apart yields a better cinematic storytelling experience for the user. Director Shinji Higuchi does a capable job of trying to get across the gist of the source material in a distilled manner and I am not sure anyone could do any better. The fact the films came off as good as they did and appear to stay true to the spirit of the source is a credit to his professional talent as a cinematic storyteller. Katsura Ondue's effects are mixed, but when one considers how much is beautifully brought to fruition for the live action movies, I do not think the film could have looked better given the resources at hand. Sure there is some bad matte shots and CGI at times that is less than what viewers would expect even from an A-list Japanese import like this, but not once was I unable to accept the shortcomings and suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the action.
There are characters that behave too much like an animated comic relief characters in the film like Sitomi Ishihara's portrayal of Hans, but I enjoyed watching her more than I did Kiko Mizuhara's one expression portrayal of Mikasa, a character who should have been developed far more than she is in the film since she is essentially the lead actress in both Attack On Titan films. Sitoru Matsuo's character of Sannagi appears to be able to flip Titans around and tries to pull down a building and the only explanation for these Herculean labors is "brute strength." Performances that served the film well include Hiroki Hasegawa as Shikishima, Takahiro Miura as Jean and Haruma Miura as Eren. Jun Kunimura and the older adult leads help anchor the film, which at points is necessary lest it become a film aimed only at the young instead of the young at heart.
Attack On Titan Part 1 opened on September 30th on three hundred screens nationwide and earned a spot on the top ten highest grossing films as well as highest average box office per screen against all of the major studio releases. The second film will premiere theatrically in the United States on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 in select theaters. Tickets can be purchased now online at AttackOnTitanMovie.com. Be sure to stick around until after the credits roll for a closing stinger.
(C) Copyright 2015 By Mark A. Rivera
All Rights Reserved.