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Pikachu, Kitty, Gundam and Mario conquer Hollywood

The Asahi Shimbun AJW logo The Asahi Shimbun AJW 6 days ago THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Detective Pikachu must be dancing a jig of joy in Ryme City following his Hollywood screen debut and successful opening weekend at the box office.

It is yet another sign that the global popularity of Japanese anime, manga and video games has reached a new level as Tinseltown woos Pikachu, Kitty and Mario to make blockbuster movies instead of using big-name actors.

Ryan Reynolds, who voiced the adorable character in “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” that opened May 10 in the United States and on May 3 in Japan, was ecstatic, raving that his daughters, aged 2 and 4, are obsessed with the Pokemon universe.

His wife, actress Blake Lively, was also hooked with Pokemon in high school, Reynolds revealed in an interview given during his visit to Japan to promote the movie.

Reynolds said Pikachu is so much more than a Japanese character because he has international appeal.

The movie is a live-action work combined with computer animation, based on the wildly popular computer game series created by Nintendo Co.

The film is a fast-paced adventure story in the neon-lit streets of Ryme City, where humans and Pokemon characters coexist. Justice Smith plays the 21-year-old Ted.

Ken Watanabe, a Japanese actor best known overseas for his role in “The Last Samurai,” plays a lieutenant.

The movie was produced by Legendary Pictures, a film production division of Legendary Entertainment, which produced the Hollywood version of “Godzilla.”

Pikachu is hardly alone in the pool of Hollywood’s current “it” Japanese fictional characters.

Oscar-winning director James Cameron of “Titanic” fame loved the Japanese sci-fi manga series “Gunnm” so much that he produced a movie based on it, “Alita: Battle Angel,” released in February.

“Sonic the Hedgehog,” featuring a well-known character from a video game series created by Sega Holdings Co., will hit theaters in November.

Soon-to-be-released movies featuring game characters include “Monster Hunter” (2020) and “Super Mario” (2022).

Marc Webb has been named to direct a Hollywood live-action adaptation of a blockbuster anime “Your Name.”

“Attack on Titan” (Shingeki no Kyojin), “Mobile Suit Gundam” and none other than “Hello Kitty” are all lined up for their Hollywood screen debut in the near future.

Tetsu Fujimura, who promotes Japanese films overseas, said he had witnessed “a sea change” in Hollywood business trends in the past few years.

His international film business consulting company, Filosophia Inc., recently received an inquiry about a minor film from outside of Japan and a consultation request from Japanese company that said, “We got an e-mail from Hollywood out of blue and have no idea what to do with it.”

“Hollywood has gradually shaken itself free from its traditional approach of attaching too much importance to white people and America-centric ways of thinking,” said Fujimura, who served as executive producer of “Ghost in the Shell,” a Hollywood adaptation of the Japanese manga and anime series “Kokaku Kidotai.”

Fujimura cited the “#OscarsSoWhite campaign” that criticized the 2016 Academy Awards, where all the nominees in major acting categories were Caucasians, as an example of such changes. The box-office success of the all-Asian cast movie “Crazy Rich Asians” also reflected that trend, Fujimura said.

Yoshifumi Hosoya, who has produced independent films based in the United States, offered another perspective: generational change.

“The generation that grew up watching Japanese anime such as 'Dragon Ball' have now become parents,” Hosoya said. “People enjoy Japanese productions as a family in the same way they enjoy American comic books and Disney movies.”

Fujimura and Hosoya also credited the rise of the movie market in Asia led by China, something they said Hollywood could not ignore as it put more emphasis on box office performances outside North America.

The result was increased interest in Japanese works, particularly those that are well known across Asia.

Literary critic Naoya Fujita noted that people's tastes have changed and become more diverse, making it difficult to produce blockbuster entertainment.

"Industries tend to recycle past successful content because of such change," he added. "Advanced computer graphics technology have also made movie-making easier."

Japanese creators of anime and game characters have been quick to ride the new business opportunities.

Nintendo heavily invested in the production of the "Super Mario" anime movie that will be released in 2022.

"This is the first time for the company to get involved in movie production on a grand scale," said a company official.

For firms like Nintendo, it is sound business strategy to familiarize audiences with fictional characters outside the world of games.

(By YUSUKE KATO/ Staff Writer)

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