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J.J. Abrams and Paramount Developing Live-Action Your Name. Dare I Be Hopeful?

The beautiful anime film Your Name was a huge hit earlier this year, becoming the highest-grossing anime film of all time when it stayed Number One at the Japanese box office for 12 weeks and made $303 million before coming to the United States. I raved about it when I saw it, and it remains one of my favorite film experiences of the year. That film is now getting the live-action treatment.

J.J. Abrams, along with Bad Robot’s Head of Film, Lindsey Weber, and Paramount Pictures are teaming up with Genki Kawamura of Japan-based Toho Co., Ltd., producer on the original film, to adapt Your Name into a live-action version. Taking on the scripting duties will be Eric Heisserer, who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Arrival.

It seems that the Japanese producers are thrilled with the deal, and are optimistic about what has already come out initial story meetings. As reported by Variety, Yoshishige Shimatani, CEO of Toho Co. said, “We are excited to collaborate with an extremely talented team in Hollywood, and to create with them a live-action version of the iconic Japanese film ‘Your Name.’”

Meanwhile, Kawamura said that, “Just like in the film it feels like a dream. Mr. Abrams and his team have captivated audiences in their masterful reinvention of known properties. And Mitsuha and Taki have found a perfect narrator, Mr. Heisserer, to tell their sci-fi infused love story, which gave the film such drive. The meetings so far have been creatively stimulating with fantastic ideas that no doubt will make for a great movie. I am greatly honored to work with these incredible creators in bringing to audiences the Hollywood live-action version of ‘Your Name.’”

The story of Your Name feels exactly like the kind of thing that would be right up Abrams’ alley, so when I heard this news, I was excited, but not surprised. Genre-bending story? Check. Nostalgic, dreamy feel? Check-check. And bonus points for being about young people in extraordinary situations (like Alias, Revolution, Super8, The Force Awakens…). Check-check-check.

That said, I definitely had the reflex reaction I have whenever I hear about any American anime adaptation: uh-oh.

I’m glad that the producers of the original film are working on this so closely and seem so happy about its direction so far. Then again, Ghost in the Shell also had the anime’s original producers on board. There’s no word yet on whether the adaptation will still be set in Japan, or whether this American version will take place in a U.S. city. I think it could work either way.

However, I think that whatever direction they take the story, they need to be extremely thoughtful about issues of representation, both in front of and behind the camera. Not just to do with culture, but also with issues of gender and sexuality. Whether it takes place in Japan or in the States, I think it’s critical that the film have a primarily Japanese or Japanese-American cast.

I hope that, as Heisserer works on his script, that he pays close attention to how he handles the issues of gender and sexuality inherent in the story, perhaps using this adaptation as an opportunity to course correct on the slight gender essentialism of the original film, as well as not just completely dropping the fact that Mitsuha eventually wants to go on a date with Taki’s crush herself. And I hope they don’t cut that part of the story for “simplicity,” when that was one of the things that made the original so fascinating, even if it was mishandled.

No director has been named yet, but again, I think a Japanese or Japanese-American director who understands the subtleties of anime (and of the impact of Japanese culture on anime) would go a long way in making a live-action version successful. At the very least, it would provide the film with a unique lens. A female director would make a lot of sense here as well, as the film is as close to a gender-balanced story as we’ve seen in film, and we already have a male voice on the script.

Hey, Bad Robot: she isn’t Japanese, but might I suggest Yulin Kuang? Honestly, the second I thought about this film as a live-action genre love story, I thought of Kuang. Her style would suit this story so well. She’s young, but already very accomplished, and the youthful exhuberance of her work could be exactly what this story needs.

Lastly, casting. If this cast isn’t majority-Japanese, or at the very least majority-Asian, I would be hugely disappointed. There is too much damn whitewashing of Asians in Hollywood. Let’s remember that, even if the story takes place in the U.S….there are totally Asians here! This story can be American and have an Asian cast! I know this might come as a shock to some, but “American” doesn’t automatically mean “white.”

Abrams and Bad Robot as a company seem to be doing a lot to prioritize inclusion in a way that other production companies have not. In the past couple of years they have taken on female directors and creators as well as directors and creators of color across their entire slate of projects. While their storytelling sometimes falls into some gender-related traps, the creative team at Bad Robot seems to learn from their mistakes in a way that shouldn’t be rare or celebrated, but needs to be, because so few companies seem to engage in similar introspection.

My hope is that in their partnership with Paramount that they’ll be able to give Your Name the adaptation it deserves, without throwing Asians, women, or the LGBTQIA community under the bus.

(image: Toho Co.)

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