Although anime has still not received the attention and respect it deserves, it continues to strive as a creative medium for Japanese storytellers who are only restricted by the limits of their own limitless imaginations. In retrospect Hollywood’s big blockbuster films, which were full of imagination and awe, have become formulaic, generic and explosion fests.
For some reason, when it comes to adapting Anime, it would seem studios never really take the time to invest in them, even when people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Keanu Reeves, Darren Aronofsky, Steven Spielberg and many others, stand behind them. Watching Elysium and Pacific Rim recently, I was reminded that anime still manages to infiltrate its way onto the big screen. The only problem is that audiences still don’t realize it.
The Little Seeds in Pacific Rim and Elysium
It’s clear to any Gundam fan that there are some ideas in the Elysium that have been borrowed directly from the ongoing 30-year old (1979 – present) franchise. For the uninitiated, the Gundam series is an epic space opera with mecha (giant robots) called Mobile Suits. Starting in 1979 the franchise has become one of the most well known anime series in history.
Mobile Suite Gundam SEED is regarded as one of the best and most popular Gundam Stories around. It is set in a future where mankind has been divided into two subspecies: Naturals, who reside on Earth, and Coordinators, genetically enhanced humans capable of withstanding the rigors of space who inhabit orbital/space colonies.
In Elysium two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium (aka the Coordinators), and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth (aka the Naturals). The idea is certainly there and whilst watching I couldn’t help think how awesome a Gundam film would be, especially SEED since it revolves around a war between the two classes, and not just “the Chosen One”.
Many fans also drew comparisons between the Elysium Plant design to that of Mass Effect (debut in 2007) and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (debut in 1995). However, I have to point out that it is actually based on the Stanford Torus design, which was proposed to NASA during their 1975 Summer Study. Sci-fi writers have been using that design ever since.
Pacific Rim on the other hand has been influenced by every Mecha anime out there – everything from Gundam, Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion (Robots vs. Monsters), to Genesis of Aquarion (3 pilots form a “union” of mind, soul and spirit to pilot the Mecha). Even the monsters in Pacific Rim have been inspired by another Japanese property. Think Godzilla!
With that being said here’s a short list of 5 recognized anime inspired films.
5. MONSTER INC. (2001) VS MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988)
To be honest, Monster Inc. and My Neighbour Totoro don’t share that much in common, except for the fact that they both have a story that centers on large Monster-like creature and its relationship with a young little girl.
Legendary director Hayao Miyazki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 changing the world of animation forever. To date, Studio Ghibli has produced 18 extraordinary imaginative films each one spectacular in terms of art coupled with impeccable storytelling, making them all phenomenal. Pixar and Studio Ghibli share a lot of respect and admiration for each other and have an excellent business working relationship as well.
Inspired by Ghibli’s Totoro, Pixar made and designed their very own Monster and little girl story.
P.S. Totoro has a cameo appearance in Toy Story 3!
4. THE MATRIX (1999) VS GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)
Ghost in the Shell is a classic cyberpunk film that is widely revered by every one who watches it and has influenced many great filmmakers, such as Steven Spielberg (who owns the rights through DreamWorks), James Cameron & Quentin Tarantino to name a few.
When The Wachowskis’ originally came up with the idea of the Matrix, it was hard for them to get the necessary funding for the film since Studio Execs just couldn’t understand it. Producer Joel Silver, who produced the entire Matrix trilogy, stated that The Wachowskis’ showed him Ghost in the Shell and then said, “We want to do that for real!”
There are a great number of similarities between the two properties; the cyberpunk world, the clean intense fight scenes and the “plugs” we see behind the characters heads are just few of the elements inspired by Ghost in the Shell. Even though it has quite a few nods to several other anime, The Matrix is still something uniquely special.
3. INCEPTION (2010) VS PAPRIKA (2006)
Yes, The Dark Knight Trilogy director and Man of Steel producer, Christopher Nolan is not only a fan of anime. Nolan himself has cited Paprika, co-written and directed by the late Satoshi Kon, to be an influence for his Inception.
According to Nolan, Doctor Chiba (aka Paprika), a beautiful doctor and ‘dream detective’ able to enter and manipulate the dreams of her patients, was an inspiration behind Ellen Page’s dream architect Ariadne.
However, it must be noted that these two stories are not similar at all, although they can co-exist in the same reality. In Paprika, it’s almost as if we are seeing the prototype of the apparatus that allows people to “share” dreams, while in Inception we see the finished polished version of the product.
Other similarities include the elevator used to switch between dreams (Paprika) and/or memories (Inception) and a recurring memory the main character can’t seem to face.
Inception and Paprika are two totally different films. Where Inception is intellectual thriller, Paprika is a mind tripping experience, as it weaves in and out of dreams in a remarkable fashion.
2. CHRONICLE (2012) VS AKIRA (1988)
Akira is a cult classic cyberpunk film that has garnered praise and recognition the world over. Chronicle is an excellent sci-fi/action/superhero/found footage type film that has proven to be much more then just a passing fad.
Both these films have a disturbed teenager who gains telekinesis powers, kills one their friends, goes on a bit of rampage before having a showdown in the middle of a city. It really doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see the correlation.
In an interview with i09, Josh Trunk discussed the Akira influence:
“I’m a huge fan of all things Akira”, Josh Trunk said when asked if Akira had an influence on Chronicle. “It’s definitely a big influence on the movie. I thought that in this film there’s a great context for movie homages. But without being too blatant about it. Implementing those influences gracefully and respectfully, without doing a rip-off or playing out the same idea out completely.”
Which he managed to do. Many people call Chronicle, the American rebooted Akira. But it certainly isn’t. While the film is certainly influenced by it, it still manages to stand on its own.
When Trunk was asked if the scene between Andrew and the police was intentionally made to feel like Tetsuo’s rampage through Neo Tokyo, he responded by saying, “Yeah. Absolutely. It’s funny because if you had telekinesis and you were going on a rampage, that’s just what would happen. If this was a real event, everyone would say, “that kid just went Akira on everyone.”
Dane DeHaan who plays Andrew in Chronicle was asked about the similarity between Tetsuo, the main character in Akira and Andrew, where he stated, “I think that Tetsuo is a bad-ass twenty something motorcycle-riding junkie. And I think that Andrew is an introverted teenager with no friends.”
So while there are many similarities between the two films, their differences are just as vast. Although both films are a teenage coming of age story of sorts, each film tackles its own themes and issues, making them both extremely unique yet similar all at the same time.
1. BLACK SWAN (2010) VS PERFECT BLUE (1997)
Badass Digest writer, Meredith Borders, best described the stories of both Perfect Blue and Black Swan, saying:
“Perfect Blue is a chilling psycho-thriller about Mima, a young (pop) star who embraces the darkness within her in order to achieve her dream (becoming an actress), willing to alienate everyone who cares about her to do so. Mima has an overbearing but loving maternal figure (her manager, Rumi) that doesn’t approve of her new shady career choices. An unknown outsider who begins to destroy Mima’s already tenuous grasp on reality emotionally torments her. Mima is soon haunted by a doppelganger that represents both her mental anguish and the duality of her soul.
And as you know, Black Swan is a chilling psycho-thriller about Nina, a young (ballet) star who embraces the darkness within her in order to achieve her dream (becoming the lead player in Swan Lake) willing to alienate everyone who cares about her to do so. Nina has an overbearing but loving mom who disapproves. Emotional torment (Check), tenuous grasp on reality (Check), and a doppelganger who represents both her mental anguish and the duality of her soul (Double Check).”
When Darren Aronofsky was asked if Black Swan was influenced by Perfect Blue, he responded by saying, “Not really, there are similarities between the films, but it wasn’t influenced by it. It really came out of Swan Lake the Ballet. We wanted to dramatize the ballet, that’s why it’s kind of up here and down there, because ballet is big and small in lots of ways.”
Here’s the thing, the story of the Black Swan is really the realization of the Ballet Swan Lake, however, the template Aronofsky used to tell that story is derivative of Perfect Blue. Aronofsky himself has been quite vocal about his admiration for the film, and even bought the rights to Perfect Blue, back in 2000. This allowed him to use one particular scene from Perfect Blue shot for shot in Requiem for a Dream. Since then Aronofsky tried but failed in getting a live action version of Perfect Blue made.
So when the script of Black Swan landed on his lap, whether it was consciously or subconsciously, Aronofsky figured out the best way to tell the story of Black Swan would be to do it in the same fashion as Perfect Blue. Kind of like how the lead characters name in Perfect Blue is Mima, and Black Swan its Nina, they basically just took the next letter in the alphabet.
I am not about to enumerate the similarities between these two films, as there are too many to consider. Perfect Blue is actually the second film on this list to come from the late film pioneer Satoshi Kon, who died in 2010. At only 46, Kon’s films have inspired many anime and Hollywood filmmakers as he was best known for his detailed character artwork and style that is both realistic and dark.
It was after he died when Christopher Nolan publicly stated his admiration and respect for Satoshi Kon. On the other hand, anime fans feel a certain level of indignation towards Darren Aronofsky as he continues to sell Black Swan as his brainchild.
Whatever the case maybe, Anime has certainly played a role in some of the best films that have grabbed our attention recently. With blockbusters running out of ideas and the influx of superhero films, Hollywood might look to another source material for inspiration – anime.
If you haven’t watched any of these films, I suggest you do. If you fan of Inception make sure you catch Paprika. If you loved Black Swan, you will love Perfect Blue. If you loved the Matrix, you will love the Ghost in the Shell film and the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. In other words if you love film and good stories you will love anime.