Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka. Promotional artwork from 1963.
And so yet another Americanized 3D version of an old animation classic crashes upon us. This week Imagi Studio’s version of “Astro Boy,” the superhero story that originated as a manga in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka, sees its worldwide release. And with the release of the movie, a huge marketing carousel filled with toys, books and video games starts spinning as well. It raises some questions on how to actually best do our old classics justice.
Originally, Astro Boy was a Japanese manga series first published in 1952 and later an anime television program that began broadcasting in Japan in 1963. The story follows the adventures of a fictional robot named Astro Boy and a selection of other characters along the way. Creator Dr. Osamu Tezuka (1928 – 1989) was a Japanese manga artist, animator, producer and medical doctor. He is often credited as the “Godfather of Anime”, or the “God of Manga”.
The Japanese title was in fact “Tetsuwan Atomu”, literally meaning “Mighty Atom”, but for the English version, it got changed into Astro Boy, a name considered more suitable for a children’s program for American TV. It was was the first Japanese television series that embodied the aesthetic that later became familiar worldwide as anime, and it was also the first anime to be broadcast outside Japan. The manga was not translated into English until the 2000´s.
After enjoying success abroad, Astro Boy was remade in the 1980s as Shin Tetsuwan Atomu, known as Astroboy in the United States and other Western countries. It went through yet another remake in 2003.
And now it has apparently become time for Astro Boy to become three dimensional. This latest version, which premieres this week, was produced by Imagi Animation Studios, the same animation production company that created the 2007 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The plot, as described on Wikipedia:
An origin story set in futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is about a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist, Dr. Tenma, in the image of the son he had lost. Unable to fulfill the grieving man’s expectations, our hero embarks on a journey in search of acceptance, becoming part of a group of rowdy kids led by a girl named Cora, experiencing betrayal, and a netherworld of robot gladiators led by the greedy ring master, Ham Egg…
It was directed by David Bowers, with Freddie Highmore providing the voice for the character of Astro Boy in the movie (you may remember him from Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, August Rush and The Spiderwick Chronicles). The film also features the voices of Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and Nicolas Cage.
As much as it’s terrific that an old cult production can get revived to greet a new audience, one might also wonder if there isn’t also something quite sad in the way these old classics tends to get treated once sucked into the mainstream movie industry. When looking at the trailer it seems obvious that once again we will see an animated blockbuster based on the same format, the same jokes and the same predictable Hollywood storytelling that way too often gets free rein these days.
There is something almost repulsive in hearing Japanese manga figures speaking with a thick American accent, and just reading about the movie´s “Dubbing into Japanese”, feels like a knife in the heart. And, why in god´s name have they brushed off Astro´s beautiful long eye lashes? To make him less androgynous and sweet – to turn him into a norm fitting masculine stereotype? Makes one wonder, where in all this did the original Astro Boy vanish?
The consumer aspect of the whole thing doesn’t make things any sweeter. Around the release of this new Astro Boy, we will see Astro Boy: The Video Game, as well as toys, comic book and graphic novel titles inspired by the film (!?)… Some of the quotes from the Imagi Studios announcement for Astro Boy licencing deals is, from a cinematic point of view, quite disturbing:
Tom Tardio, from the marketing agency Rogers & Cowan CEO, said:
We are thrilled to be working with Imagi Studios on this high-profile project. The family-friendly appeal of the Astro Boy film positions the franchise as a perfect promotional partner for consumer brands seeking to reach kids of all ages and their parents.
It’s not like Astro Boy and its adaptation or its marketing carousel is a new phenomenon, or even specifically bad… But maybe it just gives us a good opportunity to raise the question: how should we best treasure our original cult classics? And when can a movie just be left as a movie, as an artwork in itself, and not as a profit opportunity?
Info about where and when you can see Astro Boy.
Check out what other movies are showing in Shanghai this coming week after the jump. Links lead to info about times and venues.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE MOVIES
The Taking of Pelham 123 (地铁惊魂): Tony Scott directs this remake of the original Palomar Production/Walter Matthau-starring thriller from 1974 with this Columbia Pictures production that pits Denzel Washington and John Turtorro against a group of hijackers, lead by John Travolta, who take over a subway train in order to rake in a hefty ransom. David Koepp (War of the Worlds) is adapting the book by author John Godey.
Rouge Crocodile (逃亡鳄鱼岛): Pete is an American travel writer on assignment in the Australian outback. While taking a river cruise he finds himself stuck with a collection of interesting characters, including Kate, the local tour guide. When their boat is rammed by something from below, the tour is thrown into disarray and they become stranded on a tiny mud island. As night falls and the tide starts to rise, the group slowly realise they are being stalked by a huge saltwater crocodile, beginning a terrifying struggle for survival in one of the most remote places in the world.
Penelope (真爱之吻): Grab your nose for this Hollywood rom-com. James McAvoy teams up with Christina Ricci to unveil a modern day fairytale. Penelope is born with a pig’s snout due to a witch’s curse. To break the curse, she must find true love and realize life’s most important life lesson: “to like herself the way she is.” In Mandarin or English depending on the cinema.
CHINESE LANGUAGE MOVIES
Qiu Xi (秋喜): The romantic spy thriller “Qiu Xi” by director Sun Zhou, takes place in wartime Guangzhou before the country’s liberation by the Communist Party of China in 1949. A young woman named Qiu Xi is a “boat person”, or Tanka, living in the coastal area of Guangdong Province. Qiu Xi, (Jiang Yiyan), becomes a servant to Yan Haiqing, (Guo Xiaodong). She finds herself falling for the undercover communist agent who works with the Kuomintang regime that ruled China until 1949. The story unfolds as the two fall for each other but are kept at distance because of the wartime situation. The 45-million-yuan film comes several years after Sun Zhou’s widely acclaimed movies “Zhou Yu’s Train” in 2002 and “Breaking the Silence” in 2000. His films are known for their exploration of humanity and the genuinely virtuous nature of people.
Quick Quick Slow (Chaoji 50, 超级50): A comedy about ordinary people taking part in a dance competition. China hosts the Olympics for the first time. The whole country is excited. The forgotten generation, the same age as Red China – once passionate in their youth, then sent to the countryside in every corner of China for re-education – wants to be a part of it. A group of people – a security guard in his middle age crisis, a housewife, a fame-seeker and her admirer, an odd couple at their fifties, starts their own dance team.
Happy Running (快乐奔跑): The 90-minute animated fi lm with a theme of “I exercise, I happy” is China´s answer to the Harry Potter saga. A group of vegetable babies embark on an adventure to a mysterious island to vie to be champion of a sports game. They are confronted with new challenges and unexpected situations in life. In Chinese without English subtitles.
Lost Indulgence (Mi Guo, 秘岸): In this family drama, the relationship between a teenage son and his mother become complicated when they take in secretive young woman into their home. Upon the apparent death of his taxi-driver father (Eric Tseng), Xian-chuen (Tan Jianci) and his mother Li (Jiang Wenli) take in his father’s last fare, Su-Dan (Karen Mok), a bar girl, to fulfill the family’s obligations. The father, Wu Tao drove his cab into the Yangtze River, breaking Su-Dan’s leg and potentially paralyzing her for life.
The Warrior and The Wolf (狼灾记, Lang zai ji): This costume fantasy drama is the latest production by China´s influential director and producer Tian Zhuangzhuang. Set in the Qing Dynasty, the plot follows a warrior and his foreign lover. Their romantic encounters lead to a supernatural event. Japanese star Joe Odagiri, Taiwanese actor Tuo Zonghua and American diva Maggie Q star. Mandarin only.
Wheat (麦田): Award-winning Chinese director He Ping creates a new costume drama featuring Wang Zhiwen, Fan Bingbing, Huang Jue and Wang Ji. The film opened to enthusiastic crowds at this year´s Shanghai International Film Festival and follows the adventures of two army deserters in an entirely female kingdom during the Warring States Period. Mandarin only.
Copy Cat: In Copy Cat, a guy’s life falls into chaos after he accidentally discovers a bootleg disc factory.
My Fair Gentleman (窈窕绅士, Yao Tiao Shen Shi): My Fair Gentleman” follows the romantic pursuit of a newly rich businessman obsessed with a female entertainer. Through the hilarious quest for a woman he thinks is the love of his life, the vulgar rich man transforms himself, as well as the object of his affection. In the end, he becomes a perfect gentleman.
The Message (Feng Sheng, 风声): “The Message” is set in Japanese-occupied China in 1942. It tells a story of a Japanese spy chief trying to identify a Chinese agent from a group of suspects. Produced by China’s leading entertainment producer Huayi Brothers, the film is the company’s tribute to the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic of China. Riding the popularity of the TV series and play of the same name, this espionage flick features Zhou Xun, Zhang Hanyu and Li Bingbing. Mandarin only.
Shen Bing Xiao Jiang (神兵小将): An animated feature based on Wong Yuk Long’s manhua series, directed by the comic creator himself.
The King of Milu Deer (麋鹿王): Claiming to be China’s first animated 3D blockbuster, The King of Milu Deer is about a deer-turned girl and her lover, who together try to save the Milu deer species from villains. Featuring the voices of such stars as Ge You and Li Yang.
Prequel of the Monkey King (齐天大圣－前传): After two and a half years in production, “Prequel of the Monkey King,” has hit the big screen. The film was produced by country’s best minds in the field of 3D animation. The prequel is loosely based on the first five acts of, Journey to the West, by the famous Qing Dynasty writer Wu Cheng’en. Apart from a few imaginative touches, the film grabs the most attention with its use of 3D technology. The film’s characters, a dragon king and a little monkey, appears to leap off the screen.
Snake Curse (She Zhou, 蛇咒): For the lovers of bad cinema everywhere, here comes what looks like one supremely cheesy Chinese B-Horror, titled Snake Curse. Apparently the film was originally released back in around 1995, but for some reason it´s now set to get a second theatrical release in mainland China. The plot revolves around a mad scientists experiments in blending human and snake DNA – the result being a Medusa like femme fatale, who goes on a killing spree. A berserk Chinese killer snake monster movie that promises to deliver maximum amounts of kung fu, snake fu, snake woman fu, and Gordon Liu.
Ke ai de Zhong Guo (可爱的中国): A bio-pic of Fang Zhimi, a senior Chinese Red Army leader executed by the Nationalist government in 1934.
The Foundation Of A Republic (建国大业): This offering from China Film Board chairman Sanping Han tells the story of the founding of the PRC, in celebration of the country’s birthday. Chinese megacelebrities Chen Kaige, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Chen Daoming and Ge You star. Mandarin only.
Legend of The Tang Empire (大明宫): As the royal palace of the prosperous Tang Dynasty, Da Ming Gong is a magnificent example of the era´s architecture. This epic historical movie traces the legendary events that are said to have taken place in the grand palace. Take a look at the extravagant lifestyle of the Tang imperial family in this movie directed by Jin Tiemu. Mandarin only.
Eternal Beloved (爱有来生): Yu Feihong is now back in the spotlight with her directorial debut Eternal Beloved. This ghost story revolves around an ancient gingko tree and tells a tragic romantic tale that crosses between the dead and the living.Co-starring in the movie is Yu Feihong herself and actor Duan Yihong.
OTHER LANGUAGE MOVIES
Coco before Chanel: Several years after leaving the orphanage to which her father never returned for her, Gabrielle Chanel finds herself working in a provincial bar both. She’s both a seamstress for the performers and a singer, earning the nickname Coco from the song she sings nightly with her sister. A liaison with Baron Balsan gives her an entree into French society and a chance to develop her gift for designing increasingly popular hats. When she falls in love with English businessman Arthur Capel further opportunities open up, though life becomes ever more complicated. In French with Chinese subtitles.
Nepobedimyy (特工008): Chronicles the adventures of Russian special intelligence agent Yegor Kremnyov. It involves fugitive oligarchs, western crime syndicates and top-secret papers. Languages: Russian / English.
Scandal Makers (非常主播) : Head over to watch this ubiquitous Korean romantic comedy featuring Cha Tae-hyeon and Park Bao-young. Cha stars as a show talk presenter whose program gains instant popularity from a single mother’s story. However, Cha’s life is turned upside down when the single mother shows up at his home with her six-year-old son. Language TBD.