Screenwriter Machiyama Tomohiro discussed the live action adaptation of Attack on Titan that he had a hand in writing on the TBS radio show Tamamusubi. He explains why he chose to make the huge changes to the characters and storyline.
Akae Tamao So, Machiyama-san. It's finally out.
Machiyama Tomohiro Yes. Well, please listen to the music.
~AoT theme plays~
Machiyama This is the live action Attack on Titans movie. It's a Toho cinema work. It comes out on August 1st. Ahh.... speaking of, you watched it, didn't you, Yamasato-san?
Yamasato Ryota Yes I did!
Machiyama How was it?
Yamasato It was amazing! Interesting! It left a big impression on me, even though I both read and watch the series. The scenes where the titans eat humans are the scariest!
Machiyama It was great right?
Yamasato Great... Gory, more like...
Machiyama Did you ever think "was it really okay to film something like this?" when watching?
Akae Really? The comics are pretty scary already though.
Yamasato Nah, but in the anime and comics the most gory bits are kind of hidden off-screen, but the movie gives you the feeling of charging ahead full steam. You can even hear the internal organs squelch.
Machiyama We had a hard time with the Movie Ethics Committee because of those scenes, but we persevered and managed to show the entirety of those scenes. Somehow.
Yamasato Ehhhh! It was vulgar how scary the titans were.
Machiyama This movie here wasn't produced by a TV station. If it were, we wouldn't have been able to make this kind of movie, because it would never be allowed to air on television. It's the truth.
Akae Ah, I see.
Machiyama That's why it took a while, this atrocious movie.
Yamasato Yeah. It's nasty. The titans...
Akae Well, they do eat humans, after all.
Machiyama How was it in regards to tension? What did you feel while watching it?
Yamasato Well, I got the same feeling watching it as I did from the monster movies Machiyama-san always recommends me.
Machiyama Yeah yeah yeah!
Yamasato So, for people who have read the original work, they sometimes get the feeling, "Huh? This character is a little different..." and are surprised.
Yamasato I wanted to ask, why did you make those changes?
Machiyama Yes. I wanted to talk about that today too. But you know, today's the day of the simultaneous national preview of the Toho Cinemas live action Attack on Titans movie. The first one.
Machiyama Around 20,000 people will watch it at the same time, I think. Nationwide. After watching it, I think the anime fans will spark an uproar.
Yamasato Ah, so you've decided to let it speak for itself?
Machiyama It's because there's a huge change to the characters. I think a lot of people will probably say, "this is a butchering of the original work!"
Yamasato Ah, it's pretty different.
Machiyama I think it'll be a difficult situation. Now I'd like to talk a little bit about the creation process. Why did I decide to do this scenario like that? Let's start with a simple explanation of the manga's plot. Simply put, it's a story about a fictional country surrounded by a giant wall.
Machiyama Outside this wall, there are giant titans that eat humans. The plot of Attack on Titan is that the wall breaks, the titans get in, start eating humans, and wreaking havoc.
Machiyama In Fall of 2009, this story started serializing in a magazine called Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. The author, Isayama Hajime, was 23 at the time, a newcomer. He was assigned a color spread, which became a big hit. Well, the author was admirable, but so was his editor Kawakubo Shintaro, who had only been working at the company for a year.
Machiyama So thanks to this duo of newbies, Kodansha, which had been restructuring after staying in the red no matter what they did, was revived in mere moments.
Machiyama Nothing went well no matter what they did! The old men. Those two saved it. The company.
Akae I didn't know that the editor was so young as well. Wow~
Machiyama Yeah. Those two geniuses made AoT. Moreover, both of them are good looking studs. It's unfair (laughing)
Akae Oh my.
Machiyama Yeah. Once it was decided we would adapt it into a movie, the director of "Confession", Nakashima Tetsuya, put out something of a film pilot. It was about titans suddenly attacking Tokyo, and had nothing to do with the original work. Then suddenly, in 2013, the anime version started airing. I got a call from him at home.
Machiyama It was the director Higuchi Shinji. He was the special effects director or director for famous films such as the Gamera trilogy or Japan Sinks. He called asking, "I was thinking of doing Attack on Titan- Machiyama-san, would you like to work on it with me?" I was so surprised by that. Well, then again, it's fairly common for film critics to help write screenplays.
Machiyama Even in America, the most influential critic, Roger Ebert, wrote movies such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. And a critic named James Agee wrote a movie called Night of the Hunter.
Machiyama I think the kind of impressive bit of my situation is that Attack on Titan was often called "impossible to translate into live action."
Machiyama It was always said to be absolutely impossible, or have a low chance of success, but those comments suddenly turned into, "let's talk about it."
Akae Ehhh! And why did he call you, Machiyama-san?
Machiyama Well, a long time ago, when he was in high school in 1983, Director Higuchi helped shoot a fan-film named Yamata no Orochi no Gyakushū. Even though he was only in high school, he did everything from the miniatures to the monsters to the filming by himself. The composites too. He's a genius. Without any backing, this genius boy showed up in the special effects industry. He's the same kind of person as Isayama-san, Director Higuchi. And actually, at that time, I had been doing some coverage. I was an editor of a magazine called Takarajima. Well, Isayama-san had always been a huge fan of TBS radio, and always listened to my radio show. Then, my name popped up in their talks. Something like, "should we let this idiot try?"
Machiyama At that time, they didn't know how to adapt it. So they asked an idiot like me if I would lend a hand. At that time, I felt like Bilbo from The Hobbit when he was asked to fight the dragon.
Akae Ahh, Lord of the Rings.
Machiyama Yeah. It felt like suddenly I was asked to fight against a world champion like Rocky. Really.
Yamasato Hmm! But did you lose? What happened?
Machiyama It was so hard. There were a lot of factors to consider, such as the problem of scale, but more than that, it was a problem that the original work was set in Germany.
Akae Ah, that's true.
Yamasato The main character's names and so on are German too, right?
Machiyama The main character is also German. So before this, we had always thought we couldn't make this adaptation in Japan.
Akae The villages and such are all German too, huh.
Machiyama Yes. We heard a lot of comments. Stuff like "Japanese actors shouldn't play Germans," "People with German names that look Japanese, does that work?" or "how laughable." And "leave it up to Hollywood."
Yamasato Comments from the web, right?
Machiyama Yes. So Director Higuchi came up with the idea of filming it in Hashima Island. Because we had no choice but to change the setting to Japan. We started writing the script from there. Then we got the idea to change everyone's names into Japanese. We tried a couple things, and even threw around the idea of keeping all the original German names. We were back and forth on that for a long time, up til the very start of the shooting. But at the end, we decided to just keep the names of the main characters.
Yamasato Like Eren.
Machiyama Eren, Armin, Sasha, Jean, were all kept. After all, names change frequently with different generations. For instance, right now, there's girls in Japan named Maria and Emiri, but that wasn't true before, right? Names like that.
Akae Yes, yes.
Machiyama And there's no one now named Shinzaemon or something like that.
Akae That's true (laughs)
Machiyama There's even people who change their names. You can look it up! There's quite a few people in Japan named Eren. There's even a classical musician named Numata Eren. And as for the name Sasha, there's an idol named Ueda Sasha. And as for Jean, there's that manga about the chef named "Tetsunabe no Jean".
Yamasato (loud laughter)
Machiyama And as for Armin, there's a manga artist named Okada Amin. The one that wrote "Dad is a worrywart".
Akae Yeah that's true! How nostalgic.
Machiyama So because of that, we thought, "well, whatever." But you know, there were so many character names that we couldn't possibly make seem Japanese. Names like Bertholt, Reiner, Hannes, Franz, and Hanna. We thought that they sounded German no matter what, and couldn't really use them. So we used Japanese names.
Yamasato Ahh, I see.
Machiyama That's why those characters have Japanese names. We were also troubled by Levi, Erwin, and so on.
Akae The "v" and "wi" sounds must have been hard!
Machiyama Yes. We don't have those sounds in Asia, so having people who have Asian faces make those sounds was strange. But I mean, there's people who do stuff like that anyways. I mean, in Nodame Cantabile, Stresemann was played by Takenaka Naoto. And Abe-chan (Abe Hiroshi) plays a Roman in Thermae Romae, right?
Akae Yeah, that's true.
Machiyama Yes, but if you do that, it becomes a comedy. Like Fujii Takashi's "Matthew". (Mathew is a persona Fujii plays on TV). So we decided to give up on the names. But the problem is, Levi is a popular character. The most popular.
Yamasato He's way popular.
Machiyama So we got a lot of fans saying "Levi doesn't appear, so I won't watch it." It was an extraordinarily tough choice. We only finalized it last minute. Up to then, we even considered making him our main character. It was really difficult.
Yamasato Whether you included or excluded him, people would talk. If he appeared, you'd get comments like "That's not the Levi we know!" for sure.
Akae Wow, there's a lot of pressure for popular works.
Machiyama Yes that's true, but mostly it was the name that was a problem. You see, there's a Jewish person in the Old Testament named Levi. And we would have had to give a reason to have a Japanese person have that name.
Akae Oh, I see.
Machiyama Anyways that was our biggest wall. We had lots of walls to jump over for this movie.
Yamasato There's lots of walls in the movie, too.
Machiyama Yes. And if you were to ask, "what kind of film is it," we actually planned on adapting the first four volumes in ninety minutes. We had ninety minutes to fit all those scenes in. Ninety minutes for ninety pages of content. I suggested that at a meeting with the original author, the editor Kawakubo-san, Director Higuchi, and our producers. And our screenplay got started with me and the playwright Watanabe Yuusuke-san arguing about this and that, modifying as we went. For example, in the original work, the main boy and girl are 15 years old. Due to our actors, we had to change the age to be around their twenties. We were troubled about the differences between 15 year old youths and 20 year old youths.
Akae Ah, definitely.
Machiyama They're different hormonally, and go through changes. That's reality. So we had to adjust various things like that. For example, not using horses. Actually, our biggest change was actually requested by the original author Isayama-san.
Machiyama We were asked to change the main character Eren's personality.
Yamasato Ahh, that's true.
Machiyama You noticed, right?
Yamasato Yes, I did.
Machiyama The original Eren was a youth that showed no fear, and the only thing on his mind was defeating the titans. Isayama-san himself said that Eren "made specifically to be a shonen manga hero," but was someone that Isayama-san "couldn't empathize with." In our meetings.
Akae He said so himself? Huh.
Machiyama He did. He wished for us to portray an Eren that was completely real, someone who would be so paralyzed with fear looking at a titan, that they wouldn't be able to move.
Yamasato Oh I see, that's why...
Machiyama Yup. This might also cause an uproar at today's preview.
Yamasato It's true that Eren had some bad elements.
Machiyama Yeah. We changed the settings of the main character hero.
Akae They're the fundamental parts, huh.
Machiyama Because we changed the fundamental parts, we had to rewrite the entire script, after that. But why is it that the original Eren isn't afraid of titans? It's because he experienced murder when he was young. In order to save the girl named Mikasa, he killed a bad guy. So these two were bound together because they had both seen death when they were so young. In the original. So it became like that. It didn't even have to be a titan. Because they killed a human when they were young. In order to protect the person who protected her when they were young, Mikasa would do anything, including killing a human being, with no hesitation. Like a guardian angel, but a scary, murderous one. Mikasa's that kind of character. And she's popular because of it.
But if we make Eren a normal person, we'd have to erase the bit about their past murder. But that also weakens our Mikasa and Eren's relationship.
Yamasato It became something more like puppy love among youths.
Machiyama They're just childhood friends. It's a pure, extremely innocent relationship, like Adam and Eve in Eden. At first. In this movie. Because I think the original work's fans would be mad.
Yamasato Well, they'll definitely be surprised. "Wait, Mikasa? What? Huh?" (laughs)
Machiyama Yes. After all, they started off innocently, those two. But from there big changes take place. Because I thought Isayama-san's request was a little difficult. At the time. Then after I started reassembling everything, I started to think that his request was actually amazing. I think you'll understand if you watch it, but it really adds a lot of drama.
Yamasato Yeah. Eren suffers a lot.
Machiyama Yeah. In the original, he's a man that can never lose or become disheartened. And as for Mikasa, she's the one that will put her own life on the line in order to protect him. No matter what situation. But that's a safety net. You're not worried, with that kind of hero and heroine. But in this setting. that goes away, as does Mikasa's role as guardian angel.
Yamasato No but really, I think that Eren goes through hell in this production.
Machiyama It's hellish. Eren is burdened with a lot of sin. With that, isn't it impossible to enter the fight against the titans? But he had already sinned once, so he threw himself into dangerous situations, almost as if to punish himself. He really becomes someone who rushes towards death. So it became the story of a youth who sins, and plunges himself into peril in an attempt at atonement. After all, at first they're Adam and Eve, and afterwards they fall into hell.
Yamasato Yeah. It's miserable for Eren.
Machiyama After this, I thought Isayama-san was amazing. Usually, manga artists really treasure the heroes they create. Despite this, Isayama-san shackled his hero, and sent him into the pits of hell.
Akae That must have been hard.
Machiyama But I tried it, and thought, "Ah, this is deep and dark! Isayama's awesome! Shokuzai (atonement) is written in Japanese as "making up" for your sins. People who wrote it as "food ingredients" made a mistake.
Akae and Yamasato (laugh)
Machiyama Yeah. For some reason, there are a lot of fans that are angry at seeing Eren and Mikasa being lovey-dovey in the movie.
Yamasato The bit in the trailer, that scene appears.
Machiyama Yes. But it's not that kind of scene. It's not that positive.
Yamasato Yeah. The people who complained that the two in the original would never do such a thing will understand after watching it.
Machiyama It's a story of being plunged into hell. Usually, when a work gets adapted, the original author and editor are always pointing out the differences, right?
Akae Yes, yes.
Machiyama It was the opposite. They would only ever say stuff like "in order to be interesting as a movie, you should do this," those two. Isayama-san and Kawakubo-san. For example, there's this thing called the 3D Maneuver Gear. With this weapon, you can defeat titans. "You should show this as less often as possible. Not for at least one hour," those two said. That way, the despair continues, right? Endlessly.
Yamasato No really, it's terrible. Humans can do nothing but just get eaten.
Machiyama Yes. That's why I thought it was amazing. As expected of the two that saved Kodansha. Also, this movie is just the first half. The sequel will conclude the story.
Yamasato The original work isn't finished yet, so there's a lot of loose ends left.
Machiyama I don't know anything about the original. I don't know the titan's secret, or the world's secret. But we'll resolve all of them this time.
Yamasato So you're saying, this is original...
Machiyama Yes. Because of that, we needed a villain, an antagonist. But we were tied to the original work, and were unsure what to do. But Kawakubo-san told me "how your movies turn out will depend on the new character that you make for it." So I tried to do my best.
But I think those two are really amazing. Really.
Akae So we can look forward to seeing something completely different?
Machiyama Yes. But like I said before, the original author and editor are heavily involved, and made so many important suggestions for it. We did this only with everyone's help! As one that felt like Bilbo, I was so touched. Really.
Akae That's true. Machiyama-san, it must have been hard for you. In making the movie adaptation, you must have a great relationship with the original authors.
Machiyama This time it was a great relationship. Yes. But there's things that aren't like that. Now, if you look online, you'll see stuff like "Don't make live action Shingeki!" or like "Stop it," or "there's never been a successful manga to live action adaptation." "This'll fail for sure." "If this fails, Isayama, quit being a movie critic!" Lots.
Akae That's gone too far!
Machiyama There's lots. Really. But since this movie is about not running away from unwinnable fights, it would be strange for the making of it to not be the same! I feel sorry for the main characters. This movie was literally planned to be about Giant Killing. So there's a high chance of failure. But you never know unless you try. And in the same way, there's people that sneer at those that risk their lives fighting, saying "they'll fail no matter what." People that don't do anything themselves. It's safe, but there's zero chance of winning! You can't do nothing. Because we are inside a wall!
Akae Machiyama-san! You're turning into a warrior!
Yamasato He's flying with the 3D Maneuver Gear right now, somethow.
Machiyama Don't laugh at the ones who challenge the titans and walls!
Machiyama By the way, I bought tickets myself. Twenty of them. The seats are paired two by two in 10 sets.
Akae Wow, thank you! Isayama-san, you're a little different this week.
Yamasato No, really, recently, there's lots of combat scenes done without CG. The battle scene against the titan- that might be it. Wow.
Akae Tamamusubi's Taki-san was also enlisted.
Yamasato That's right!
Machiyama Yes. So it felt like a bunch of old friends getting together to make a movie. (laugh)
Yamasato That must have been the best. (laugh)
Akae The live action movie Attack on Titan will be released in Japan on August 1st.
Akae Machiyama-san, you've passed your fever on.
Machiyama Uh yeah, sorry.
Akae, Yamasato (laugh)
Yamasato You've ignited a fire, Machiyama-san! But really, it was really interesting you showed me your movie. There's lots of elements in the first half that will tie in to the later sequel, right?
Machiyama Yes. The sequel will expand on a lot of previous events.
Yamasato Also, I was really surprised that the colossal titan wasn't CG.
Machiyama Ah, have people been saying it's CG? It's not CG. It's all special effects.
Yamasato The quality is great. It looks like CG. Amazing.
Machiyama We used a really big model. Miniatures and stuff. And shot those with special effects.
Akae Got it. I'll definitely watch it. Machiyama-san, thank you very much..
Machiyama Thank you.