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5 live action films inspired by Japanese Anime/Manga

Including historical epics, supernatural thrillers, a witch’s adventure and a heist movie.

When a major film company announces that it will be adapting a treasured Japanese manga or anime story into a live action flick the news is usually met with a mixture of excitement and cynicism. Pleasing hardcore fans is no easy feat, though, there have been several success stories down the years. One of the most eagerly anticipated manga adaptations in a long time is the Shinsuke Sato’s adventure blockbuster, Kingdom, based on Yasuhisa Hara’s top-selling series of the same name. In celebration of its release this week, we look at five of the most revered manga/anime that have been made into live-action feature films so far.

1. Kingdom (キングダム), 2019

The popularity of Yasuhisa Hara’s manga has gone through the roof in recent years, selling more than 28 million copies since 2015 (almost three times as much as it sold in its first decade). The buzz surrounding the live-action adaptation of Kingdom is, therefore, no surprise. Set during the Warring States period in China, the story follows Shin (Li Xin in Chinese), a war orphan with his heart set on becoming a general. He joins forces with Ei Sei (Ying Zheng), a boy destined to become the Qin emperor, as they set out to unite the warring factions. Kento Yamazaki reprises the role of Shin, a character he played in 2016 for a three-minute short to commemorate the manga’s 10th anniversary. Support actor Ryo Yoshizawa (Ei Sei/Hyou) previously appeared with Yamazaki in the film version of the teenage manga, “Wolf Girl and Black Prince.”

Cast: Kento Yamazaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Kanna Hashimoto
Director: Shinsuke Sato

2. Death Note (デスノート), 2006

The first — and in the eyes of many best live-adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s supernatural manga — Death Note is a thought-provoking movie that asks questions about our place in the universe and what would happen if you gave a human the power to play God. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, it stars Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami, an intriguing antihero who discovers a notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it. While attempting to transform the planet into a utopian society free of criminals, Light is pursued by the genius detective L played brilliantly by Kenichi Matsuyama in what was his breakthrough role. The fascinating battle of minds between the enigmatic characters proved a box-office hit in Japan, knocking The Da Vinci Code off the top of the charts.

Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda
Director: Shusuke Kaneko

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便), 2014

An entertaining family-film that stands apart from its more well-known anime counterpart, the live adaptation of Kiki’s Delivery Service is not just a rehashing of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic movie, but rather an attempt by director Takashi Shimizu to put his own spin on Eiko Kadono’s fantasy novel of the same name. Slightly darker than the original (which is no surprise given Shimizu’s horror movie background), the story centers around a 13-year-old girl named Kiki who must spend a year away from her family as part of her witches training. She struggles to adapt to her new environment, but tries to stay positive, remembering the advice her mother gave her: don’t stop smiling. Former competitive figure skater Fuka Koshiba plays Kiki. The then 16-year-old beat off competition from around 500 hopefuls at the audition to land the part.

Cast: Fuka Koshiba, Ryohei Hirota, Machiko Ono
Director: Takashi Shimizu

4. Lupin the Third (ルパン三世), 2014

Created by Monkey Punch more than half a century ago, Lupin the Third is an iconic character known as the world’s greatest and most wanted thief. In Ryuhei Kitamura’s live adaptation of the manga, the criminal mastermind assembles a gang of bandits to infiltrate a fortress-like safe to steal the “Crimson Heart of Cleopatra”; a necklace commissioned by Mark Antony that’s said to give the owner control of the world. Popular actor Shun Oguri, who plays the part of the slim-looking Lupin the Third, went through 10 months of action training and reportedly lost 8 kilograms for the film, while co-star Go Ayano gained 10 kilograms for his role as the swordsman Ishikawa Goemon. The movie has an international feel with a lot of English dialogue and scenes in many different countries.

Cast: Shun Oguri, Go Ayano, Meisa Kuroki, Tadanobu Asano
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

5. Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心), 2012

An edgy, action-packed movie that is at times quite moving, Keishi Otomo’s adventure flick Rurouni Kenshin gives Nobuhiro Watsuki’s source material the respect it deserves. Set during the early years of the Meiji Period, it tells the story of a legendary assassin named Kenshin Himura who’s now a wandering samurai offering to protect those in need as a way of atoning for his past deeds. He’s played by heartthrob Takeru Satoh, who described the character Himura as being like “a close friend,” that he wanted to “go on playing forever.” Emi Takei, who portrays his love interest Kaoru Kamiya in the film, won several Best Newcomer awards. A critical and commercial success, Rurouni Kenshin is widely seen as one of the greatest live action manga adaptations ever made. Two sequels were released in 2014.

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Teruyuki Kagawa
Director: Keishi Otomo

While live action anime/manga films are often panned by fans and critics alike, there are a few out there that buck the trend. The aforementioned movies, such as Death Note and Rurouni Kenshin, show that it is possible to get an adaptation right as long as the story isn’t altered too much.

Text by: Matthew Harnon