dapting manga or anime for live action cinema is
never an easy affair. Although some stand alone features such as "Perfect
Blue" have leant themselves quite naturally to the real life
medium, anime series in general tend to involve huge casts of characters
with complex development arcs, intricate storylines, and surreal, over the
top visuals that are difficult to realize outside the world of cartoons.
There have been several attempts in the past to harness the popularity of
manga and anime series, for example "Fist
of the North Star" and "Crying
Freeman", which, although not complete failures, provided only
stripped down, empty reflections of their sources. Recently, the new
adaptation of "Cutie
Honey" took a more direct route, ditching many traditional
cinematic elements and mixing in actual animation with live action footage.
The technique proved successful, creating a bizarre, psychedelic and weird
film that is perhaps the closest approximation of actual anime yet.
And so now we come to
"Devilman", a new, big budget adaptation of the long running,
hugely popular horror/action anime created in 1972 by Go Nagai (who was also
responsible for the "Cutie Honey" anime amongst others). A
sprawling, apocalyptic and violent tale of battling demons that has a
considerable cult following, any attempt to transfer "Devilman" to
the live action medium was always going to be an uphill struggle.
Unfortunately, "Devilman" the movie turns out to be a perfect case
in point of both why such translations are not always a good idea, and more
importantly, why designing and manufacturing a film of any kind for a target
teen audience is more often than not the kiss of death.
The film is truly awful, ditching both the epic plot
and the raw, visceral energy of the anime, and replacing them with an
utterly incomprehensible, camp mix of bad CGI and pouting teen pop stars.
There is simply no excuse for a film as badly made or thoughtless as this,
which serves only to sully the name of the original series, and to further
destroy any faith that genre fans may have of one day witnessing an
effective crossover which does justice to the rich, creative source
material that anime offers filmmakers.
Even for fans of the original, the plot of
"Devilman" is incredibly hard to follow. Basically, it involves
the accidental release of a demonic species from Antarctica, whose numbers
spread via an infection, which corrupts and transforms normal people. This
leads to an apocalyptic war, in which humanity's only hope is Akira
(Hisato Izaki, from Japanese boy band 'Flame'), a weedy teen who merges
with a demonic entity to become Devilman, a powerful, yet conscientious
beast that fights both monsters and the fascist and brutal human forces
trying to wipe out the new species. Akira is opposed by his former best
friend, the somewhat psychotic Ryo (Yusuke Izaki, twin brother of Hisato,
and fellow 'Flame' member), who becomes an equally powerful demon, and a
host of other creatures that pop in and out of the story before it all
conveniently finishes up with a climatic showdown.
To be honest, there may be more, or indeed less, to
the plot than outlined above. It is actually quite hard to tell, as
director Hiroyuki Nasu (responsible for the "Bee Bop High
school" series) dispenses with any kind of exposition, and simply
throws in a series of vaguely connected events. This is all the more
strange, given that the film is so far removed from the plot of the anime,
and is likely to infuriate and confuse followers of the series, whilst
leaving casual viewers completely mystified. The film lurches not only
from scene to scene, but has massive narrative leaps, with only offhand
explanations as to what has happened and why.
Prime examples of the above come when the viewers are
briefly informed by a newscaster (played in mind-numbingly awful fashion
by ex-NFL star Bob Sapp) that war has broken out, or that a vaguely
defined government force has started rounding up suspected demons. Adding
to the confusion is the fact that the origins of the demons are never
explained nor even hinted at, and the viewer is never sure whether they
are some kind of genetic evolution or supernatural hell spawn.
The film is equally absent-minded when it comes to
characters, throwing them in and out of the plot without any indication of
purpose, background or even alignment. This is most noticeable in the case
of Silene (played by model Ai Tominaga), who in the anime was supposed to
be a beautiful and all-powerful demon that had a pivotal role and a major
effect on the development of Devilman himself. Here, she simply turns up
for a scene, winks at the camera and disappears. The end result of all
this is that "Devilman" makes very little sense. The film is
absolutely incoherent in the most annoying of ways, and viewers have no
sense of progression, tension, or indeed any interest in the plot.
With this in mind, viewers would be forgiven for
expecting "Devilman" to excel in, or at least to focus on, its
visual content. Astonishingly, this is not the case, as Nasu spends more
time on the domestic and school life of Akira, a decision which leads to
long, barren stretches of interest-free filmmaking. Although character
development is obviously a good thing, in "Devilman" this mainly
amounts to scene after scene of Akira crying and sitting in his room,
seemingly unconcerned by his newfound powers, and spending far too much
time worrying about gorgeous half sister Miki (Ayana Sakai, "Battle
Royale 2") than the apocalyptic war which we are told is raging
outside. The film actually only contains a handful of action scenes
involving demons, which further drags down the pace and leaves viewers
feeling badly cheated.
On reflection, the lack of demon action may actually
be a good thing, as the special effects are simply appalling. The demons
in the film are a strange mix of cheap looking CGI and rubbery,
"Power Rangers"-style monster suits, and the end result is
wholly unconvincing. When the film finally lurches into an all-CGI
environment for the climatic twenty minutes or so, it at best resembles a
video game, with unrealistic character movement that robs it of any kind
of visceral impact. Similarly, although there are a number of violent
scenes and some gore effects thrown into the mix, these are so badly
handled and shoddy looking to be of any benefit.
The press has reported that "Devilman"
enjoyed a budget of unprecedented size, though exactly where this money
went is unclear, since in addition to such poor special effects, the film
only seems to have three locations. Everything in the film looks
suspiciously poverty row, and the atmosphere is of a teen TV program
rather than something which belongs in multiplexes. Worse still is the
fact that Nasu's direction is completely without any kind of style or
apparent effort, which gives the whole thing a feel not only of being
lackluster, but pointless and unwanted by all concerned.
The final insult comes in the form of the acting.
Nasu has assembled a cast made predominantly of pop stars, models and teen
idols, all of whom have one thing in common: a complete inability to act.
The worst offenders are undoubtedly the Izaki twins, both of whom spend
the entire film whining, pouting, and generally failing to win any kind of
audience sympathy. I guess it is debatable whether the blame falls on the
actors for giving such atrocious performances or on Nasu for making the
cynical decision to cast bankable eye candy as opposed to people who can
actually act. Either way, the two male leads and the rest of the cast
manage to reduce what is already a poor film to a kind of bizarre, cheap
looking advertisement for bad latex and unconvincing teen angst.