Open Letter to J. J. Abrams: Leave Kimi no Na wa. Alone

Dear J. J. Abrams,

You’re not the first one to attempt this.

We have seen the ones that came before you, all hunkering for the same slice of pie. They bought over the rights to our favourite stories just like you did, baited our expectations and trust, only to butcher both mercilessly before our eyes. You can’t imagine the number of apologies we’ve heard and bad reviews we’ve read. Frankly, you’re late to the game. This cycle has already been worn out for a long time, and guess what? We’ve seen enough. This movie cannot become another statistic.

Here’s the thing: I do trust you, Abrams. You’ve helped bring some of the greatest science fiction to life (note: Star Trek and Star Wars), and it is a track record that’s earned you the loyalty of geeks like me across the world. But at the expense of sounding like a know-it-all, anime is a completely different ball park. The science fiction that Hollywood has embraced in your films cannot be compared to the ethereal qualities of Makoto Shinkai’s animation, and that is something you can’t help.

What Kimi no Na wa. has is something you fundamentally lack. Firstly, the medium you’ve chosen. This movie’s greatest strength lies in its animation which makes even the most mundane tasks seem magical. The limitless boundaries of the medium only lends more power to its storytelling capabilities, allowing Shinkai to put rose coloured glasses on his audience and suck them into a world that truly seems above reality.  

While certain stories are able to jump the fence between animation and live action, the hurdle for this tale is exceptionally high. Shinkai’s animation is known for its attention to detail and realism, and in fact, its recreation of real life locations is what gives it such an otherworldly quality in the first place. Live action movies, on the other hand, have to rely on CGI to bring fantasy to life. Components that would otherwise blend seamlessly into the whimsical nature of animation appear out of place. Even with the modern day wonders of computer graphics, a world that is artificially enhanced to appear fantasy-like only seems staged; while a lack of it allows too much of the dullness of reality to bleed through.

Secondly, Kimi no Na wa. is a Japanese story. More so than any other anime that’s been adapted by Hollywood, this one is deeply entrenched in traditional Japanese culture and folklore. The greatest example of this is its heroine Mitsuha, whose family owns a shrine and participates in various traditions that are unique to Japan. However, this also extends to the language and mannerisms that help build up its setting, the fact that Japan is culturally more conservative than the States, the different patterns of speech of both genders (e.g. ‘boku’ versus ‘watashi’), the choice of comedy, and other nuances in the story which simply don’t exist in Western media.

Our fears towards this are clear. In attempts to adapt this movie for a Western audience, a desecration of Japanese culture will not be avoidable. Just like what others did to Death Note and Dragonball Evolution, you may choose to remove the language, the location, and even the race from our characters, leaving only the bare bones of the story left to work with. If you display any loyalty to the story, you may try to unravel and pick apart the Japanese culture, choosing to keep what is appropriate and leave the rest. But we hope you realise it is the intricacies of the culture that makes the story great, and not the other way around.

Finally, a Hollywood adaptation is not what the fans want. It’s arguable that it doesn’t matter whether the fans agree, if the live action movie’s target audience is completely different. I can understand that. Ideally, we all want this adaptation to become a gateway to non-anime fans, and I don’t doubt you earned the rights to it because there was the promise of propelling Japanese entertainment to new heights. But whether or not this is a feasible decision to make is still debatable.

To me, plucking this story out of Western defined “obscurity” and thrusting it into the Hollywood limelight is the ultimate sign of disrespect towards the original media. Even if your adaptation of the movie becomes widely popular, the reason why Kimi no Na wa. had reached its own heights of popularity in the first place had nothing to do with Western values. It is only when it started to gain attention that Westerners like yourself began to sit up, and in the ravenous and indiscriminate nature of Hollywood, demand for a slice of the pie for yourself.

As a fan, I want to see anime as an industry gain credit through its own efforts. It may be a slower process, taking years to catch up on the credibility that Hollywood has built for itself, but I’d rather much that, than for us to ride on the coattails of westernisation and potentially give up everything that makes Japanese entertainment so unique. As a creative person yourself, I’m sure you can understand the importance of growing a reputation through your own unique work, rather than relying on others to catapult your name.

In the end, however, the weight of my words have no bearing on your final decision. I’m sure the papers have already been signed and whatever money already exchanged; this letter from one small person isn’t enough. But if you do happen to be reading this, I hope it had some effect on you.

The community you’re about to infringe on is passionate, and the country you are trespassing is patriotic. Please, show some respect in your film making and represent the culture and language of the country as it is. What you’re adapting is not just another love story, but a meticulously packaged experience culminating years of hard work. If you misplace the trust that was placed in you, that creates a ripple effect that will affect how Japanese media is viewed in Western eyes for years to come.

Still, I do trust your judgement, Abrams. No matter what fans may gripe or moan, there’s no mistaking it: we need someone to break the mold. Someone who cares enough to craft a thoughtful and loyal rendition to this beloved story. We hope you will be one to finally do us justice.

A fan

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