Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Should Write the Sailor Moon Movie

A couple of years ago, there were rumours that a Sailor Moon movie was in development-- it would be directed by Joss Whedon and star Lindsay Lohan in the title role. Back in the nineties, 20th Century Fox proposed a remake starring Alicia Frickin' Silverstone. These never came to pass, fortunately, but that's no reason to breathe easy. Just as comic book movies dominated the last decade, anime remakes may well dominate the coming one. Speed Racer and Dragonball have already been adapted by Hollywood. In the works are remakes of Akira, Macross (with Toby MacGuire!), and Ghost in the Shell. Sooner or later, amidst George Clooney's portrayal of Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist and the violent, pretentious ascent of Neon Genesis Evangelion from the depths of development hell, Sailor Moon: The Movie is going to be made.

And I want in. I want to write the Sailor Moon movie. And I want to show you, my reader(s), why I am the man for the job. Hence, I present the first entry in a new series "Reasons Why I Should Write the Sailor Moon Movie."

Yes, I know I'm ripping off MightyGodKing-- actually, I'm ripping off Spoony's ripoff of MGK, making this a ripoff of a ripoff. And yes, I know that it's almost certainly not going to happen. I've definitely not been paying my dues as a writer. As a physicist, yes, but not as a writer.

The point of this exercise, for me, is not about whether my vision of Sailor Moon will or will not be made. The point is that it can be made. The ideas that I'll be sharing with you have simmering in my head for a long time, and before Sailor Moon comes to a theatre near you, I want to get them out of my head and in words.

So, without further ado, the first reason I should write the Sailor Moon movie.

Reasons Why I Should Write the Sailor Moon Movie #1: The Ugly American

The image shown above captures the true genius of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the live action adaptation of Sailor Moon which aired in 2003.

To understand what I mean, imagine if a North American company, like Saban, decided to make a full on live action adaptation of Sailor Moon. Would it be silly? Absolutely. Probably even sillier than the Japanese version in some ways, especially if they got the writers of the English dub onboard ("She's not a Sailor Scout! She's a Failure Scout!" LOLZ!). But it wouldn't have the same kind of particularly uncomfortable hilarity that the real, Japanese series did, and the reason for that is simple: an American series would cast a blond haired, blue eyed, white actress. And no-one would so much as bat an eye. What the live action series accomplished, by virtue of its very existence, was to expose a central paradox at the heart of Sailor Moon.

What paradox, you ask? Well, consider the character of Sailor Moon as originally conceived and presented in Japan. Sailor Moon is actually a fourteen year old schoolgirl named Usagi Tsukino, born and raised Japanese, surrounded by Japanese friends, and by all accounts considered ethnically Japanese. Sounds reasonable enough, right? A Japanese main character in a Japanese story.

But then, well, look at her:

This is our hero, our Japanese hero, as drawn by her Japanese creator, Naoko Takeuchi. And again, no-one the world over so much as bats an eye. The reason for that is simple, of course: the vast majority of manga and anime depict their Japanese characters in this manner. Why should Sailor Moon be any different?

What happens, though, when you try to translate this to the medium of live-action? That was the problem faced by PGSM. On the one hand, the character of Usagi Tsukino is supposed to be Japanese, but on the other hand, all previous incarnations of Sailor Moon have depicted her as practically Aryan. Appealing to mukokuseki can only take one so far, especially where live-action is concerned. So what did the makers of PGSM do instead? Simple: they put a blond wig on the head of a Japanese actress! You're welcome.

Now, clearly, that shit ain't gonna cut it in Hollywood. The typical American viewer can't appreciate true genius has some standards. So what's to be done by the studio tasked with adapting Sailor Moon to the big screen?

Here are two things they could do, but won't: a) create an animated adaptation; and b) retool the character to look more convincingly Japanese. Doing a) would miss the point-- why try to do something that Japanese studios could do just as effectively, especially when this option will limit the potential audience? Likewise, b) is out of the question since, well, American audiences are more likely to identify with an American character.

Here's what the producers will likely do: set it the United States. San Francisco, perhaps. In this way, they would have no problem justifying the use of a white actress. This, however, I cannot abide. The setting of Sailor Moon has always been the Azabujuban neighborhood of Tokyo. To take Sailor Moon out of Azabujuban would be like removing Spiderman from New York (the Japanese, it turns out, already tried that). The town, in its own way, adds a certain character to the series that would be lost by setting it in America.

So here's what I propose: go the Grudge route and have Usagi Tsukino be an American living in Japan.

There's more potential to this than you might think. As I said earlier, anime characters are typically portrayed as ethnically Japanese and yet, by and large, do not have what we in the West would consider a particularly Japanese appearance. This is especially true in the case of Sailor Moon, where the character is depicted as pretty much Caucasian. But what happens when you try to play out this contradiction in real life, as opposed to anime? What happens when a white teenage American ex-pat tries to go Japanese?

For your consideration: Serena, the fourteen year old daughter of a reporter for NHK World's English language news broadcast, has lived in Japan for about five years. She has learned to speak the language well (even if her grasp of Kanji is limited compared to others in her age group) and can navigate her way through the social structure fairly well, earning a respectable circle of friends, the closest of which being Naru Osaka. She's a little flighty, a little lazy (she was a strong student in elementary, but hasn't kept up with her studies since entering junior high) and is, as described by Takeuchi herself, "a bit of a crybaby." Quite a few girls are the same at this stage of their lives, and yet somehow, everyone seems to see these qualities more in Serena than in other girls. When she makes a mistake, in her studies, her hobbies, her speech, everyone seems to notice, even when other girls make the same or even worse mistakes.

It's never outright cruel, or at least not intentionally so. We've all done certain things at this age that we thought were funny or cute or just harmless but actually turned out to be embarrassing, hurtful, or even traumatic. The most overtly hurtful thing to ever happen to Serena is to be bestowed with the nickname Tsukino Usagi, "Rabbit of the Moon," on account of her distinctive hair cut and head-in-the-clouds attitude. Even this, though, eventually works out in "Usagi's" favour, as she, and everyone else, decides that the nickname is cute.

Nevertheless, Usagi lives her life in Japan in ways that are subtly different from those of her friends. Sometimes young girls, elementary age, will giggle when they see Usagi and talk about her "dumpling head," even though they know she can hear them. She'll call them out, of course, and they'll apologize, somehow surprised at what happened. Sometimes older people will whisper to each other when Usagi is nearby. Occasionally, she and her family have been turned away from certain dining establishments-- one time, when Usagi was about 10 or 11, she and her dad couldn't even get taxi service. In addition, though Usagi is not terribly interested in her father's work, she has heard him talk at times about the strange things he's heard influential Japanese people say, like one politician insisting that food imports should be limited because the extra length of Japanese people's intestines prevents foreign food from being properly digested (And yes, all of these are based or real anecdotes). Of course, she thinks this is funny, and so apparently does her father, even as he tells his story with a tinge of bitterness.

On their own, they're little subtle things. But taken together. . . well, it recontextualizes things a bit, don't it?

P.S.: This isn't the first time I've devoted an unhealthy amount of mental energies to an epic scale remake. For years, in the back of my mind, I toiled on a spinoff of Star Trek whose plot spanned the final four decades of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the one-two punch of Enterprise and the 2009 film destroyed any desire I had to keep working on it (the 2009 film actually dealt with an idea I had been working on but, being the 2009 film, did it in the stupidest, sloppiest way imaginable). But with Sailor Moon. . . well, I guess the best way I can explain it is that as long as it still has not been made, there's still some reason to get it out.


Cait said...

I came across this by accident, and I think you have really great ideas. You can guarantee that if an American live action is made, it will be nothing like the ideas you've outlined here and far worse. It's too bad you don't have an influence in movie-making because this is a Sailor Moon incarnation that I would go to see and definitely enjoy.

Naomi said...

You spent far too much time on this, but I think it's great and definitely has potential. Write up a script for it Jeremy, and send it off somewhere. You never know.

A.J. said...

You make some seriously solid points on the matter. Honestly, I couldn't imagine how to solve the identity issues of Sailor Moon and trying to sell her to people who liked Transformers 2. Still, can't wait to see how it gets tackled.

You're definitely getting all of the knowledge you need to write it, though. Even just reading your posts on it offer some fairly interesting facts(i.e. the anecdotes about long Japanese intestines.).

Still, I look forward to catching up on these posts.

Oh, and if you don't mind me asking what part of your Star Trek idea did the film incorporate? I think it's safe to assume it wasn't the part where they cover everything in lens flare.

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