Kite (2014) Live-Action Film: What to Expect Given The Original 1998 Version

The trailer for the upcoming live-action adaption for the 1998 anime short film Kite has received a lot of negativity from the internet at large. There are so many unenthusiastic groans from news sites, YouTube comments and message boards, one could almost hear them off screen. If the trailer did not make this obvious enough, Kite tells the story of a high school girl, Sawa, who works as a crime fighter, and the people she meets along the way. In order to make any judgments about the quality of the live action film, it is worth investigating what made the original Kite popular (often called a ‘cult classic’), and contrast the footage presented so far to the anime.

Kite

Kite by Yasuomi Umetsu is what would happen if Stephen King and Quenten Tarantino got together and made an animated feature. It was originally a set of short films (OVAs), but was combined together to create the 50-60 minute feature. What makes up the extra 10 minutes of the longer version? Explicit pornography. And since it was between a teenager and a grown man, Kite was banned in several countries. It is highly distracting to say the least. Unless you are in the mood for that style of hentai (anime porn), I would highly recommend to stay away from the uncut version as it disrupts the seriousness of the narrative and brings the level of content to overkill. David R Ellis was originally chosen to direct the live-action adaption but sadly passed away, so Ralph Ziman took up the role. He has directed some highly acclaimed, although unheard of, films like Jerusalema, The Zookeeper and Hearts and Minds. At least on paper the production appears to be in good hands.

Kite is a difficult yet equally important film to watch as it displays the gory, highly sexual aspects of anime that gave it a bad reputation back in the 90’s. The shock value of the elements of sex and nudity in the 1998 anime could have been what created its “cult classic” status. The same could be said for the violence and gratuitous swearing. It is hardly surprising. The entertainment industry loves action and sex, so why not put the two together? Within the first few lines the f-bomb, c and b-word are dropped, which gives an immediate idea of what to expect. Kite brings everything uncomfortable to the extreme and is an enjoyable film if the viewer can ignore all these things. To some, its graphic nature is what brings forth enjoyment. What Kite improves upon compared to others of its time, like Wicked City, is by having an interesting story and sympathetic characters.

An example of the off putting color composition in the original anime

An example of the off putting color composition in the original anime

From the trailer, and the few sneak preview scenes on Youtube, a number of conclusions can be drawn from what is presented about the film so far. Two scenes are exposed which are almost shot-per-shot replications of the original: the elevator and bathroom scenes. In the elevator scene the anime had exploding heads, and unrealistic proportions of ketchup colored blood flying everywhere. The live action interpretation has a lot less blood, although the basic acts of violence appear to be left intact for the movie. This is an understandable choice as it makes the material more believable, although perhaps less fun. It is easier to show violence than sex in the film, so one can imagine, and hope, that with the over the top violence watered down, the action scenes will provide the same, perhaps greater, measure of entertainment when compared to the original. The animation of Kite exceeded in these action scenes, especially with hand to hand combat. It was also the highlight of the animated piece. Everything you may want to see in an action movie was there: hand to hand combat, guns, explosives, and more. Another given positive of live action film is that one doesn’t have to worry about distributing a budget to accommodate how much characters move.

The swearing is cut down significantly, although not eliminated, which makes it less off-putting to casual action movie goers. In the bathroom scene, the level of detail shown when a character is stabbed is replicated exactly. One of the more disgusting shots, where one man loses his lunch, is also left in. The choreography for the fighting appears to be the same. Funnily enough, it looks less gory than in the animated version. So far the most fun aspects of the anime are replicated to an admirable degree. What about the rape scenes? From a very short scene with Samuel L Jackson’s character and the youthful Sawa, it appears to be replaced with drug abuse, although this is not necessarily bad. Perhaps sexual abuse could still be part of the story, we just may not see it. If it is solely about drug abuse, then there absolutely needs to be changes to allow the story to have the same devastating, shocking, emotional impact. Perhaps more graphic, although non-sexual acts of violence could portray this.

According to an introduction to the trailer by Samuel L Jackson, Kite was filmed in Germany. This is different compared to the original, which one can assume is in Tokyo. It is difficult to tell as it is never explicitly stated. It appears that the crew, like set director Melinda Launspach, did a good job copying the grim feel of locations while retaining an aesthetic, pretty quality from European architecture and interior design. This is a giant step up over the original animated version. Apart from the level of swearing, the most distracting aspect of the film was the awful color composition by Haremi Miyakawa (Bleach). Much like the robot action anime series Gundam Seed, Kite used murky hues with high saturation which should never be seen in the same frame – there are almost fluorescent greens mixed with orange, gray and red, for example. It looks terrible. The character designs by Madoka Magica animator Yasuomi Umetsu are very typical for the 90’s era. They are not generic by today’s standards but they include lanky features, overly detailed, small eyes and pointed noses- think Sailor Moon. Again, an advantage of live-action film is that any of these outdated stylistic choices are removed – at least, until another few decades. It gives Kite a new, polished look, which it needed desperately.

The two main protagonists and their respective looks

The two main protagonists and their respective looks

A high point that separated Kite from other soulless action stories were the main two protagonists: Sawa and Oburi. They are endearing. The two come across as very kind hearted and innocent when together, but are no doubt holding trauma in their psyches as they are ruthless in combat. There are a few scenes as these characters get to know one another which make you care about them. If these scenes were not here the film would have been nothing but a useless excuse for gore, like Dredd. Do the actors portray this same sense of innocence? It is incredibly hard to tell with the information the viewers are given.

The most promising performance so far is Samuel L. Jackson as Karl Aker, Sawa’s guardian and boss. As the majority of the world knows, Jackson features in many action films. No doubt, he will be playing to his strengths here. Not only that, he played bad guys and drug addicts before he broke into the star he is now, which is very suitable for Karl. Jackson has the same look that Karl does with the finely trimmed beard and outfit. He also has the same nuance to his voice. He seems to be perfect in the role. India Eisley plays Sawa, and she shows promise so far. She has the innocent look, for sure, and strangely enough has red anime hair. Thankfully, it is the original brown in other scenes. Costumes and make up otherwise look nice, thanks to veteran stylist Askia Won-Ling Jacob (The Avengers, Django Unchained). If we ignore Eisley’s role in the cheesy, overdone The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she has had some experience in action films by playing Eve in Underworld: Awakening. The delivery of some of her lines in the trailer are awkward, although it could be the way the film is cut. Callan AcAuliffe plays Oburi. He has a larger resume than Miss Eisley, a more recent role being the young Gatsby in The Great Gatsby and playing Sam in I Am Number Four. His performance is limited and shaky so far. It will be hard to judge how the two protagonists go until the film is released. The only major out of place aspect about the casting is that, while Sawa could easily be Americanized for live action given the way she was drawn, Oburi looked and seemed very Japanese to me. It seems bizarre they didn’t get a Japanese actor to play him. It wouldn’t have been difficult to do. Perhaps his acting will make us forget it when the movie comes out.

The story mostly surrounds Sawa solving mysteries and murdering a few wrongdoers, and her journey for self discovery. I don’t want to spoil it too much. I may have hyped up how gory it is, but just know all the grimness is brought to a satisfying conclusion. It is nice to see bad guys brought to justice in an unjust world. Since the original was only 50 minutes, which does not classify it as a feature film, the story is very simple. This is very likely the reason why the trailer comes across as having a plain, stupid and straight forward story – because it was not written for feature length running time – they had the extra sex scenes for that. It is worrisome what the screenwriter(s) may have done to fill the gaps. With any luck it will be some character development or cool action scenes. The make or break of the live-action film will be whether it can deliver on the climax, the ending. It tied all the threads together in a nice little bow and left an impression. To be vague, the live action film will really need to amp up the intensity of the drug abuse if it wants to bring across the same heightening of emotions. In those final scenes, the viewers feel a real sense of danger and hopelessness. If that is not executed correctly a lot of the impact of the story will be lost.

The soundtrack for the animated version by An Fu did not contain any songs although the background music alternates between jazz (during some of the most uncomfortable scenes), piano and traditional oriental music. It is not the sort of thing one would track down to find but it did its job to set mood and add suspense. This will not be hard to top, although the weird dub step music in the trailer seems to be going for a different style. It is hard to say at this point what the music will be like. So far it is not looking great. It would be nice if some spirit of the original was there, even if it is the jazz. Let’s hope documentary music supervisor, Linda Osher will give the original a glimpse and have the same desire to retain some aspects of the original.

Kite 2014

The original Kite looked ugly. It had some horrifically graphic scenes, only one of which was actually important, but was overall an entertaining, although overdone action flick. It redeemed itself with the characters even if the story is very straight forward. With the simple story, viewers have their fingers crossed for a film which does not stretch itself out too long, does the characters justice and manages to replicate the intensity of the climax and chilling ending. So far the visual aspects are improved upon, but it will come down to the screenwriter (who is currently unlisted), and the chemistry between Sawa and Oburi’s characters to make or break it. The franchise is meant to be somewhat mindless, B rated fun, so a masterpiece was never part of the picture. The look and the fun is there, but will the substance be? The criticism for the trailer is partially justified, but Kite has potential to redeem itself if the other aspects of the film are done right.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Article covers: Film
Article Editors: CriticalOtaku, Helen Parshall, ZicoSuave, Jemarc Axinto, Misagh, Riviera

Article by: Jordan

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Jordan
Despite my name, I am female and 23 years old. I've been writing about anime since I was 15, and it looked far worse than this. I love all things media, especially writing.

39 Comments

  1. I doubt they doing what Samuel Jacksons character does in the anime. He was a vile character in the anime. It just looked really low budget and cheap. American Movie Industry couldnt do Kite because of their ratings and certificates. Now a European movie , could maybe try it.

  2. It’s only a matter of time until Hollywood ruins Akira, too.

    • Jordan

      They did make the film Chronicle which was a homage to Akira. Not a bad film, either.

    • Animes ruined by Hollywood:
      Dragonball Z
      Avatar The Last Airbender
      Astro Boy
      Speed Racer

      Ones yet to be ruined…
      Akira
      Naruto
      Bleach
      Deathnote

      • Speed Racer was fantastic and Astro Boy was Decent, the rest I’ll agree with.

      • Actually there are 3 live action Deathnote movies. Though they were not made by hollywood. They arent too bad.

      • Avatar the last airbender is not anime. Its owned and created by Nickelodeon. The animation if I remember correctly is out of Korea not Japan.

  3. Kite taught me at a young age to check a review before you dive into a 60 minute anime with 15 minutes of hardcore pornographic rape scenes with your mom in the room.

    • Jordan

      Oh my gosh, that sounds hilarious. What happened?

  4. IMO Anime is at it’s peak right now in the Western side of the world with people paying top dollar for imports of these shows and waiting for dubs or subs to be available online. No wonder we are seeing so many adaptations lately.

  5. Somehow I really doubt the graphic rape scene with the girls boyfriend at gun point is going to happen in this. That was the climax of the anime and this is probably going to be about as similar as Wanted the graphic novel was to Wanted the movie.

    • I’m sure there’s gonna be some form of…dream sequence where she imagines him getting ready to rape her…but I’m sure she’ll wake up from it. HONESTLY…I loved the original Anime…but I could’ve done without that scene. I mean that scene could’ve been put in differently and not as graphic. I watch the movie from time to time but I have to be careful because of that scene.

    • That was my first thought about this. I thought to myself, “does this mean that at some point in this movie, Sam is going to……. wow.. never mind…” Then I watched the trailer. I don’t think Sam looked into Kite before he signed onto this movie. Unless he has no problem with said scene.

  6. Sam Jackson – for every awesome movie he does, he has to do about 3 awful ones. It’s his code.

  7. I personally don’t think live action adaptations can recapture what makes an anime good, all though i do look forward to Guillermo Del Toro’s monster adaptation.

  8. This is gonna be some bullshit. Kite is great, but it doesn’t need a live action version, especially one that looks as completely unfaithful as this. “Sawa” doesn’t have even remotely the same personality, “Oburi” looks to play no part whatsoever, and Samuel L. Jackson? WHY, SAM?

  9. It’s nothing amazing but i’ll watch it just because its got samuel in it. When we gonna get some more AFRO SAMURAI!!!!!!!!!

  10. To be honest. Kite itself was not a good anime. Just typical generic assassin girl with ecchi & fan service thrown in for good measure. The story was so-so. I’d rather watch Noir (same concept, better storytelling) than Kite.

    • Jordan

      I found Noir really slow, but you’re right, it would probably be more fitting to adapt into a live action film.

  11. This looks terrible. Zero production value. Zero. Did they make this movie on a budget of food stamps and broken promises?

    • Clerks is probably one of the best movies ever, don’t hate a movie for having low production value till you see it.

  12. Sorry but this film seems to be more style and zero substance. Pray this is not the fate of a live action Ninja Scroll or Vampire Hunter D.

    • from an anime that was more style and zero substance…. seems like they’ve hit a home run remake, that no-one will go and see. looks like sam jackson got a utilities bill in the same mail that this script came in.

  13. So they went for this over something like Akira or Ghost in the Shell? Come on…

    I mean I liked the movie but it wasn’t at the top of the priority list for Hollywood. I guess we could use it to measure how badly they screw any other adaptions though.

    • I agree. Akira and Ghost in the Shell would be great. I can even go as far as saying that GITS would be a great action film to be done now with all the tech that has advanced.

  14. we don’t need a live action version….If there is a couple of animie’s that could be improved by actually doing it in live action TV Show or Movie; Beserk(Think Game of Thrones but with demons) , Fullmetal Alchmesit, Guin Saga(Lord of the Rings Style with a guy with a Leopard Head) , Hellsing, Trigun, Outlaw Star, and Vampire Hunter D…

    • FYI: The Berserk manga already got a trilogy from Warner Bros. covering the exact same storyline the TV series did, with some minor improvements, but still underwhelming presentation.

  15. I’ve seen Kite before. Well Kite: Liberator. It was pretty forgettable, because I don’t remember it :P But I’m pretty sure it didn’t look or feel like this. This looks like a Luc Besson movie, but not as imaginative + colorful as Fifth Element. It also looks like Luc Besson had just seen the Matrix, and thought it too would be cool to use a green filter over the whole thing.

    I’m not saying it can’t be pretty neat, but I’m also pretty sure this didn’t have to be a licensed movie. I question the power of the IP in the first place. The only thing here that says, “anime” are the “slash” motion graphics on the Title Cards throughout the end of the trailer there.

    Hollywood; just stop licensing everything. Why not talk to the authors who make these IP that get your attention, and ask them to WRITE A MOVIE. Then you can advertise it as, “From so-and-so, the creator of the cult classic anime, Kite”. I can guarantee that would be as effective a draw as basing this whole thing loosely off the story of the Kite property (i.e. practically none). Also, if ever again you try to adapt an anime, please cast some Asian-American actors in it – I’m not even saying Japanese, because you’re pretty racist judging by how few non-white actors are big names, command top billing or are regularly cast in things. AT LEAST get an Asian director? When I looked at this trailer on Youtube, one of the recommended movies on the side was for a Korean movie called, “The Suspect”. It looks LOADS BETTER than this; more energy, better shot composition, better action scenes, etc. Freshen things up. You can probably get foreign directors for the same kind of cash – or less – than the C-grade music video rookies you nab for projects like this.

  16. for those that have seen the anime, the elevator scene and the bathroom scene are on point with the anime, im sure the explicit sexual parts will not be included, only hinted at, but if they keep it on point, i’ll be looking forward to it. besides is Samuel L Jackson too, huge fan of graphic novels himself onboard.

  17. This has always been my favorite anime and I’m actually really surprised they’re making it. It’s also no surprise SLJ is in it. He’s in every movie now a days.

  18. I’m pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of what the trailer showed. But well all remember the sex scenes and stuff, right? We know this won’t have it. And if it does, well… BRAVO!

  19. In all honesty, this looks horrendous. Some things just don’t translate well to film from other mediums. With that being said, I am looking forward to what James Cameron does with the adaptation of “Battle Angel” because I loved that OVA.

  20. I have to admit, speaking as an anime fan. I do NOT get why people liked Kite to begin with at all. To me at least, the anime was awful, the characters (Except the females ones) looked horrifying and the director Yosuomi Umetsu is just a terrible director and the stories always end in cliff hangers. I hate his animes like, Kite Liberator and Mezzo Forte, to me it just seems like Umetsu is also the most misogynistic pedophiliac director ever. Kite was a sh**ty anime, not to mention one of the most provocatively offensive things I have ever scene, and I have no idea why a live action film is even being made about it. HOWEVER!!

    The live action movie, I will still give a chance. Who knows, maybe the movie will actually be better than the source material. I hope…. if not, then Kite as a whole was a mess to begin with…

    • The studio actually made the director have the explicit sex in there for sales, since they didn’t think Kite or Mezzo Forte would sell at all otherwise. The director’s cut has all the pointless graphic sex cut out. Same for Mezzo Forte. I really enjoy Kite, but it is very flawed for certain. The concept and overall story is great for a short film in my opinion. If you didn’t like it, fine, but I don’t think your reasons are good. The live action film looks horrendous.

  21. Mary Awad

    I’ve never heard of this before. And I don’t know what to think hahahah. The movie kinda looks like a flop but I don’t know if I should watch the anime either. Is it worth it?

    • Jordan

      If you watch the 50min version it isn’t too bad. Interesting would be a good way to describe it :p
      The movie does look like a flop so far

  22. There aren’t many animes that would translate well to live action in my opinion. I wouldn’t mind an attempt with shows like Attack on Titan or something like that though.

  23. I understand it’s popular, but um Kill Bill is a better chick revenge movie and I haven’t even seen this debicale. This might as we’ll be straight to DVD, he’ll it probably will be.

  24. I liked what I saw, close to the anime where it came from (elevator and bathroom scene) I will give it a shot. Sadly, the sex scenes should be out; the creator of the anime added them because the anime production company wanted a hentai film.

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