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On the Cowboy Bebop Live Action Movie (and Akira, while we’re on about it)

January 17, 2009

All “anime” fans have heard the news already, as have Keanu Reeves devotees. For the uninitiated, Reeves is planning a live action version of the fabled animated series from Japan, “Cowboy Bebop,” which aired in the US on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim.” (and still does). The series, which involved three bounty hunters who could zip around future Earth and a Western milieu, blended hard boiled detective fiction, the French New Wave and jazz.

Of course, the fandom is all anxious about the movie, especially with Reeves spearheading the project and starring as the series stud Spike Spiegel. I understand that and empathize. I don’t hold high hopes, even with the recent announcement that some members of the series’ creative team has been brought on board the project (or at least given titles and a salary). What can Reeves and a Hollywood production team do in two hours what it took two seasons to build?

I also understand that, no matter how much Reeves likes the show, he and the studios are not making the film for “us.” The show wont feature Watanabe’s Spiegel, it will be Reeves’ Spiegel. The movie is going to be featuring “the star of the Matrix” as its selling point, not that its based on a cartoon with cult popularity.

I don’t really understand the need to make this film, aside from Reeves’ need to keep making summer blockbusters. I mean, why a movie that boasts that it’s based on “Bebop.” Why not just do what Joss Whedon did with “Firefly” and liberally steal from “Bebop,” but make something (legally) different?

Maybe its the the same old copycat Hollywoof mentality. Reeves’ Bebop got going as the same time as Leo DiCaprio’s Akira remake project did [ED: Apparently the project is dead, according to a background-sourced report from Cheers], and both soon after the Wachowski’s Speed Racer started production. (and let us not forget James Cameron’s “Battle Angel” project or the live action Neon Genesis Evangelion project, which have been in pre-production for years, both are now moving forward I hear).

I’m not really interested in live action remakes of animated films and series. The animation is part of the art, part of the storytelling, part of the appeal. Though I suppose CGI is blurring lines between “live action” and animation, I don’t think bringing photographed people into the project is going to add anything.

And though this is less about cultural appropriation than art, I don’t think a Western vision is going to add anything either (nor translate any better than subtitles already have).

So, yeah, as I was saying, commerce is what’s driving these projects, but it’s also fandom (maybe with the exception of the Cameron project) that drives this as well. If you bother to peer at any forum for any popular-at-the-moment comic or animated series, you always see threads speculating on who should play this character or that in a movie. That’s the other part I don’t get; why we feel a need to see comics and animation interpreted by live actors. We’ve already come to enjoy the vision of the artists and writers. Why isn’t that enough?

It’s cultural, that’s my thinking. Film (and television) legitimizes a form of entertainment perceived to be for the young in much of the West (and, contrary to popular belief, even Japan). Not even otaku want to be otaku forever. Even now that the animated arts are more popular and more respected than at any time I can recall, we still want the popular kids to acknowledge this. And who is more popular than Leo or Keanu or Cameron?

I am of course not above any of it. I’ve dreamed of doing a script for a live action version of FLCL starring Shiina Ringo.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2009 5:09 pm

    I love Cowboy BeBop, Akira and FLCL.
    I can’t imagine how these will work in live-action films.
    And Keanu as Spike. It’s hard to imagine.

  2. smarterthanyou permalink
    January 25, 2009 12:57 pm

    The bebop movie isn’t a recap for the entire series, it’s supposed to be an extension of the first episode. I’m guessing this movie will be terrible, since the lead character will be played by an idiot who, if he fails, may get sent off to military school by his dad, the police chief.

    that being said, just for the record, any parallels between firefly and cowboy bebop are just as ridiculous as those between, say, the terminator and the matrix. the depth and scope of cowboy bebop’s universe (as well as firefly’s) are what made the show epic. I’m not sure hollywood, keanu, or anyone else could accurately recreate what bebop encapsulates.

    and why keanu? he doesn’t look like spike. sure, he’s sort of tall, but so are lots of REAL asian people who know REAL martial arts, and i’m sure they could find at least one or two hundred thousand people in Japan who make a living by acting, dressing, and sounding like Spike Spiegel on a daily basis. Anyone who thinks Keanu is a good actor for this part probably hasn’t seen cowboy bebop, or bill and ted’s excellent adventure. you just can’t watch the two back to back and then say “yeah, Ted could play a zen-master intergalactic badass bounty hunter. now if only he could remember to wind his watch…”

    • January 25, 2009 4:13 pm

      I don’t have a problem w/ Keanu playing Spike, really. I don’t know if he can bring out the sardonic qualities in the character — maybe he can. Yet I don’t believe the creators intended Spiegel to necessarily be Japanese, so again I don’t see any ethnicity issues.

      As to Firefly/Bebop, just because Whedon didn’t get it “right” doesn’t mean there aren’t really glaringly obvious similarities.

      Any TV show, if it lasts long enough, can be described as “epic” if it has some through lines that last over a period of time (the currently oft discussed here BSG, Lost, X-Files, etc). You can’t really give either show points for that. Even Dragonball Z qualifies as epic by definition.

      Therein lies the problem with accurately recreating the experience the viewer receives, as I was saying in the OP. These shows that last for a year or two (or eight) give characters a chance to grow (perhaps) and stories to develop over time. You can’t mash that into a couple of hours very effectively. This is why fanboys and girls are inevitably dissatisfied when their favorite makes the jump to ‘scope. So even though yes it will expand on the first episodes and not recap the series, it’s the entire series that made people fans, and that experience is what they will be hoping for when they check in.

  3. hayim permalink
    March 23, 2009 11:16 am

    Boy am i excited and dreading this. Its not really about recreating the anime in live film. What we all want, is more of what we love. More bebop. But maybe there isnt any more out there? Maybe watanabe has told all the bebop he’s gonna tell? What can be done?

    Well, someone else can come and take the story further. (like sarah connor chronicles, which is interminably slow, but i love anyhow) But you wouldnt want them to try redo the anime, so you’d need a medium change. If they can do this, actually take the story somewhere further/new while keeping true to the original, well woohoo! More bebop! Thats what its about.

    But casting will be the problem, because the characters have so much personality already that youd need to find people who can actually act – not hollywood stars.. It could be awesome. Please let it be awesome…

  4. george permalink
    June 7, 2009 10:40 am

    I think there is a lot to be said for adaptations of stories from one media to another. If done well it can expand the universe of a story in amazing ways or add a new vision. This rash of new movies is no different than what has been happening since cinema began, its just being adapted from a new source.

    As for an adaptation of Bebop, I will just be interested in seeing how they adapt the characters. It is fun seeing characters that you know a specific way being given a whole new dimension. I would argue that many people think to themselves “what would Spike (or Ed or Ein) be like in real life?” and movies give us a chance to explore that a little bit. Sure in almost all cases there will be something in a character that will be different (“they didn’t get X quite right”), but that should be expected.

  5. mbollatti permalink
    June 24, 2009 5:02 pm

    I always wondered if there would be a cowboy movie, the actual anime movie was great.It may be interesting to see , to capture the whole story and characters I would rather see made by japanese producers rather than just another attempt at a adaptation of comic brought to film. Has anyone seen the actual film based on the show Death note?

  6. Nightshadow permalink
    August 24, 2009 12:10 pm

    Ok i have been watching anime since I saw g-force AKA Gia force.. I have seen a pretty broad range and have a number of likes in all… That being said..
    I see alot of people already shooting down the movie Just because it was a “EPIC” or “Pop Cult Classic” and it will “Never translate well”.
    Non sence.. first: Remove expectations of it being JUST LIKE the anime. Never happens.. ut they always come as close as they can with live action and slamming 5 saga’s/episodes into a 1.5 2.5 hour long film wich with all the edits put back in are actually about 3 hours.
    Keanu IS perfect for the roll because SPIKE is from what once was the U.S. and is as Tall as keanu, has a personafiction that ONLY keanu can deliver properly as he has played character rolls like that multiple times in hte past I.E. Johny Nuemonic/Matrix/Point Break. Need I say more. Stop looking at Bill & Ted’s… He was MUCH younger and that was a totally DIFFERNT character.
    I have been studying acting for years in private. It takes alot to try and find the right person with the look, but they 9 out of 10 times end up NOT being able to portray a character well. I.E. Dragon ball. he had the look of a young Goku, but lacked the attitude or personafication skills to brign the character to life. So it did as i expected and I was not disappointed. just could have been better.
    Point of all this is.. really think about it.. it is a BIG project but it is backed by people that LOVED the shoiw and are willling to go to great extents to get it up to par for live action. they are talking to the original development staff wich means they can help them get all the attitudes down.. styles… Looks… help with story line development… They didn’t REALLY do that for dragon ball. they just got a few pointers then and said f it and through it together.
    I see potentual for this one and in responce to the june 24th post about detah note.. I saw it. Not bad at all and the ryuk they used in cgi was absolutley what I anticipated. not bad ofr kramming half a series into 1.5-2 hours. would love ot see the edited material put back in though.

    • Night shadow is a fag permalink
      January 10, 2010 7:20 am

      First of all Keanu isn’t American. He’s Canadian but he actually was born in Lebanon. Get it straight retard. Next of all is there any movie that did well in Live action that was an anime??? DONT THINK SO… BLOOD+ sucked and grossed almost nothing in america, and Death Note was only bought by girls who love poppy goth dudes who actually are closet Fags, like all the girls who bought Twilight… But in this case Death Note didnt cater to American retarded girls, so it also made NOTHING!!! And DBZ was a complete failure no matter how much you believe the guy looked like Goku retard. Go buy twilight and suck Robert Pattinson’s dick and leave anime to the real fans.

      • Night shadow is a fag permalink
        January 10, 2010 7:26 am

        I read another thing in your post that you need to learn. Spike was from MARS not Earth SO HOW IN THE HELL was he from, “WHAT WAS THE U.S.???”

  7. Space Cowboy permalink
    January 10, 2010 7:08 am

    -I really don’t want this to be a movie, cause this is one of the most highly respected animes in the biz, and if they screw it up it will be looked at like a big joke like the first hulk movie…
    -but on the other hand getting Shinichirō Watanabe and Keiko Nobumoto to work on Bebop again may make them make a prequel to the series and i have always wanted to see a series built around Jet Black’s and Spike Spiegel’s days when Jet was actually a cop, and Spike was in the syndicate with Vicious and Julia.
    wouldn’t that be a cool series???

  8. Bebop permalink
    February 7, 2010 9:04 pm

    Cowboy bebop was heavily based around America Culture around the 1940’s with the big jazz scene its nothing really to do with japanese culture at all for people wanting japanese J pop star playing spike. Looking on the web theres nothing that actauly gives me confidence that this is actualy being made though…

  9. SwimmingBird permalink
    August 21, 2010 7:12 pm

    Do you guys not remember the Cowboy Bebop movie? If memory serves it was a runaway hit and is an excellent story. It was not accepted by the fans, etc just because it is the same medium and characters as the original material. If the script can stand on its own it has the potential to be an awesome movie. The creators of Bebop have already said they do not want to extend the series, but I’m with Space Cowboy, a prequel would be excellent, because it in no way violates the ending. Make another story about an epic bounty capture, an expanded episode if you will.

    Hopefully we will get to see the Swordfish II in action 🙂

  10. SwimmingBird permalink
    August 21, 2010 7:13 pm

    sorry about the double post, but:

    and to be honest, Spike Spiegel just seems to be lacking most of the qualities a Japanese name has, vowel – consonant alternation, etc.

  11. Anthony permalink
    August 28, 2010 9:49 pm

    Hey what anime person looks asian at all <.< think about it do anime ppl look asian to anyone and i enjoyed the bill and ted movies and keanu reeves looks like spike to me kind like zac efron looks like light yagami

  12. December 10, 2016 7:37 pm

    thwnks for the great info


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