The key things to remember when translating a Japanese property to the US? Make sure there's a story... and everything you know is probably wrong. It's not just my opinion, but the consensus of those with experience in Transformers, The Ring and manga publishing.
The Hollywood Reporter attended a fascinating panel at the American Film Market last week, where Transformers producer Don Murphy, The Ring and The Grudge remake producer Roy Lee and Viz Media's Jason Hoffs discussed their experiences in bringing Japanese culture to America. Here are their three main takeaways:
Have Patience (1)One difference between US and Japanese corporate cultures is the amount of time it can take to get a decision, according to Lee: "The biggest Hollywood studio complaint is that these things can take one to two years and have to go through multiple committees in Japan." He went on to say that, with the way Hollywood works, it's not uncommon for US executives behind the origin of a project to no longer be in the same position once the Japanese executives have given it the greenlight.
Make Sure There's Something For Audiences To Connect ToAs Murphy told the audience, "If it's just a movie based on a toy, you could end up with something like the Stretch Armstrong movie." The success of something like Transformers, he suggested, had more to do with the animated series and comic mythology than the toys themselves. It's something that Hoffs agreed with, saying "Because of a manga's weekly installments and their episodic form, there's usually a powerful bond between the readers and the characters."
Have Patience (2)Make sure everyone's on the same page, warned Murphy, talking about a frustrating experience where a protracted deal process ended with the deal falling apart: "Yes means no and no means no and sometimes maybe means no, too. It's very polite but sometimes you just need an answer. Make sure the content holder actually wants to sell." Hoffs expanded on the theme, adding, "Often most rights land with the manga creator. The devil's in the details and it's important to find out what's most important to the content owner – loyalty to the original, or money."
With the exception of, perhaps, the corporate culture clash, I can't help but feel as if these points shouldn't just be applied to licensing Japanese properties, but any property... Especially that one about making sure that there's a story there (Something that I wish the makers of the Battleship movie had thought about before getting started on that one. Alien invasion, my "you sunk my battleship" behind...). Maybe there needs to be more panels about just making good movies in any culture, to get this idea out...