SPOILER ALERT: The following article discusses some events and plot points from the "Attack on Titan" film.
In mid-July, members of the press and a few lucky fans were among the first to see the live-action "Attack on Titan" at the film's World Premiere in Hollywood's Egyptian Theater. Hosted by FUNimation Entertainment, director Shinji Higuchi and stars Haruma Miura and Kiko Mizuhara were on hand to introduce the movie, speak with the press and answer questions from the audience after the screening.
Released by FUNimation and Toho Co. Ltd., "Attack on Titan" is the first of a two-part, live-action adaptation of Hajime Iyasama's manga series, inspired by the four spinoff manga, the hit 25-episode anime series and the four video games that followed.
Like the manga it's based on, the film explores a post-apocalyptic society devastated by a race of giants known only as Titans. Confined within three concentric walls, hundreds of feet high, Eren Yeager (Haruma Miura), Mikasa Ackerman (Kiko Mizuhara) and countless others spend their day-to-day lives in a paradise of mankind's making, protected from the looming dangers of the outside world. Without a single disturbance in nearly 100 years, the Titans have become all but myths, until a Titan larger than any seen before tears down a portion of a wall, allowing numerous others to invade and terrorize the last of the human race. Unable to defend themselves, hundreds are literally lifted into the air and devoured by the giants. Eventually, the destruction ends, the remaining few rebuild and confine themselves within a much smaller territory. But a plan of attack is needed, and Eren and Mikasa could be humanity's last hope for survival.
Mizuhara told us that it took skill and dedication to pull off a character like Mikasa, someone who goes from quiet and meek to a world-class monster killer. "[Mikasa's] an amazing, complex character. I have so much fun playing her. I only hope that I did her justice," Mizuhara said. "I was so attracted with the character of Mikasa in life. She's a strong woman, first of all. And everybody knows she's strong, and physically powerful."
But even after shifting into a ruthless Titan slayer, Mikasa doesn't lose her humanity. "Her sensitivity and her heart is to protect others, that is her mission," Mizuhara said. "So she has a very sensitive heart, almost like she's mothering the human race and needs to protect them. So I was very, very attracted to playing Mikasa."
Adapting any beloved character comes with a large weight of responsibility, and for Miura, playing the popular Eren meant living up to the highest of high expectations. "It was a huge amount of pressure, but if you're working in that kind of circumstance there's a lot to learn, so I learned a lot in the process," he said.
Based on the audience's reaction, Miura more than satisfied fan expectations, garnering rousing cheers throughout the screening. Those lively reactions especially affected Higuchi, who seemed to have a truly emotional experience seeing his work play in front of an audience that night. "I was on the verge of tears at some points during the film, but that's because I'm so happy to have been able to work on it and to bring it here," said Higuchi. Asked why the movie was premiering in Hollywood rather than Japan, the director replied, "Initially, speaking honestly, I didn't know the purpose of bringing this film all the way to Hollywood! But now, I finally see the purpose. It's a great honor."
Having done miniatures for the "Gamera" trilogy and a Godzilla movie, and drawn for "Neon Genesis Evangelion" as a storyboard artist, Shinji Higuchi is no stranger to kaiju or anime. That said, "Attack on Titan" proved to be new ground, with the director merging his experiences working with miniatures with the world of CGI. "[Translated from Japanese] I actually liked both techniques, so it really was converging the good parts of it together and making a really good movie out of it," Higuchi said. "It's not like I like miniatures and not CGI. It wasn't anything like that. I like them both. So the elements I pulled out of it, I think I did a very good job."
The majority of those effects can be seen in the film's climactic fight scenes, in particular those involving the ODMG (Omni-Directional Mobility Gear). For the uninitiated, the ODMG is basically a set of grappling hooks holstered at the waist that turns the characters into post-apocalyptic Spider-Men. They look impressive on camera, and according to the cast, the scenes featuring the ODMG were both the most memorable and difficult to shoot. "You're on these wires, but you have to work with the choreographers to pull you down or push you up," Miura said. "So trying to get in sync with the choreographers was really, really tough -- that was the hardest part of the shoot."
"We do make it look easy, but it was really a lot of hard work and preparation," Mizuhara said. "It was very, very difficult. I really had to use my imagination. Of course, we did shoot on Battleship Island -- Hashima Island -- so all the buildings are left there, so that kind of made it easier."
"The highlight for myself was the scene we shot inside of the giant and it was like this huge tub of lotion. So I'm trying to get out. I'm screaming, but part of me is like, 'What the hell am I doing here?' So it was quite a rare experience for me," Miura said. Then, without spoiling anything, the actor described one scene in particular which he loved filming, "Also, on the last day of the shoot -- I can't really go into details because you'll see it in the second part of this feature -- but I kick someone using the mobility gear, and that felt good!"
When it came to picking his favorite day on set, Higuchi took a more diplomatic stance. "Since I unfortunately made it such a hard shoot for the actors, I really can't pick a favorite scene because I can't choose from either [Miura or Mizuhara], or they would be extremely mad at me. So I would say it was a very hard time for the actors, but not for me."
Directed by Shinji Higuchi and starring Haruma Miura and Kiko Mizuhara, "Attack on Titan" Part One will be released in Japan on August 1, with Part Two following closely behind on September 19. No official release date has been set for either film in America, but Part One is due out in theaters sometime this fall.