©空知英秋/集英社 ©2017 映画「銀魂」製作委員会

Imagine this: Friday morning at 9 a.m., you go to the movie theater on the opening day of a film. Usually, it’s pretty empty, considering everyone’s planning to go see it after work or school. Not the new Gintama movie, though—from the very first screening bright and early, the theater was packed with patrons ready to see the silver-haired, strawberry milk-loving samurai protagonist on the big screen again. This time, however, the film is live-action.

The story is just the same as the manga and anime. It revolves around Gintoki Sakata (played by Shun Oguri), a lazy samurai in a world where samurai—or anyone, for that matter—are forbidden from having swords. The land of Edo has been invaded by the Amanto, aliens that won against the Japanese people during a war years ago. The setup is actually a sci-fi recreation of what happened when when Matthew C. Perry (forcefully) opened the doors of isolated Japan back in the mid-1800s.

In Edo’s Kabukicho neighborhood, Gintoki runs the odd jobs office Yorozuya with Shinpachi (Masaki Suda), the son of a deceased dojo owner who still believes in the samurai spirit and Kagura (Kanna Hashimoto), a super-powerful alien girl with a big appetite and an even bigger attitude.

As Gintama is a long-running series, of course, things had to be cut down for time. The film touches on Shinpachi and Gintoki’s first meeting and then immediately skips over to the Benizakura arc of the source material. This arc focuses on a swordsmith brother and sister who need Gintoki to get back Benizakura, a “demon” sword that has more evil powers than the two first lead on. Gintoki finds that the sword is being misused by Takasugi, his childhood friend and leader of a group of dangerous rebels. The Shinsengumi, basically the police of Edo, find themselves having the same goal.

In terms of story, despite the cuts, it’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the source material. In terms of original material, it’s interesting how characters besides Yorozuya are introduced in the film. Instead of just adapting the Benizakura arc, the beginning of the film clips on an abridged version of the beetle-hunting arc as well to create a chase scene that allows each character to be introduced and show off their personality. It’s a fun introduction scene, but a bit worrying for those who haven’t read or seen the series yet because of the speed they introduce the characters.

There’s a New Live-Action Gintama Movie Coming

At the time of the announcement last year, Gintama seemed to be a strange Shonen Jump property to adapt to live-action. After all, Gintama is full of crazy humor, action, and absolutely unbelievable technology. While it seemed like a big feat to take on, Gintama the live-action film takes on the setting of Edo perfectly while still keeping the source material’s humor in tact. The filming locations, set pieces, and visual world-building is fantastic. The neighborhood of Kabukicho is especially well done, looking almost exactly like the one from the show.

©空知英秋/集英社 ©2017 映画「銀魂」製作委員会

Each scene of the film is filled with subtle love for the show. “Justaways” can be found all around the film in the form of figures and even trash cans. At one point, Shinsengumi member Okita pulls down his iconic eyemask when taking a nap, and fellow member Hijikata uses a mayonnaise-shaped lighter. There were so many little details that I’ll probably have to watch the movie again to catch them all. The Amanto are mostly portrayed as humans with puppet heads, and yes, while it seems cheap, it really gets across the fun campiness of Gintama. The Amanto would have been a lot more threatening rather than comedic had the production team decided to use CG to animate their heads.

Possibly the greatest point of this film is its willingness to imitate the style of creator Hideaki Sorachi’s comic—which is fairly off-the-walls but nonchalant. They even get Gintoki to participate in a joke opening credits scene where he sings over a cheaply-made karaoke music video starring him and only him.

In Japan, fair use is a tricky issue, and parodying other franchises is a very dangerous thing to do. With the production support of publisher Shueisha and animation studio Sunrise, it was easy enough for the live-action film to get the rights to make outright parodies of Gundam and One Piece—but the movie even had the balls to parody one of Ghibli’s movies as an important plot point. One character even wonders allowed if the makers of the film won’t get sued.

The comedy overall is very close to the original manga, including a lot of the exaggerated punches enhanced by CG visual effects. Each actor does a very good job of expressing their character’s quirks from the manga, and while I was worried about casting 34-year old Shun Oguri as Gintoki, he did a perfect job of getting across the lax but sometimes over-the-top personality of the protagonist.

The only two actresses who underperformed in my eyes were Kanna Hashimoto as Kagura and Nanao as Matako Kijima. Kagura is an energetic yet sarcastic character that is supposed to speak in a Chinese dialect. Hashimoto, while very, very cute, not only gives a fairly flat performance, but also just sounds like she’s adding the stereotypical Chinese sentence enders without changing her inflections at all. Nanao, on the other hand, seems to be forcing herself to be tomboyish with every line. She sounds like she’s reciting all her dialogue off the script instead of getting into character, though her so-so performance is balanced out by her to-the-T looks—she looks fabulous as Matako.

The weakest point of the film, unfortunately, is its CG and action scenes. Japanese films just don’t have as much capital as those made in Hollywood and it shows. While the CG used to make mascot Sadaharu is fairly fluid, it is much, much less so when Kagura jumps to ride on him. Possibly the worst CG in this film, however, is the CG used to animate the Benizakura’s tentacles (yes, tentacles).

The camera work, while mostly good, is a bit of an eyesore when it comes to action scenes. In order to hide stunt doubles (like the male stunt double for Matako above) and flaws, the camera is constantly moving and switching angles. It’s a bit dizzying and hard to follow the action. The best scenes of the movie were without a doubt the comedic ones, not the action-packed ones.

Overall, however, the Gintama movie was thoroughly enjoyable, and I actually found myself laughing so hard during the film I almost started clapping my hands. Although movie theaters in Japan are usually silent—even during comedy films—there was audible laughter all around. I worry about how well the non-fans will be able to keep up, but for fans, this is a faithful and fun film filled with love for its source material. Though I was wary before going into the movie theater, I would even be up for a sequel.

The live-action Gintama film opened in Japan on July 14. No international release has been announced.

All anime seasons of Gintama can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll. Sentai Filmworks released the Gintama anime in America on DVD until episode 51 and released the first animated film on DVD and Blu-ray. Crunchyroll has announced that they will take over the home video release of the series. Viz Media once published the manga in North America, but ceased publication as of volume 23. The sixty-ninth volume was released in Japan earlier this month.

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