Attack On Titan: End of the World (Shinji Higuchi, 2015)

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Seattle Screen Scene’s review of the first film can be found here.

Just a few weeks ago, the first Attack on Titan played in American screens. It was a frequently disturbing film that took the Titan universe and re-imagined it in tokusatsu terms. Because it appears that the latest trend in Japanese cinema is to take these manga/anime properties and milk them for all they’re worth, the film adaptation was split into two parts (see also: Parasyte, Bokura Ga Ita, etc.). This is where the problems begin.

Attack on Titan: End of the World begins with a 7-minute recap of the film. This only serves to highlight the major differences between the films. The first film views its human characters as mostly negligible fodder for the titans. They exist to be picked up, eaten and then discarded. The titans, lumbering and goofy, at all moments control the frame, and our attention is drawn towards them. They’re the attraction and the film treats them as such. There’s no explanation as to their behavior or their origin – they simply show up and eat. End of the World makes the humans take center stage, and it is not interesting. Eren and Mikasa (as played by Haruma Miura and Kiko Mizuhara) never rise above archetypes. This was fine in the first film where they were not expected to hold our attention or to achieve any sort of emotional investment, but the greater scrutiny of the second film only highlights the weak character work being done here. Other background characters get their little moments, but remain largely non-descript (Satomi Ishihara remains the MVP as Hange, the demented squad leader who cares more about the cool ammunition and weaponry they find on their journey than actually completing the mission). The human characters’ mini-dramas are simply never made compelling.

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The one who comes off worst is Hiroki Hasegawa’s Captain Shikishima. In the film, he was a background figure who was simply known as the strongest soldier, and the one who had saved and trained Mikasa. He showed up with a smirk and acted like a badass. Now he’s a walking info dump who literally sits down Eren and explains the origins of the titans, the machinations of the society who created them, and their metaphorical significance in the Titan universe. It’s not graceful. The film stops dead in its tracks while Shikishima plays around with Eren, dangling wine glasses in front of him, in a pseudo-seduction scene that seems completely miscalculated. Later when Shikishima prattles on about how people are sheep and he intends to wake them up by sacrificing them, it’s completely inconsistent. His character’s final redemption comes from nowhere (and his character’s background, although alluded to, never becomes too significant).

So: ceding over the action from the titans to the humans, and dumping most exposition into the second film – not great ideas. The film’s final scenes, however, are frequently well-realized. Starting from the protracted fight scene between the two titan hybrids and culminating on an assault on the Colossal Titan, this is frequently exciting action cinema. But it seems a waste to just shove it at the end of this film. Somewhere in a hard-drive in Japan exists a 140-minute and change perfect version of this franchise – one where the character moments and plot exposition are carefully interspersed and handled in between titan brawls.

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Regardless, the Attack on Titan brand marches on. The original manga keeps twisting and turning, the side-properties and adaptations keep piling up (my favorite one is the comedy version where all the titan fighters are in middle school), and the 2nd anime season promises to come out at some point next year. This is the stuff of the commercial Japanese cinema as it is today.

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Attack on Titan: End of the World plays in limited engagement next week at the Grand Cinema and Landmark Guild 45th.

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