Remakes: We Need To Talk About Hollywood
I imagine – in fact, I can more than imagine – that film aficionados will shriek and wail at the prospect of remakes. I myself have been found standing in a cinema foyer, shouting obscenities at a poster for some upcoming bastardization of one of my favourite films. And, yes, I have on more than one occasion uttered the phrase “I hate remakes.” Which is, of course, very hypocritical because in the same breath I will declare John Carpenter’s The Thing a masterpiece, Cronenberg’s The Fly a triumph, and The Magnificent Seven worthy of the title magnificent. In thinking about this, I can admit that not all remakes are bad, indeed some can even surpass their original counterparts, but there is one well from which Hollywood has been drawing water from for far too long, one avenue of remakes that I just cannot forgive – Western remakes of Japanese horror films.
Now I say Japanese horror films, but as I write this my mind is filling with examples that delve into other genres, so while the main focus of this article (and by article, I mean rant) will be horror films, you would be wise to assume that I am referring to remakes of all Japanese films, certainly modern Japanese films at least. In fact, I’ll go one further and say it’s not exclusive to Japanese films either – I mean the straw that broke this camel’s back was reading about the ever closer to production Oldboy remake, the original being a Korean film based on a Japanese Manga series. So, really, my issue is with Western remakes of Asian cinema. A good writer would have started this article again, but I wanted you to see that while my cynical eye will be fixed upon the horror genre, the pain runs a lot deeper. And, yes, it is pain. You’re hurting me, Hollywood.
I’m sure most of you will know which modern Hollywood horror films were remakes – they never exactly kept it a secret. I mean, some of them even refer to their Japanese originals in their advertising campaigns. For those of you not in the know, however, the film I’m thinking of specifically is Ringu and its remake, The Ring, which popularized the genre and whetted Hollywood’s appetite something awful. However, most, if not all of what I say is applicable to films like The Grudge and Dark Water.
This isn’t some exotic inaccessible realm we’re viewing here; this is a Japan of sports bars, career driven single mothers, Western style homes, advanced technologies and Coca-Cola!
I think the biggest criticism films like The Ring deservedly face is just how completely redundant they are. As I said before, not all remakes are without merit. If you look at John Carpenter’s The Thing, the only similarities it shares with the original is that there’s a bunch of guys hanging about in the snow. Obviously, it’s essentially the same plot, but Carpenter made that film completely his own. Even if he had made The Thing and it was a complete disaster, and was ruined as a filmmaker forever, you would still have to take your hat off to him for trying to do something different from the original. We can even turn to Japan and find some decent examples. Back in the day, Akira Kurosawa couldn’t write a postcard without it being remade, but many of them became classics in their own right; The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful Of Dollars and Last Man Standing, to name but a few. But these films were adapted for a Western audience, most of them put, quite literally, into the old western settings, to make them more accessible to the audience. In essence, what remains are the main plot points and character archetypes, but the style is new and the filmmaker’s own. And it is this that The Ring and films of its ilk completely lack. They are straight, almost shot for shot copies of the Japanese versions, devoid of any original voice and style. As I said, they are completely redundant.
Genuinely, I struggle to find the point of their existence. The Seven Samurai was initially adapted into The Magnificent Seven because it was thought that a Japanese period drama about samurais was too foreign for a Western audience, which is fine given the time it was made, and considering that films about cowboys at that time were the ‘flavour of the month’. But might I suggest we’ve moved on since then? Haven’t we seen enough films or TV shows about strange and foreign lands to be able to accept a story set in a different culture? Do you know what? This argument I am making has now itself become redundant, because the Japanese version of The Ring and the like are set in a modern, Westernised Japan. This isn’t some exotic inaccessible realm we’re viewing here; this is a Japan of sports bars, career driven single mothers, Western style homes, advanced technologies and Coca-Cola! How much more accessible can you get? Is it really just down to people not wanting to read subtitles? I know some people have an issue with this, but is it worth remaking a whole film? Just watch it with the English voice dubs. And if that’s a problem, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a bit of a snob and ask you to leave. Movies these days cost millions upon millions of dollars to make, and I would rather see that money put into the production of something original than a replica of a foreign film for the benefit of a handful of people who can’t get past that there aren’t enough blonde characters in it.
In conclusion… There is no conclusion! Other than that in a world defined by’like it or lump it’, it seems I will be lumping it for the time being. Yes, thankfully, the obsession with remaking Japanese horror films has seemed to cool somewhat; however, that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from spreading its net of pointlessness over the rest of the world, catching films like Let The Right One In and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the remakes of which have been completely (here’s that word again) redundant (how the latter of which got nominated for multiple Oscars is beyond me – they didn’t even bother to change the setting!).
I will leave you with this taster of a future rant, though… I’m sure many of you will be aware of the on-again, off-again live action remake of Akira that has been floating around for many years now. Well, it seems that the film is closer than ever to being made, and in true Hollywood fashion, some serious deals are now being made to obtain the rights to produce live action remakes of other animes, including such beloved series as Bleach and Neon Genesis Evangelion. And when that happens, dear readers, you can fully expect to find me here writing a long and detailed account of how I’ve bought a rifle and flown to Hollywood.
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