It’s the future. Well, no, it’s currently the present, but eventually it will become the future. In saying that, though, by the time the future comes along it will be regarded as the present, but let’s not split hairs. It’s the future, and it’s time for the more significant citizens of Earth to begin searching for another planet to relocate to and subsequently destroy, so the Japanese government looks towards Mars, the red planet, as our race’s ambitious next step. Do not let it’s colour deceive you though, as it turns out, Mars is incredibly cold! Far too cold to live on! It goes against everything the primary colours stands for and yet we still make the attempt to terraform it.
I know what you’re thinking; “Frank, how did we do it?“, well I have the answer: Cockroaches and moss. When I first bought my new car, most people said that black was a bad choice of colour because it absorbs heat far greater than any other. I took that knowledge to Secret NASA and we used it to transform Mars into a liveable environment. Flooding the planet’s surface with dark colours allowed for more of the Sun’s heat to remain, allowing it to develop a climate that us humans can live on. Five-hundred years have now passed and the cockroaches we dumped there, well…they’ve evolved. Big time. To combat these creatures, we spliced insect DNA into a select team of human rejects and shot them into space with the direct intention of pulling off history’s first and greatest planetary extermination.
That, in it’s most simple form, is the foundation of which Terraformars is built upon. The difference between this here film and it’s Manga source material is that one expands on this idea while the other, well…I don’t want to say too much too early. The Takashi Miike-directed film featured at this year’s Japan Film Festival, and thanks to The Japan Foundation us here at SnapThirty had the opportunity to experience what I’ll simply call an interesting adaptation of one of my personal favorite Manga. This is the live-action Terraformars!
In an attempt to deal with Earth’s overpopulation, cockroaches are sent to Mars as part of an ambitious plan to terraform the red planet. When a band of human exterminators arrive on the planet 500 years later, they discover that the cockroaches they came to kill have evolved into brutal, humanoid killing machines. With their ship grounded, the group must battle their way across the planet in order to survive. – Japan Film Festival 2016
The film’s screenwriter, Kazuki Nakashima, made the perfect decision to only adapt the story contents of the Manga’s first volume. This, on it’s lonesome, is essentially a prequel to the entire series that sets up future events but ends in a way that ultimately seems complete. This is one of very few positive decisions made by Mr. Nakashima who took a perfectly-adaptable storyline and changed it in several, unnecessary ways seemingly for no reason at all. The real problem with this film is that it Nakashima’s love for the source material was obvious, and yet the places in which he decided to change the story felt wholeheartedly hateful, creating comedic situations out of what were supposed to be heartfelt moments, and removing pivotal moments to instead include laughable elements like a cockroach-made tidal wave.
Most characters were changed for the worst, making each and every one of them some kind of irredeemable scumbag, apart from the most important characters who were shown to be overtly respectable from the get go with only a slight attitude as their downfall. This goes against one huge element of the source material which makes it a point of showing you that these soldiers are there for more than seemingly trivial reasons, and host personalities with multiple dimensions and layers. All of this, though, was interlaced with dialogue and scenes that were very much true to the source, which leads me to believe that these other changes seemingly appeared out of nowhere, and/or for no justifiable reason at all.
Though, for every step backwards, the film did take a step forward, and while that forced it into this stagnant state of near-paralysis, it did prove that the Manga was referenced more than just a few times. Within the Manga there are segments within when a character begin’s fighting for the first time wherein which a narrator begins to detail their particular insect base and how it is that it can be used at a human scale. This was emulated wonderfully for the movie! Once again, a fair amount of the story was adapted well for the film, but key elements and moments alongside personality changes in characters made Terraformars seem like it was given up on half way through development.
What has already been said about the film’s story can also be accurately used to describe it’s visual presence. This film does a lot of things right, but it also seems to do much wrong, perhaps due mostly to budget limitations and the Japanese film industry’s lacking CGI quality across the board. By far the most impressive visual element of the film is that of it’s environments which, like everything else, was clearly created using a subtle mix of practical effects and CGI. This is much like the costuming which was made up entirely of prosthetics worn by the cast, giving it a feel almost akin to older episodes of Super Sentai.
Most of the actors looked like the characters of which they were based upon, and the costuming was as close to the Manga as possible. The bug transformations were somewhat grotesque, but my belief is that this is an authentic representation of such an inhuman transformation. Once again, unfortunately the CGI used in Japanese filmmaking isn’t up to Western standards and it is made highly obvious in most fight scenes, most of which were made up of tight upper-body shots showing little to no actual impact. Takashi Miike, though, did his very best to pull it off, and managed to get away with so much despite having seemingly very little to work with.
Like in most Takashi Miike-directed films, the soundtrack of Terraformars was incredible! A mix of hard rock and orchestral tracks brought out the very best of this film, and it’s variety eliminated it’s potential to become stale. Every single track was well-placed, well-composed, and well-performed, adding a wealth of emotion to any given scene, be it one centred around heartbreaking backstory or backbreaking combat. It was the only element of the film to remain perfect from the very first minute to the very last..
This film is enigmatically polarising for me; I can relate scenes directly back to the Manga and make note regarding how accurate it was in the movie, but on that same token I can think of pivotal character additions and changes that not only made no sense but only worked for the downfall of this film. The combination of director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima, at times, seemed like the perfect collaboration, but those thoughts were torn to shreds bit by bit as the film went on. Even small dialogue changes totally flipped the emotional element of scenes, with the cinema audience breaking into laughter during segments of the story that I know for a fact were not intended to be humorous.
Terraformars is an incredibly popular Manga not only because of it’s setting, nor it’s heavy science-fiction overarching story, but because of it’s compelling subtlety. It uses reality as a basis for something unreal, but this film felt as though it was an intrinsically unreal concept that attempted to gain some semblance of reality. That dynamic shift, though seemingly minor, drastically changes the film in countless ways. Still, it is proving difficult to pick this movie apart entirely simply because much of it was accurate. The live-action Terraformars film is, in essence, a light version of it’s source material. Terraformars takes everything you know and love about the Manga and condenses it heavily, sometimes to the point of almost nonexistence, but regardless it is a film that MUST be experienced by those who have read at least the first volume of the series’ Manga. This film produced one undeniably positive outcome, though…it made me appreciate the Manga all the more.