Anime Expo 2017
Fullmetal Alchemist Live-Action Film Panel + Q&A
by Lynzee Loveridge,
Anime News Network's coverage of Anime Expo 2017 is sponsored by Aniplex and Yen Press.
Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist franchise remains one of, if not the most popular anime series in the last 15 years alongside Death Note and Shōnen Jump staples. The last anime film, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos wrapped in 2011 but unlike many hits that simply become hallmarks of a particular season or year, Fullmetal Alchemist maintains a dedicated fanbase. One only had to look around the packed Main Events hall of Anime Expo on Monday to see that.
The crowd couldn't contain its excitement from the moment Edward Elric actor and Hey! Say! JUMP idol Ryōsuke Yamada walked on stage in a bright red leather jacket. Yamada is short in a stature, a fact he acknowledged as something that worked to his advantage when it came to landing the role of Ed. He also shared that the two have more than height in common.
"People often think that I'm shy, but actually I'm very outgoing," he said with a knowing grin. Yamada pushed himself to achieve the demanding physicality for the role. He did 100% of his own stunts whether it was leaping over large gaps on site in Italy or mimicking Ed's awkward running pose from the manga series. The manga was always on set as reference material and was something he regularly made use of when going over a scene.
He also shared one fear that was always in the back of his mind while working on the film. Edward Elric is not a Japanese character. Yamada is a huge fan of Fullmetal Alchemist and stated he was overjoyed to get the opportunity to play Ed. He said he didn't feel like he had too much of a problem interpreting the character but asked the audience after watching the film's footage if anything looked "weird." His meaning was obvious but if he had any lingering fear of acceptance, the resounding cheers throughout the room should put him at ease.
Yamada was joined by Fumihiro Sori, a live-action film director with more than his share of experience in visual effects. In fact, 20 years ago Sori worked as an effects animator at Digital Domain in Los Angeles where he helped sink James Cameron's Titanic in the sea. It's been his dream to create a visual-effects heavy Japanese film, but first he'd have to help ensure that technology in Japan was up to par with Hollywood. For that reason, Fullmetal Alchemist languished in development for nearly 10 years, as Sori did not feel that the property could get the justice it deserved. After Sori finished Ashita no Joe in 2010, he felt that Fullmetal Alchemist might finally be a possibility and went forward with a pilot film that was completed in 2015.
Sori was unrelentingly meticulous, taking a whole year to create a computer-generated Alphonse model for the pilot project. By the time it was done, creator Hiromu Arakwa remarked that the level of quality blew her away. "The surface of the armor reflects the surrounding scenery, and you can even see the texture of the materials." With that, Sori created the first Japanese live-action film virtual character with that level of realism. His attention to detail continued into filming of the actual film, enlisting the help of Italian national railway operator Trenitalia to borrow a 100-year-old steam train and actually have it run on tracks.
The fruits of Sori's labor looks to be a spectacular film. A sizzle reel of never-before-seen footage debuted to viewer acclaim as fan-favorite characters appeared one after another. Yasuko Matsuyuki as Lust was one particular standout appearance, giving off an Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams vibe. Riza Hawkeye, Roy Mustang, Maes Hughes, the shape-shifting Envy, and Gluttony all appeared as did the emotional fight scene between the Elric brothers.
After the panel wrapped up, Sori and Yamada met with press outlets separately to answer rapid-fire style questions.
Which scenes were the most work for you?
Yamada: I put a lot of work into every scene, but especially the scenes with [the fully CG] Alphonse.
What is the biggest challenge in blending 3D animation and live-action in a film?
Sori: Obviously the visual effects in Japan are getting much, much better, but the most important part is the acting connecting with the 3DCG animation and with the live-action actors. In the scenes with Alphonse, we had an actual person there so that Yamada could connect with him.
Do you think that live-action offers something different than animation, and what would that be?
Sori: In live-action you get more of that human connection and you can dig deeper into the humanity than you can with animation. In live-action you can get those little looks from the actor. You can express so much more compared to the flatness of animation.
How did you get in the mindset of playing a character that's experienced so much tragedy?
Yamada: For preparation, I obviously studied a lot of the anime and manga but I also took a lot of people's input and just let it come to me.
What are the differences when it comes to adapting something with no existing anime adaptation like Ping Pong compared to Fullmetal Alchemist where an anime adaptation already exists?
Sori: There really isn't too much of a difference between the two. While Fullmetal Alchemist is much more visual effects heavy, both are very story driven.
How does working on this film compare to working on the live-action Assassination Classroom film and can you compare Edward to Nagisa?
Yamada: Both works are from anime and manga but they are just so polar opposite characters. Nagisa is much more quiet and shy while Edward is much more manly, and outgoing.
How do you balance your work as both an idol and an actor, and will you pursue more acting roles in the future?
Yamada: You have to be careful when you're both a member of an idol group and pursuing acting, but I would like to continue to pursue acting in the future. I have nine idol group members and I'm very grateful of that so that I can balance out doing everything I would like to do.
How do you manage to express yourself artistically within an adaptation of anime and manga?
Yamada: I feel like I got to express myself fully and I even got to know a part of myself that I didn't know existed before.
Sori: It's very hard to balance action, visual effects, drama, and all those components. I feel like through this film I was able to achieve that to do what I wanted.
Do you have any rituals you do to get into the character of Ed?
Yamada: For characters that are dark or sad, I'll go into a corner or somewhere alone and take a minute or two to detach myself before coming back.
What are some of the differences between shooting in Europe and Japan?
Yamada: In Japan, it isn't unusual to shoot all day, from morning until night In Europe, it is not that way and the staff was surprised to see that as well.
The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film will open in Japan on December 1. Director Sori reiterated that if the film finds success, there could be sequels in the future. Until then, the staff are heading to Paris next to continue the film's "whirlwind" promotional tour.
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