Maison Ikkoku: The American Film

by Lee Zion,
This was something I wrote almost two years ago for Nannichuan, the newsletter for Cal-Animage, Beta chapter, the official club of University of California, San Diego. Keep in mind as you read it that some of the things that were true back when I wrote it, are no longer true now. And yes, I'm aware of that, so please don't take me to task for it. More about that later. It's been over a year since Cal-Animage showed the last episode of Maison Ikkoku, but I still can't get the show out of my head. Other shows have come and gone over the years, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for MI, kind of like a first kiss. (Appropriate, considering the subject matter.)

My other great love has been the movies, so it comes as no surprise that I'd think of combining the two. Thus, a fantasy of mine is someday creating an English-language, live-action version of Maison Ikkoku.

Of course, I'm realistic enough to know it won't work. Live-action versions of hit anime shows tend to bomb. As a matter of fact, someone has already done a live-action version of Maison Ikkoku, and it stunk (or so I'm told). Plus, there's also the cultural barrier. A live-action, American version of Dirty Pair would probably do well, as people would pay money to see babes with bazookas. But there's no way I could do a remake of Maison Ikkoku that remains faithful to the original, and is something that mainstream audiences would want to see. So there won't be a live-action MI anytime soon.

Nonetheless, I can dream, and in my mind I've already hired a cast of top American actors to play the principals. So here's the cast of my hypothetical version of Maison Ikkoku.

Kyoko Otonashi: Winona Ryder. She looks the part, and is about the right age. More importantly, however, it would take an actress of Winona's intensity to fully convey Kyoko's anguish over losing her husband, and her fury when wishy- washy Yusaku messes up yet again. Not to mention her rare moments of sheer lunacy, like the time she fakes a child's voice in the "mystery egg" episode. Can you name any other actresses her age with that great an emotional range?

Yusaku Godai: Edward Furlong. Both he and Leonard DiCaprio look the part, and both are highly capable actors who could deftly convey Yusaku's confusion and exasperation. (Think Before and After for Furlong, What's Eating Gilbert Grape for DiCaprio.) But of the two, I'd have to go with Edward. He seems to sneer much less often (and sneering is antithetical to Godai-kun.) Also, his face is wider and rounder, perfectly suggesting the innocence of our noble but inept college student.

Shun Mitaka: Tom Cruise. In case you're thinking Tom might be too old for the role, remember that Shun is 31. Actually, Tom Cruise is perfect for the role, for several reasons. First, there's the matter of physical appearance. The tennis coach is a stud. And in Tom's case, you don't even have to add the special effects for the shiny teeth. But it goes beyond that. We all know Shun's Achilles heel -- his fear of dogs. It's hardly a stretch to imagine Tom Cruise being frantic and frenzied in the role. (Just think of him in Jerry MacGuire, when things weren't going his way.) Best of all, there's also the issue of what Tom Cruise represents. Can you image a character played by Winona Ryder ever living happily ever after with a character played by Tom Cruise? This combination is so intrinsically wrong that it would make audiences root for Yusaku even more.

Kozue Nanao: Natalie Portman. She almost looks the part. Give her a few years and she'll be the right age, as well. Catch her in the movie Beautiful Girls and you'll see shy she's perfect for the role. In that movie, she conveys the same mixture of sweetness and innocence on the one hand, and curiosity and latent sexuality on the other, that the role of Kozue would require.

Hanae Ichinose: Rosie O'Donnell. Let's see.... wise-cracking busybody with a shrill voice, under five feet tall, approximately 200 pounds. Who else?

Mamezou Yotsuya: Me. Hey, it's my fantasy! I'm entitled. Besides, I look the part, or at least that's what I'd like to believe. (Age doesn't matter, since Yotsuya's age, just like his real first name and birth place, are all unknown.) The only obstacle in casting myself is whether or not I can keep a straight face, since Yotsuya always says the most completely absurd things, absolutely deadpan. Otherwise, I can be appropriately strange for the role. Just ask anyone who knows me.

Akemi Roppongi: Madonna. She narrowly edges out Sharon Stone; both actresses would be perfect. Akemi walks around in a diaphanous negligee for all the world to see, something that Madonna is fairly blasé about (see Body of Evidence), as well as Sharon Stone (see Sliver). And they're both just about the right age. But of the two, Madonna gets the nod because Akemi is a redhead, and Madonna's the one who's far more likely to dye her hair for the role.

Yagami Ibuki: Christina Ricci. She looks the part, and will be the right age for the part in a few short years. She's also been in a number of films in which she's obsessing about something, such as in Now and Then and both Addams Family movies. So, naturally, with her dark eyes and cold gaze, she'd be perfect for the role of the schoolgirl whose crush on Yusaku develops into a dangerous obsession. As an added bonus, Christina Ricci and Winona Ryder would probably work well together, as they've worked together in the past, on Mermaids.

Sayoko Kuroki: Parker Posey. What, you dont know who Sayoko Kuroki is? You know, the girl who lures Yusaku into joining the puppet club -- she has a slightly larger role in the manga. As to why Parker Posey would be perfect for the role, just take a look at Party Girl, or just about any other film she's been in (Daytrippers, Waiting for Guffman) and you'll see for yourself. She brings a certain intensity to the screen.

There are, of course, many other characters in the show, but it's hard to think of American actors to portray them. The bit parts, like Ichinose's husband and Kozue's family, are around too seldom to get a handle on them. The juvenile roles, Kentaro and Ikuko, do not immediately suggest a live-action counterpart, as it's difficult to think of American child actors with the emotional range required for their roles. And there's also the cultural barrier. Azusa is demure, innocent, and self-effacing. However, Americans tend to be much more effusive. So, although there may be many actresses capable of portraying Azusa, there aren't that many women stateside who would instantly remind you of Azusa. At least, not in the same way that Shun Mitaka and Tom Cruise fit each other like hand in glove.

At least, those were my choices a few years ago. A few things have changed since then.

Winona Ryder: This girl seems to have vanished off the face of the earth; I can't remember the last time she appeared on the silver screen. I've been told she's "gone Hollywood," and now spends her days trying to be a glamorous star rather than an accomplished actress. Oh, well. I'm also told she's got a role in the upcoming film Celebrity; we'll just have to wait and see how she does in that film, as she plays opposite Leonard DiCaprio. Which brings us to .... Leonard DiCaprio: Titanic hadn't yet come out when I wrote this, obviously. I wonder if his star turn as a romantic hero makes him more qualified, or less qualified, for the role of Godai- kun. Christina Ricci: This girl followed up her role as the budding nymphet in The Ice Storm with three (count 'em, three) films released during the summer of 1998 in which she plays a rather slutty young lady -- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Opposite of Sex, and Buffalo Œ66. The fact that Ricci now exudes this trailer-park trash sexuality, and the fact that she's now a bottle blond, pretty much disqualifies her. Me: I'm still the best choice to play Yotsuya.

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