Interview: The Cast and Crew of live-action Attack on Titan

by Jacob Chapman,

This press conference was held before the world premiere of the first live-action Attack on Titan film in Hollywood, California. In attendance were the film's director, Evangelion storyboard artist and scriptwriter Shinji Higuchi, the film's producer, Aki Yamauchi, and of course, the film's two leads: Haruma Miura (Eren) and Kiko Mizuhara (Mikasa).

Interpreter: Thank you for joining us this afternoon. Welcome to the press conference for Attack on Titan; we'd like to have a little discussion with our cast and crew. From the very end we have Mr. Shinji Higuchi who is the director of the film and Ms. Kiko Mizuhara who is one of the lead cast in the film, Mr. Haruma Miura who is the other lead cast in the film, and Mr. Aki Yamauchi who is the executive producer of the film. We'll start with a short word from each of the cast and crew and then we'll go on into Q&A.

Higuchi: Thank you so much everybody for coming, I am the director Higuchi.  I never dreamed that I could come to Hollywood like this and have a press conference. I'm enjoying this very much. If you can enjoy it as well, that would be great too. Thank you so much for coming.

Mizuhara: Hi my name is Kiko. I hope we will have a good talk today, thank you.

Miura: Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Haruma Miura and I play Eren, which is the main character in the film. This is actually my very first time coming to LA and I'm enjoying the place, relaxing. I love the free atmosphere that LA has. I am very much looking forward to the world premiere tonight and I hope that as many people as possible will see the film. Thank you.

Yamauchi: I am Yamauchi and I play the producer of this film. <laughs> I am very happy to be able to bring this film to Los Angeles. I do understand that you are a very action entertainment-savvy crowd here, so I'm very happy to be able to bring the film here and I look forward to our conversation with you this afternoon. Thank you.

Interpreter: So we'll start taking questions from the floor. Anyone have a question, please raise their hand.

Question: Some of the most significant changes we've seen in the trailer so far is that the cast is all Japanese. And that is very different from the original in that Mikasa was the only Asian person left alive. So what were the thoughts behind changing all that and making it just the Japanese cast this time?

Higuchi:  Because I am Japanese and I can direct only in Japanese, when that happens the actors are usually Japanese.


Interpreter: That's just a joke only, the producer is going to add the real thing. Our producer adds…

Yamauchi: This story goes back to the Fall of 2012, when Toho acquired the rights to the original manga. Mr. Isayama, who is the original creator, clearly stated to us that he didn't really want us to mind the setting in the original manga that much. The only thing that he wanted to have us keep true was the world in which these giant titans eat humans. That was really the extent to which he wanted us to stay true to the manga. So he said "feel free to make whatever you can and make it something that is interesting and that is something that only live action could do. Mr Higuchi, make it your own thing." Mr. Isayama was very much involved with the creative process as well. Anyway, with his blessing we sort of felt free to take some liberties with the original manga.

Higuchi: Four years ago there was actually a special where there was a contest asking the readers to submit a photo taking a picture of a little titan figurine. The person who actually got the award, who won the contest, had placed the titan figurine with the background of the Japanese today, a Japanese background. There was a comment by the original creator, Mr. Isayama, who said, "this is great. this is what I wanted to do in my manga."  When I read that I said "oh, well, this is the way I would like to make it." I was going to go on and tell you a little more about what I thought about that moment, but that's going to step into what happens in the second part of the movie, so I think I'll stop here.


Higuchi: Please look forward to the second part of the movie.

Question: I have a question for the actors, because in the manga and the anime it's very physical. I'm wondering how much stunt work they were involved in and if they can speak to what that was like.

Mizuhara: The day when I got the part, when I knew that I got the part for Mikasa, I went into training right away because I knew from the outset that she was the strongest character in the film. I had a personal trainer because, you know, you have to act with the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear so I had to put a lot of muscle on my legs and my lower back. So it was every day going into the studio to train for the wire action. It was really, really hard. On the heavier days I would train for eight hours a day. It was hard, but I thought if I did have more time there was so much I would've been able to do, but nevertheless it was very hard days of training.

Miura: We don't use any stunt men in the film. As for the training, there was a lot of muscle that I had to build, but not for aesthetic reasons. It was all for the wire action because of course that is the highlight of the film. So there was a lot of training of the inner muscles.

Higuchi:  We didn't use any stunt women for Mikasa because simply there was no stunt women that had the figure that she had. As for Mr. Miura, we did actually hire a stunt man for him, but actually Mr. Miura was better, more light, than the stunt man so we had to fire him. <laughs> Does that answer your question?

Question: How does it feel to bring this film here for the Hollywood premiere?

Mizuhara: I am very, very proud and happy to bring this film for its Hollywood premiere, but again I'm very nervous. But there's no sense in not doing it, I think, because it's such a rare opportunity. I do look forward to what the audience's reaction is overseas, here, is going to be. I really can't tell you any further, we'll just have to see how it goes this evening, but I am looking forward to it.

Miura: I am also very, very excited to be able to bring our film to a town which we grew up seeing on the news and television. I'm also very happy to be able to show it to so many people outside of Japan. As you will see in the end rolls, there are many, many people that were involved in the making of this film. I'm very happy to be able to show you the product of the toil and sweat they have gone through tonight.

Yamauchi: I have always loved the American capacity to really, purely enjoy film. So I'm very excited to be able to see it with the audience tonight. And I would like to enjoy the film again together with them.

Higuchi: Everyone has said already what I was planning to say, so no comment from me.


Higuchi: Just like I said, everything has been already said, so I would like to go back to my personal experience twenty five years ago. I did have a job in Hollywood, it was in fact in NoHo, that's a mountain away. It was actually extremely hard--rather a hard experience I had that, running back here again, I feel as if I've come this far and this is probably as far as I can go and it makes me feel very accomplished to be here today even more because of that twenty five years ago experience. I believe it's a great opportunity for me to be here and I'm very much looking forward to the audience's reaction. I would very much like to enjoy it as well and I'm happily going to feel… it's going to give me the satisfaction of being a part of movie making. I think that's what the American audience is going to give me today, hopefully.

Question: On that note, I know Attack on Titan is very popular here in the States, was there any pressure on you guys as filmmakers to make it accessible to a US audience?

Higuchi: When I was making the film of course we didn't even know this opportunity was going to arise, so we were very much just concentrating on the Japanese audience. Now, I do have the pressure but until now I didn't know.

Question: As the producer stated at the very beginning, the original author told the production to not mind the world of the original manga too much. Was there any pressure in creating a new world that is a departure from the original at all?

Higuchi: Out of all the people that's out here today I was probably one of the original members who had thought "this manga is extremely good." So I am the biggest fan of them all. For me, the pressure was to have it really true to the original, not to betray the source material, and to recreate, as much as possible, what was in the manga itself. Perhaps it's not too realistic, let's say, to find… there is a European kind of city we created in Japan. But is there a point in filming in that kind of location? It's very superficial. So what the core part, I think, is the apocalyptic world where there's a lot of destruction, and how to recreate that world, and how much I can go into in what the core essence of the manga was depicting is what I had in mind.

Question: I have two questions: is the movie more violent than the anime and manga? And secondly, did to have any hardships with the special effects, like getting anything done, because I can't think of any movie other than Spider Man that's similar.

Higuchi: For the ODM gear, pretty much I just thought it up and asked them to do it, recreate it, so they were the ones that had the most hardship.

Now, even during development the animation had already began, the anime version of the anime series, so we have something to refer to. That was the movement we had to recreate. There were, of course, limits which I did push with the two actions. How much can a human being do? What is being depicted in the manga and the anime series? Now, they can fly, of course, but the turning was the most hard part of the action. In the animation, if you wanted, you can draw it in, but with the actions it did pose them difficulties.

So where was I? I forget the question altogether. Oh! It was on violent depictions. I do have two children of my own so I kept it at a good place where it'll give everybody dreams, but definitely nightmares.

I grew up watching Kaiju movies and of course I got involved in some. The whole concept of--it was emerging--what we used to do back in the day for Tokusatsu or what the Kaiju makers did, and to recreate it with the CG added on, it was a combination of the two. So I actually appreciate the opportunity to do that, doing this, recreating the combination with this in this movie. So I found it a great opportunity to be involved in Attack on Titan.

So it was pointed out, I'm sorry, I'm all over the place, but it was pointed out by the actor that maybe I'm supposed to talk about the technicalities of the special effects and CGI.

Might I also add that we do not use full CG in this film, we blend state-of-the-art CG with Tokusatsu, which is what Toho is so well known for ever since Godzilla. The Tokusatsu part is created by these actors wearing these puppets, or miniature figures. We blend that with the CG, so it's kind of a hybrid special effects that you will see.

Question: First and foremost in the animation, the physicality is amazing. The characters, of course, are also very well established in the popular mind. Were you familiar with--had you read and had you seen the animation or the original manga series? And what are the highlights for you in the film? What do you want the audience to see? What did you put the most effort into?

Mizuhara: The Attack on Titan manga was of course hugely popular in Japan and all my friends were telling me to read it, read it. I did read it, not all of the episodes, but I did read it, and I found the character of Mikasa really to stand out in my mind. I found her to be very alluring. So when I got the part, I was really… there were no inhibitions, I really thought "yes I would like to play her. " After that I started to watch the animation series and it made it all the more easier for me to try to picture what kind of character she would be, because, of course, she's in motion. But again, the film is its own thing. The film--the live action version Mikasa is her own thing. So I tried to not be too pulled by the original work, because of course this story, as you will soon see, doesn't exactly follow the original manga series or the animated series. So I tried to make my own version of Mikasa for the live action version. As for the highlights of the film, this is a very tricky question for me because I know that I'm not allowed to give out any spoilers. Let's just say that there's a very, sort of, great action scene towards the end of the first part before a very strong titan appears and Mikasa goes into battle. This scene was taken… well actually, the shooting took place in Battleship Island, which is Hashima Island, I think, and it was a very difficult shoot, but I think the battle sequences are very, very impactful, and the action sequences are really cool. I'm sure you're all interested in the characters as well and for me, personally, I was very interested, because I was not able to see during shooting, only after the film was completed I was able to see what the titans would look like. I'm sure everyone is anticipating, there's a lot of anticipation towards what kind of Titan Higuchi-san has created. Let me assure you that you will not be disappointed. The director also adds you will not be disappointed as to the character depiction either. So that's all from me, thank you.

Miura: I had already read the original manga series, had already seen the original animated series, so I am a great fan. As for what you will be seeing in the live-action version, I can promise you that the visuals will wow everyone without exception. It is very new Tokusatsu and it is very new visual effects that you will be seeing tonight. And also, it would really bring joy to us that: if you could see in this film also, thematically, if you could identify with it, because it is about the titans and the wall, these are all symbols of course. If you could, while watching the film, if you could also think about, well, what is your wall? What is a wall you want to break down? Because especially in Japan right now, especially with the children and the people in the workforce, with the problems that they face in the country and the news that they hear often is stuff that you really want to turn a blind eye to if possible, that you really don't want to hear. That is why everybody is so inhibited and afraid and becoming more insular, let's say. Again, it's a good opportunity, this film is a good opportunity, to think about well, what is that wall you want to break down? And also how do you break free of that wall? How do you open the door to broaden your views? Stuff like that, that I really would appreciate you think about. It's really all about liberation and freedom and I hope that hits home, thank you.

Interpreter: We have time for one more question.

Question: Because of the way that this film is made, with tokusatsu titans that are digitally added in later - you can't see or react to them in the moment - what was your experience acting to the titans? What were you looking at, what did you respond to, did you think of something in your mind to make you afraid? What was that like?

Miura: The direction we got from our director was, um… well basically we used mostly our imagination in reacting to the titans. And also the director would sort of queue us saying, "okay, this kind of titan is attacking you right now, so react in so and so way." We also had--the director would show us with his iPad a kind of mock-up of what that scene would look like that the special effects team had already been working on, a kind of rough cut we could work off of. With that on set, we would be able to figure out where our eyes would be looking or how the blocking would work out. He was very meticulous in his direction and he really took a lot of time, our director took a lot of time, and so it made it very easy for us actors to cooperate with him.

Mizuhara: Of course the acting with the titans, we couldn't have done it without all the help that we got from the director and our crew. For Mikasa, it was a lot of acting with the eyes, because there's a lot of close ups of her looking at whatever she has to fight against. So of course there was a lot of imagination that I had used. My gimmick was to use to a really fast beat music to sort of try to increase the tension, especially in the battle sequences. Also, during the shoot, the original version--the very original Godzilla was temporarily released in theaters. We went to see that and that also helped my imagination in acting hard. I am pretty good at using my imagination and it was pretty easy also because we don't see a lot of Mikasa who is afraid, she's not afraid, she's more feisty than afraid, so it wasn't that hard to do.

Higuchi: I would like to say it was amazing acting. Of course CGI only lives when the actor's reactions are real, it won't come alive unless the surrounding acting is true. So if the audience had thought, or the people who had seen the movie had thought the titans are scary, it's not because of the titans themselves only but also the acting. I think it's very much supported because everybody, this generation, had grew up with the animation, the manga, that the Japanese culture had offered them. I think it's an amazing thing, I think it should be valued, and I think it led to these actors and actresses talents, their true extremely real expressions. I would like to thank them again, take these opportunity to thank you.

Interpreter: Okay I am afraid we're out of time, so that will be all for questions. Once again a warm round of applause for our crew and cast. Thank you very much.

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