Review – MW (2009)

News has been circulating around the internet for a while about the live-action adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s mature manga masterpiece MW (pronounced “moo,” like a cow), created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Tezuka.  I was able to see this film in an advance screening last night and have been itching to share my thoughts.

Being a huge fan of both Osamu Tezuka and MW, I was anxious to see how this film would turn out.  Not surprisingly, I found myself with a graveyard of bones to pick after seeing it.  It’s hard for me to separate this film from the manga it’s based on and review it fairly.  Rather than a straight-up review like those I usually write, I do want to bring my Tezuka knowledge to the discussion, but I’ll try not to digress into fangirlish ranting.

MW (Japan, 2009) dir. Hitoshi Iwamoto. Color, 35mm.

Putting the manga it was based on aside, MW is overall a standard action film, about on par with most of Hollywood’s recent offerings, but nothing special.  A little lacking in the CG department, but a worthy effort nonetheless.  Hiroshi Tamaki, the actor who plays the main villain Michio Yuki, did a great job with the material he was given.  He lost quite a lot of weight for the role to give Yuki a skeletal and hollow appearance, and the effect is quite powerful.  The characters in the film are not all that well-developed or interesting, and as little as that matters in an action film, the action alone here doesn’t make up for everything else that is lacking.  I believe I might have enjoyed this film more were it not “based on” MW and given the same title.  But alas, it is, and comparisons are almost unavoidable.

That being said, I’d like to give my opinion on many of the changes in the movie.  *Cue disorganized rant*

The film character of Yuki comes nowhere near the complexities of manga Yuki.  Yes, he is “pure evil,” but he does not have the dualities and childlike moments of Yuki in the manga.  Part of what made Yuki so interesting was his total lack of remorse juxtaposed with his playful side.  Film Yuki comes off as more of a typical “evil” villain – cunning and remorseless, but also without emotion.
The same can be said of Garai and the other characters adapted from the manga.  A female reporter character added for the film comes off as uninteresting and completely useless.  Many characters are missing, which is not a bad thing on its own, but the characters which ARE there lack good characterization.

Characters’ actions and other things don’t make much sense.  The reporter and Garai help Yuki find MW on the island for no apparent reason.  Why were they helping him?
Garai’s inner struggle is almost nonexistent as well.
The backstory is drastically simplified.  In the film, Garai and Yuki are boys who grew up together on the island and escaped together when the military was killing off the survivors of the MW incident.  This makes Garai’s later “repentance” less dramatic and once again, downplays the relationship between the two.
The film basically turns into a straight action film.  Superficial suspense and chases make up the first half-hour.  It was exciting, I have to admit.  But MW the manga was already full of suspense that would have come across just fine in the film – were all these big-budget action scenes really necessary?
The sexual content is also completely absent.  This is not a bad thing, either, but extends to a ridiculous extent in the fact that the relationship between Garai and Yuki is barely even a subtext.

Sorry for the ranting.  I could go on forever about what’s different in the manga, but when it comes down to it, the film dilutes the manga’s plot and characters to fit an action-movie mold and adds its own ineffectual material.
It’s not that I’m against deviation from source material.  In fact, it can often be a good thing (why make a film if it’s the exact same story?  Use the medium!).  Take, for example, the Metropolis anime – though it went against Tezuka’s wishes and fundamentally altered much of the manga, it did so well and in the spirit of a Tezuka work (the extra characters mainly came from other Tezuka works).  Most importantly, it held up brilliantly on its own.  Though I still prefer the manga, I like the film.  It’s an original work.  With MW, however, I felt that the film was using a Tezuka name to sell a generic, uninspired action movie; it succeeds as neither a good action film nor a Tezuka film.

In one sentence: I’m disappointed.
In another sentence: They could have done so much better, even with half the budget.

Rating: 4/10

Trailer: http://mw.gyao.jp/ (official site)

P.S.: A tie-in MW TV drama (oneshot) is going to air on TV in 4 days.  I’ll try my best to watch it and post my thoughts if I find anything worth mentioning.

P.P.S.: I was so utterly disappointed with the film I had no interest in watching the tie-in drama.

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4 Responses to “Review – MW (2009)”

  1. On the whole I’d rather be in Philiadelphia…or any number of other cities and times. I will NOT bother to watch MW, as I thought I would.

    I loved the manga–as well as Ode to Kirihito, Phoenix, and others.

    I once tried telling myself the story of MW without the sex. It didn’t make sense! What’s particularly intriguing about the sex in MW is that, although Tezuka was perfectly clear in his mind on murder, accidental genocide, the smarmy relations between the U.S. and Japan in the Vietnam era–he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about homosexuality, and MW has his only true homosexual protagonist. And though he is a horror, excused or unexcused, he’s cute as a button, and funny, too.

    I read the dots off the page in French and English, and stared at them in Japanese….

    Oh well…

  2. veronica james Says:

    yeah the movie did not make sense but still awesome.especially when yusuke yamamoto was in there he was soo cute!!

  3. Spot on review. I started watching the movie on video and had to stop it because the thing didn’t really make sense. Had to run off and read the manga only to find out that the movie was nowhere near what osamu tezuka intended.

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