The Japan Times
No fewer than three big-budget Hollywood films based on Japanese originals opened this year: “Alita: Battle Angel,” “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” While all three were still being promoted, “Gundam” and “Akira” were green-lit for production by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros., respectively. An adaptation of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog video game will be out in November, followed by Hollywood takes on Capcom’s Monster Hunter next year and Nintendo’s Super Mario in 2022.
The highest grossing anime feature ever, Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 “Your Name.,” is being remade as a live-action film, produced by “Star Wars” reboot king, J.J. Abrams. Hollywood renderings of “Attack on Titan” and the iconic mascot Hello Kitty are also reportedly on the way.
But so far, Hollywood’s versions of Japanese content have received mixed reviews at best, with some earning respectable but not remarkable box-office numbers. Most fans return to the original stories and wonder: Why can’t they get it right?
For Jeff Gomez, founding CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a New York-based production company that is now introducing Tsuburaya Production’s “Ultraman” universe to Western studios, the fundamental problems are cultural. Gomez has been a fan of Japanese stories for most of his 56 years — from a troubled childhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Puerto Rico through a lonely adolescence in Hawaii. His was, he says, an upbringing marked by bullying and isolation.
Jeff Gomez (photo Kyle Kirkwood)
Raised by an Afro-Latino father and Caucasian Jewish American mother, Gomez isn’t kidding when he repeats that ’60s anime series like “Marine Boy,” “Kimba the White Lion,” and “Gigantor” saved his life.
“Japanese shows didn’t talk down to you,” he tells me on a call during a business trip to Los Angeles. “They were serious in tone and treated me seriously intellectually. I was an avid reader, so I read all the show credits. As a kid I knew the names Osamu Tezuka and Go Nagai. They were called ‘celebrated creators’ in the English-language write-ups. That was very different from the U.S. model, where most of the writers were just hired hands.”