The Bleach Live Action director Shinsuke Sato sat down with Comicbook.com to talk about adapting the beloved manga/ anime series Bleach. He talks about adapting his second series as well as the future of this one.
Now before you read about that remember something. Yes it did poor opening weekend but it was only released in select theaters. As it ran the theaters that showed it grew so it success still remains to be seen.
How do you feel, bringing this to American audiences and knowing that the two premieres sold out?
Shinsuke Sato: First of all, my heart is beating. It’s very … I’m very nervous. So, I’m unclear about how people are going to react. I’ve started making this film, and now I finished it. We’ve done some screenings in Japan. In fact, it’s having a theatrical release in Japan as we speak, but even beyond that, I think I’m more nervous right now.
What kind of pressure are you feeling bringing Bleach that’s so well-known already into this live-action medium to fans, especially given the genre’s reputation?
SS: Of course I am saying that I’m quite nervous now, but before going into actually making the film itself, I was really mainly full of excitement myself. I believe that whether they’re fans of the anime Bleach, or whether they’re the manga fans, people have all these expectations, whether that’s visually [or] whatever they’re going to see. I’m always excited to try to go beyond those expectations, and also for people who don’t even know Bleach to be able to have fun and feel this excitement through the film as well as the fans to also build excitement. So, this excitement is something that I have as an expectation for myself.
For myself, it’s almost wishing that there was a film like this and to be able to make that. I often have this kind of good excitement when I go into making this film. So, rather than the pressure of these negative feelings, I actually have these positive feelings going into it. That’s just how the project began, and the film itself that I’m presenting here is… there’s of course the Soul Society where there’s this element of Japanese futurism that’s present in the work, but there’s also people who are kimono-clad or looking somewhat futuristic samurai. As a filmmaker, I wanted to see a film that would do that, and I wanted to make a film like this. I wanted to see a film like this as somebody who likes film.
This idea of wanting to see a futuristic samurai, fighting story-action film… this idea almost was there with me before the idea of Bleach even came about to me. And so, for myself, to be able to make a film like this, to be able to make a film now, I had a lot of passionate exciting feelings.
You’re no stranger to taking manga and anime and doing live-action adaptations. So, how did creating this film, both in pre-production and onwards, differ from some of your more recent titles you’ve done, if it was different at all?
SS: The way I approach and prepare is quite similar amongst all my work. In all cases, I take a lot of time preparing before shooting, and I try to figure out what the core scenes are. For example, what the final fight scene is going to look like, where the suspense is going to come in, but there is a lot of difficulty in approaching the visual and story elements. What I do is that I shoot quite a lot of things on video, make detailed plans, and relay this information to my staff to make sure that they know what needs to be done. That way the preparation has always sort of been the same, and it’s been the same with preparing for Bleach.
But there were certain things that I challenged myself [to do this time] or there were challenges that appeared by adopting this story. One thing is that there are fight scenes between a human-sized character versus a very large monster for the Hollows, and they have to fight. They have a sword fight, so this was a new challenge to me.
Back when I made Death Note in 2016, that was the first time I had a character that was built 100% through CGI, and this character also had emotions. It not only existed, but it was created by CGI and had to emote, and that was something that attempted for the first time during Death Note. So, by having that experience, I felt that I had grasped at something. At that time when I was making Death Note, I was already working on Bleach, so I knew Bleach is coming up. I had been thinking about what I would need to do then when I was working on Death Note.
Regarding the CGI character in Death Note, all the character had to do was communicate. But, with Bleach, the CGI character had to be bigger and also had to fight so that was a big difference in some ways. That said, I was working with the same CGI team with both Bleach and Death Note, so we talked about this a lot. And through Death Note, I did learn about how best to light that sort of thing as well as how to increase the quality of the character in the CGI.
Talking about the Hollows, they look so cool in the trailer. What can you tell me about the process of taking the Hollows made in the manga and putting your own spin with it?
SS: Regarding the Hollows, when I was making 2016 version Death Note, that had already been adapted once about 10 years ago and had the Shinigami character. But, with my 2016 version, I had a new Shinigami come out and it was different. When creating this new Shinigami character, I did show the original manga artist as well and worked along with him, but both the first adaptation Shinigami and the second time for the 2016 version were done in CGI. I think I achieved creating a new version which I felt was a success.
So regarding the original Hollow, whether in the manga or anime, I think each medium has its own approach in presenting the character. What I wanted to pursue was what was it about the Hollows that make them appealing? What is it about its appearance, what is it conceptually that makes these Hollows exist and become appealing? So, when I thought about it, I thought about the human soul and the hatred that can be left behind by the experience… and how that perhaps what these Hollows are. They are not necessarily a monster per se but rather an experience that has changed its form. I wanted to attach this to their spirituality, or the idea of an evil spirit, as well the psychological ideas behind it. I also wanted to give a curse-like feeling as well to the character.
The second point I want to make is regarding its shape and appearance. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too Westernized. I felt that it should have a Japanese-ness to it and the horror that it presents. In pursuing that, I thought about its shape and how it should be quite malleable and changing.
I also thought about mass, whether it is bone-like or made by bones… it’s unclear. But, I thought about Matsuris, which are Japanese festivals, and there are some spirits that appear within these Japanese festivals, one being the Namahage. It’s not necessarily monster, but a character that’s prevalent…and also have masks. If you think about Noh masks as well, oftentimes, a lot of these ideas in Japan use masks to present themselves, and I didn’t want it to just be this hairy or furry thing. So I thought about the shishi-mai, which are other lion-like characters, and the Namahage itself in these festivals. This, I felt, would give it that Japanese-ness I was looking for.
Bleach is just one of those titles people have a deep connection with. It might be a early, but have you set up this film to lead into a potential sequel. If so, what would you be interested in exploring in Bleach that you didn’t get to explore in this first film?
SS: Regarding a sequel, my producer and I definitely do want to make a sequel. I think there are many parts about the Bleach world that aren’t represented in this film. However, this film is a Japanese film after all. So much of this depends on its box office success, and that’s still unclear since it just came out. I can’t really say whether it will happen or not, but my strong feeling of the wanting to do this is definitely there.
That all said, my producer and I didn’t want to create a film saying that there’s definitely going to be a sequel. I didn’t want to disappoint the audience either where they were made to believe that there might be a sequel and then when there isn’t a sequel. I believe that that would be a very horrible thing to do for them. The producer and I wanted to make sure that this film was the film that could be enjoyed as one film in its entirety.
In terms of what I wanted to do that I wasn’t able to do… In this film, you don’t get to see Soul Society, so everything that happens in this movie is set in the real world. The Soul Society part doesn’t appear, so that’s something that I would like to explore.
As always thank you for reading.