Fullmetal Alchemist Anime Director: “It was a bad idea to only use Japanese actors.”

On September 16th at Nikufes (Meat Festival) Tokyo 2017, a roundtable with Fullmetal Alchemist anime director Seiji Mizushima and anime producers Hiroshi Kanemaru and Tomoki Misawa was held to discuss the latest trend of anime and manga live action adaptations.

Mizushima worked as the director and storyboarder in the 2003 anime adaptation of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga.  When asked about the upcoming Fullmetal Alchemist live action movie, Mizushima criticized the casting by stating “It was a bad idea to only use Japanese actors”.  Mizushima went on to explain his thoughts on the film by expressing: “If you asked me whether I think the cast could pull it off, I’d say that no, they can’t” and “It’s hard for actors to capture the look and feel of the original manga”.

Mizushima continued to jab at other live action adaptations such as Gintama, unabashedly asserting “Gintama just looked stupid”, despite the film’s recent success.  Kanemaru and Misawa also included Terraformars as another bad adaptation film to add to the list.  Ultimately, the trio agreed that 2D animation allows for more freedom and expression than live action.

However, despite all the complaints, Mizushima is still rooting for the film and sees potential, particularly mentioning interest in the use of 3DCG in the film.  The three concluded that although they prefer animation, they approve of and appreciate how live action adaptations bring attention to manga and anime from the general population.

The Fullmetal Alchemist live action adaptation is set to premiere as the opening film of the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival on October 25.  The film is directed by Fumihiko Sori and stars Ryosuke Yamada as Edward Elric.

Yamada and Sori has addressed the concerns of an all-Japanese cast in the past.  In the March issue of CUT, when asked about the hurdles faced during filming, Yamada answered:

 First of all, Edward Elric isn’t Japanese, right? Playing [the role] while figuring out how to digest that within myself was something I really struggled with. I thought of how I could show that without making it feel out of place. I think that was a difficult problem that the rest of the cast probably struggled with too. Each one of us prepared for these roles with all our might, facing them earnestly, and I think we completely cleared [the hurdles]. I think that fans of the manga are still in a state of ‘how, how?’ so in regards to that, I think that’s what I want them to feel reassured about.

(translation credit: hagarenmovie.tumblr.com)

Personally, as someone that is adamantly against the whitewashing seen in the U.S, I can understand the criticism  towards the decision of an all-Japanese cast based on visual concerns.  However, I think we must also acknowledge the vastly different circumstances between a Hollywood production and a Japanese production.  In the U.S, there are Asian actors readily available to star in movies that feature Asian characters.  In the case of Japan, I am not sure whether the same can be said about Caucasian actors that are fluent in Japanese.  One fact that is important to remember is that Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese film made for a Japanese audience. 

(via animenewsnetwork)

  • Comments

    • Mega Indah Gionino

      Maybe the director forgot about how bad dragonball live action turned out while using all non-japanese casts

      • hasawa

        Dragon Ball was definitively one of the worst manga to pick bc its story was rooted in traditional Japanese and Chinese culture and it was obvious that the characters were Japanese/Asian.
        A bunch of more ‘culturally neutral’ mangas could be picked by Western producers and played with westerners without being that embarrassing : One Piece, Space Adventure Cobra (I always pictured him as a Westerner since his design is blatantly inspired by Jean Paul Belmondo), Sherlock…

    • AoZora

      I agree with MICHIE’s views :)

    • Deedmurata

      So I ask those anime producers: why are the foreign characters (Edward Elric) speaking in Japanese in the first place? They should mind their own business, Live Actions are the best thing that can happen to any Anime/Manga, so more people that don’t watch animation can enjoy the great stories. Anime is in decline, it’s time for Dorama and Live action to rise ^_^.

      • hasawa

        ”So I ask those anime producers: why are the foreign characters (Edward Elric) speaking in Japanese in the first place? ”
        Because they are mangas!! Lol You cannot transcript reality in each and every one of its aspect bc you will loose the reader with unecessary subtitles and time consuming translating… This is for the very same reasons characters from a bunch of different nationalities all speak Japanese in Yuri!!! on Ice, for example…

      • circe154

        Because a normal person will assume the character’s dialogue is being translated and they don’t have to make a big thing out of it like in American comics.

    • hasawa

      “In the U.S, there are Asian actors readily available to star in movies that feature Asian characters. In the case of Japan, I am not sure whether the same can be said about Caucasian actors that are fluent in Japanese. ” Playing the devil’s advocate but there are plenty of movies with actors speaking different languages and acting with their line in their native tongues’… With this method, Japanese directors could direct Western actors and finally make anime adaptation whose set was obviously from a Western cultural background (FMA, SnK…) more accurate…

      • gen

        That will be a problem casting the lead character. They would need someone who has star power and following in Japan to ease publicity locally. Casting a b-grade caucasian actor is not wise while a true blue Western star might be too expensive. Not to mention not using Japanese as the main language is a huge risk when a bulk of the profits comes from the Japanese market.

        • hasawa

          Funnily enough, when I pretty much agree with everything you said, the very same arguments could be brought up about Hollywood casting White actors for manga/anime live adaptations. Rational arguments which are legit in regard of ’emotional’ narrative like White washing.

          • gen

            No. Japan cinema has very limited audience and is a niche while big budgeted Hollywood movies have been saved by international box office. Rationally, Hollywood movies who cater to the world (& profited hugely from it) can afford to hire more diverse cast according to the story. Even if they have a nobody as the lead (ie the kid playing Aang or the guy who played Gon both look white I think), they still can beef up the CGI and marketing and the movies still break-even because of how wide their reach was. Japan couldn’t.

            • hasawa

              Yes, Hollywood CAN afford hiring a more diverse vast, but does this industry is really willing to hire less famous actors (who’d be more fitting for the roles) when they have a bunch of A-list celebrity whose name could effortlessly bring even more attention and commercial success to the movie? I really understand where you’re trying to go here and lowkey I agree with you (lol) but I think that most people here fail to understand that Hollywood is not a phylanthropic organization which is gonna validate their feelings and expectations when it comes to (accurate) racial representation, but a big ruthless industry which will go to the furthest extent to fulfill the commercial success of their investissements.
              I agree that Japanese movie industry is very niche and thus they shouldn’t bothered about accurate characters casting since they’re catering to its own audience solely. But same could be said about Hollywood: why should they care about casting Japanese actors for Japanese anime/manga live adaptation wheb Japanese themselves don’t care about this whole ‘representation’ narrative? People may have bitched about all the lousy ass live adaptation of the last years, but I think the main reason they all more or less flopped is because of their utter mediocrity and not really because those unhappy about the casting weighted in enough to drive a massive boycott of the movies lol

              • gen

                Why would they when they’ve opted for “mediocre” white actors to fill in roles supposedly for Asians? I’ve already written some examples of the nobodies in my initial comment: ie the kid playing Aang or the guy who played Gon both look white I think
                Why couldn’t they hire some capable nobody asian actors in the first place? What’s the motive behind these white casting?

                It’s not hypocrisy / double standard but rationality according to the capability and reach of the studio. I do understand the passion behind representation of a more diverse cast in Hollywood. It’s not philanthropic idea and there’s nothing wrong if a big ass institution be a little more mindful of their selectiveness. They won’t lose money if they pick the right colored lead actor. In the end Hollywood is still not the same as Japan’s movie industry.

                They may complain but Netflix is still making money out of the awful adaptation though.

                • hasawa

                  “It’s not philanthropic idea and there’s nothing wrong if a big ass institution be a little more mindful of their selectiveness”
                  If a move doesn’t give the assurance of bringing in more money to the studio it’s automatically philanthropy because Hollywood = capitalism
                  (from : an eternal idealistic who’d like to see more industries “mindful” of what their doing as well)

                  • gen

                    “If a move doesn’t give the assurance of bringing in more money to the studio it’s automatically philanthropy because Hollywood = capitalism”
                    A movie money-back-guarantee doesn’t rely solely on the lead actor/actress. Yes Hollywood is capitalism but giving what the audience want (supply/demand) is part of capitalism. It’s 2017. The world wanted to see more diverse representation other than white heroes.

                    • hasawa

                      Yes, I definitively believe the only way to push for more representation/racial accuracy in Hollywood is through encouraging all the medias going in that way instead of bitching on the web against White washing. Funnily enough, I heard they tried to make a black Spiderman comic and it flopped and some Black activists (rightfully) god mad bc they said it showed how half assed the activism of some ppl was: for once they had the representation they asked for and when it happened nobody (financially) supported this effort
                      Money is the center stage of the war. Bitching on the web ain’t sh*t.

                      • gen

                        Miles Morales (the black spiderman) is not a flop https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man_(Miles_Morales)#Reception

                        So was Ms. Marvel, a brown muslim hero

                        Bitching on the web made a lot of impact on the industry especially now where people can tell these big wigs off on SNS platforms and be viral. Like I said, its 2017. Bad press will effect money money making.

                      • hasawa

                        Yes, the powers of social medias can be real to some extent, but to the condition those who use them -the millenials- weigh enough in the demographic targetted by the “problematic” show. I’m seeing kids bitching everyday about White-Hollywood/””problematic”” celebs I expect every movie to flop and yet it doesn’t happens lol

                      • gen

                        Its not about “flopping” because people will keep on ingesting those white-washed media. Its about creating consciousness & correcting misinformation about colored heroes “flopping”. Studios are starting to actively seek a more diverse cast. That’s progress.

                      • gen

                        Also this awesome actor turning down a role because of the white-washing backlash

          • gen

            oh you edited before my reply..

            Mediocrity is not the solution to back up another form of mediocrity…
            How would you know these Japanese cast are mediocre at portraying these fictional roles? Better reserve that judgement after the movie is uploaded illegally appear at your local cinemas.

            • hasawa

              (what are you talking about? I didn’t edited this sentence)
              And you really took my sentence too ‘radically’ : by saying mediocre I didn’t intent to comment about the actors performance or whatsoever (as you said, I didn’t watch the movie and don’t plan to lol), but more about the casting : seeing some character with typically Western/German sounding names played by typical Japanese actor sounds a bit off~
              As far as I know, I don’t see anyone getting so defensive when it comes to ppl bitching about Western live adaptation nobody has seen yet…

              • gen

                It’s not that particular sentence but maybe you added some sentences post script..? Maybe I glossed over that part of your comment.

                Since we are talking about casting, I thought “mediocrity” was referring to the actors skill. “Mediocrity” is not same as “grotesque”…but ok. Not a big fan of FMA or the actors to be defensive about it anyway.

              • ProllyWild

                Ghost in the shell was terrible….

                Anyways there is one flaw in the concept of “Hollywood = capatilism thus they go with white actors because they bank more.” The reality is, these films that have white-washed in the Hollywood end don’t make more money in the end. So many flops lately it’s hilarious. If anything Hollywood is maintaining the old idea that white sells, when really it’s already adjusting to the standard which is “pander to China for international box office rewards.

                Japan should have just done CGI instead of real action because the scale of the anime can’t be shown in real life and in this case an all Japanese cast is awkward.

                Reality for Japan’s movie scene is that most non-Japanese actors are terrible and did not come to Japan to be actors in the first place so casting foreigners would be difficult. Many went from one profession like teaching, to then switching over to voice acting and acting, so their skills are most times not that great. Even more difficult is getting their visas approved to do that film work. After you cross the hurdle of visas, you’re still left with the problem that the quality of regular actors on tv and movies in japan is just awful.

                • hasawa

                  Can’t Japan hire foreign White actors?
                  While I definitively agree Hollywood’s A-list is out of touchw there’s plenty of talented (and more affordable) ones in the world…

                  • ProllyWild

                    For many reasons they don’t but really, as you said laziness is a factor. Most people don’t audition for roles as much as the roles are given to the hit stars of the hour, no questions asked. It makes for a weak movie scene all over. There are various hurdles and liabilities involved in shipping over foreign actors, and maybe they could have considered using foreign actors in a foreign locale for the filming…but still the languages would still be an issue.

                    There was no way to make this one work well in real life.

        • Alice

          The problem is there aren’t enough roles/any at all so white foreign actors in japan can even GET a following. That’s why we resort to creating our own content. I understand it’d be harder to sell a movie with a less famous actor as a lead, but that’s how actors break through and get famous. It would have been nice if they gave us the chance to audition. The same thing happened for Attack on Titan. They were planning from the beginning to show it in the U.S.- I think it debuted in Los Angeles BEFORE Japan, even. Even so, not even a small role could be played by a white person… It just sucks as a struggling actress.

          • gen

            It’s good you understand that hiring a noob white actor as the lead in a Japan production is a hard sell. Opening in America doesn’t mean they need to please the white western audience there by having a white lead. They never make money out of western market. Like I said, it’s just a pr move.

    • neko

      I’m happy with the cast

    • lovehello

      so basically these otaku bash live action because it will hurt their career if live action becomes more popular.

      Despite all of them being Japanese, it looks like they tried to get people who matched the looks of the character as close as a Japanese person can to a European. Unlike that other movie about walls that couldn’t even correctly cast the only true Asian character properly

    • eplizo

      I prefer it this way. There’s enough whitewashed films anyway. I don’t give the slightest fuck what anyone says lol.

      • gen

        Some people are getting emotional over this reverse-whitewashed lol. Talking as a fan of Death Note & SnK fan who dgaf over the race “inaccuracy” for their live actions adaptation. All was hoping was for the movies to be good. Hopefully FMA is one of the good ones like Rurouni Kenshin

        • hasawa

          “Some people are getting emotional over this reverse-whitewashed lol”
          Not as much as those losing their shit over White washing though, let’s get real… lol
          But I feel you about enjoying stuff without caring the slighliest about race, representation or whatever. When did everything become so serious..?

          • gen

            I find there’s rationality behind people losing their shit over white-washing than otakus losing their shit over a reversed-whitewashed Japanese adaptation.

            • hasawa

              Both are whining about getting their expectations/feelings/ hurt though, so it’s still on the emotional” spectrum. And it doesn’t remove the fact that most of the time, people lose their shit about White washing, not really the other way round~

              • gen

                I don’t deny the emotions it but I judged the rationality of white-washing whining to have more substance than the otaku-whining. I see it a lot of the reversed whitewashed whining here & animenewsnetwork and I have engaged with some to laugh at their pettiness.

      • wyunszㅤㅤㅤ

        “I prefer it this way” – okay great but no one asked
        “There’s enough whitewashed films anyway.” – nah
        ” I don’t give the slightest fuck what anyone says lol.” – and I don’t give the slightest fuck about yours and others’ butthurt. What I do give a fuck about is the hypocrisy of you all who shit on anything whites-related but when other races act like shits it’s all cool and ‘they can’. Besides, I don’t see him mentioning that he wanted white actors, he simply said he isn’t satisfied with a full-JPN cast, you moron. But I guess every slightest opportunity to shit on whites is good for you, eh? This is why no one takes you people seriously anymore.

        • Nikki ok

          lmao your white tears are hilarious
          You obviously give a fuck about the users opinion when you write a two page essay full with your white tears lolol

          I love when whites get angry when they aren’t worshipped, entertain me more, bet you pretend to be non white now…

    • OwO

      That very last comment is the same reason as mine when I try to justify these kinds of adaptations from the Japanese scene. Hollywood vs the Japanese entertainment scene is quite different from eachother and can’t really be compared since the make up of both countries in relation to people and diversity are so different.

    • Could it be possible that Yamada is cast in this role because he looked mixed to some people (lol)?

    • angel223_

      I dont think Yamada look mix, definitely he is very handsome but not mix!.
      So, if anyone will wear colored contact lenses, they will look mix too?

      • hasawa

        GOD I will choose a full Japanese looking actor to play a Western character anytime over those with ridiculous make over with hair dye and lenses to make them more ~~White passing~~ *yikes*

    • Josh Mejia

      It’s a Japanese anime show! What do you expect from it!? Lol if the United States was making a FMA live movie and we’re using only Americans then it would be the same thing as to why there aren’t Japanese actors and actresses in the movie. So for everyone who thinks this was a bad move by the director casting only Japanese actors and actresses think again LOL

      • sarah

        Actually if the U.S used white actors it would make sense so I don’t know why you used that. You should have said ” It doesn’t matter where it’s made an adaption doesn’t live up to the source.

        Japan and Hollywood know there not gonna get the applauses, but at Japan has a lot going against it. Whereas hollywood is just lazy and thinks Latinos and Asians somehow only exist when stereotyping .

    • Alice Beck

      There are A LOT of caucasian actors that can speak fluent Japanese. I live in Tokyo. I’m one, and so are many people I work with. They never give us a chance.

      • Michie

        I guess what I meant was that I don’t know of much Caucasian actors that can speak fluent Japanese with the following to be cast is a big-budget Japanese production. But you’re right, if I’m going to complain about Hollywood not giving opportunities to Asian actors, then I shouldn’t do the same to white actors in Japan. Sorry for making assumptions about a part of the Japanese entertainment industry that I don’t know much about:)

        • hasawa

          “if I’m going to complain about Hollywood not giving opportunities to Asian actors, then I shouldn’t do the same to white actors in Japan”
          Kuddos to you for owning up this!
          I’m so done with the hypocrisy of people getting mad at US live adaptations (who are by definition catering mainly for Western audience and thus coincidentally) featuring Western cast when they condone Japan doing the same regardless of their accuracy. Saying that US has the means to use Asian actor is not the deal here (especially since having the means to do something is not a moral obligation to do such) : why would Japan be allowed to make inaccurate character casting for movies catering to their own domestic market when the US wouldn’t? It’s not like there westerners in Japan. Why should Hollywood be obligated to hire a more diverse cast when Japan wouldn’t? There are foreigners in Japan too ; shouldn’t they have the right for some “representation” too? It’s not like they never been Japanese movie with (non Japanese speaking) Western actors~
          I’m still waiting for a rational explanation other than the “my feelings don’t like seeing white people playing poc”. (it’s not like poc got physically hurt from not being represented in Hollywood movies..) Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for accuracy when it comes to playing live adaptation, from BOTH sides (I cringe as much seeing the SnK adaptition as I do with Scarjo as major Kusanagi), but it’s more the double standards that bother me the most.
          Sorry for bringing up the awful Death Note adaptation again (lol) but the whole uproar surrounding its casting came off particularly hypocrite when we all know it was an American adaptation explicitly marketed towards US audience and yet ppl got mad.

          • gen

            “came off particularly hypocrite when we all know it was an American adaptation explicitly marketed towards US audience”

            Aren’t Netflix available internationally?

            • hasawa

              Yes, but as non American residents I can tell you how US centric the shows there are. Last time I checked there was barely any show/movie from my country :-/

              • gen

                So it has an international audience.

                • hasawa

                  So do Japanese movies, right?

                  • gen

                    You know what I mean, buying international audience. Not to mention netflix are also selling it to other platforms all over the world. Most who has watched Japanese movies here get their stash from illegal sources. FMA and most Japan’s international release are very limited that consists of pr runs (conventions and such) which barely makes profit. It’s a reality a huge bulk of Japan’s movie sales is local consumption while Hollywood’s reach is far and wide. Discarding demographics and the economics of things aren’t rational thinking.

                    • hasawa

                      Just because audience are very limited doesn’t there isn’t any though. What I find irrational is dismissing the value of doing promo internationally like it wasn’t aiming for international audience just bc it represents a small pourcentage of its audience. It’s still pandering to a (small) international audience, and as small this pourcentage is or regardless people watch it legally or not (I hardly never bought a jmusic cd and yet jmusic has a huge importance in my musical culture) I think it’s a encouraging move from a Japanese studio to do such.
                      Hell, french cinema has a very small audience worldwide and yet I wouldn’t dismiss its international presence.

                      • Awilda

                        As a Belgian person,I would say France is an exception when it comes to Japanese entertainment. If France gets a movie in 10 theaters,we barely only get one or two theaters showing it and other than otaku and J-entertainment fans almost nobody actually watches Japanese stuff here. The only movies that get a bit of recognition (by indie movie lovers mainly) are the movies shown on Arte and/or the ones that win some kind of international movie award. Watching anything none West (mainly French/Dutch,British/Irish or American) is seen as sort of “different/edgy” .You get the occasional German,Italian and Spanish stuff too but that’s about it.
                        So truly,yes Japanese movies are made for a Japanese audience that can relate to Japanese actors,contrary to big budget Hollywood movies that get shown in almost every country in the world and both countries know that very well.

                      • hasawa

                        “Japanese movies are made for a Japanese audience that can relate to Japanese actors,contrary to big budget Hollywood movies that get shown in almost every country in the world and both countries know that very well”
                        Yeah yeah sure, and? We’re talking about the FMA here. And its cast promoting the movie internationally which is an obvious move showing that for once a Japanese movie studio is pandering to international audience. I really don’t get why ppl can’t grasp the fact this initiative is actually going to the right direction and are too comfortable being ‘japan movies only care about Japan audience’ which is not always true. Probably the same who can’t grasp the idea that casting Asian actors to play Western characters comes a bit off even to Japanese whose ‘japanese movies catering only to Japanese’ cater to lol

                      • Awilda

                        They have done that with previous movies too. Movies that were not screened outside of Japan or like in France and the US in around approximately 6 theaters total. It’s actually to bring attention to it from otakus (They did promote it a Japan Expo so they know who the target audience is and it’s not your everyday French person) and create a hype in the J-entertainment fans’ community who then are more likely to want to buy the goodies (and become fan of the actor) and later on the blue-ray that will probably have subtitles. They do the exact same thing with anime movies and those too only show in a few select theaters in big cities.
                        The main audience and the main revenue market remains Japan,so it is catered to a predominant Japanese audience and a few “otakus” here and there.

                      • hasawa

                        Soo, because the main audience are otaku it means that Japanese movies are still catering to ‘real’ international audiences? How would Japanese studio build a non-otaku audience if they don’t promote internationally? Should they stop because for the moment it gets the attention of mainly otaku..? Besides, foreign otakus are still an international audience too.
                        Again, it’s a step by step progress, and I don’t get the point of diminishing it bc the audience is not the one you want it to be~

                      • Awilda

                        Were did I dismiss their efforts ?
                        I’m just saying that people are here talking about the fact that their should be more non-Japanese people in it because this has a more international audience and my opinion is that this international audience is simply not really true compare to US movies,that’s all. That’s also why the issue here is different.
                        Of course,they should make movies for the international market too and promote them but maybe not solely at an otaku event,would help way more.
                        Indeed an otaku audience is also an international audience but it’s tiny compare to the Japanese audience this is going to have in theatres and the producers behind it know that very well. Because of that knowledge this movie was made with their biggest audience in mind aka Japanese people and thus caters to their demands and viewing experience.
                        Which is totally different from Hollywood who does realise their movies on a massive international scale (scale in which they are in huge demand) thus making their non-US (and non-white for that mater) audience the main audience.

                      • hasawa

                        I’m just wondering how Japanese touring internationally to promote is somehow only catering to otaku? Promo is promo, you can’t really decide who’s gonna ‘catch’ it or not. But to be fair, FMA being an anime adaptation, I guess a fair this is mostly foreigners who are into anime/manga are gonna get interested.

      • Nikki ok

        maybe y’all just ugly… the whites that go to asian countries are really fugly and that’s a fact and nobody wants to have ugly whites in a drama or movie

    • sarah

      People bitch too much. The PC era is so fucking annoying. Although, being mexican and seeing my people only being portrayed as thugs or sex objects does piss me off. But, i’m coming from a place that has just given up seeing someone like me in a big role. In this world you will always piss off people. It’s about how to piss off less people.

      There is no pleasing anyone.

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    • Bell

      Oh, don’t let them off so lightly. There are plenty of capable Japanese-speaking actors of non-Japanese descent, or partial descent, in Japan.

    • monica_monami

      i’ll wait until i watch it before give my 2cents. I kinda like yamada’s visual in this though. he’s a shorty and his face kinda suits blond hair. Let see if his acting could save him.

    • Paffi

      It was bad idea to use only Japanese actors in AoT!!
      Only Mikasa was suppost to be half Asian which Kiko was. The rest of them were different races!

    • ___

      It’s a bad idea to make a japanese anime adaptation tbw
      The actors always look and sound ridiculous.
      Animes are fun to watch but their adaptations are just cringe-worthy.

      • Sakura Kou


    • Sakura Kou

      well hollywood don’t use asian actors for asian roles , eventhought their many native english speaker asians

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    • mybaby kittens

      this awesome actor turning down a role because of the white-washing backlash