Kill cubed - From Japanese short story to Tom Cruise
Reading Time: 7 minutes
‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (or ‘Live:Die:Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow’ in later release) was one of those films that, apart from the launch hoopla, seemed to have come and gone. I had heard just enough about it to remember that it was supposed to be ‘ok’ but it ended up being well over a year until I managed to pick up a copy on DVD (yes, dvd), and then another month until I finally sat down and watched it.
It was surprisingly good! Set in the very near future, Earth has been invaded by a horde of aliens laying waste to Europe, with the United Kingdom being the last stand. It’s with the very D-Day like attack on the shores of France that the plot begins to unroll and Tom’s character, Major/Private Cage, embarks on what is the central theme of the plot. I’m not going to review the movie, which if you haven’t seen it would end up giving too much away, but let’s say Tom was solidly Tom and as a whole, the movie had just enough to keep you moving forward without becoming distracted. As I mentioned, locally it came and went, so I was curious to find out a little more about it in doing so, ended up at ‘Killed cubed’.
Edge of Tomorrow it turns out, is a screen adaptation of the 2004 short novel ‘All you need is kill’, by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka. On its release, the novel received wide praise , being nominated for the prestigious Japanese Seiun Awards. In 2014, the novel was serialised in Manga form by by Ryōsuke Takeuchi and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, which was then released in English at the end of 2014 (the English version of the novel was released in 2009). What makes this interesting is before Hollywood got its hands on it, the story had been well established in two mediums and two languages. So it was with this in mind that I thought it’d be interesting to compare all versions – it’s not often that there are three interpretations of the same story, two of which came before the film (often a graphic novel will come as a marketing/merchandising addition to a movie).
So I grabbed a copy of the novel
Never having been a fan huge fan of short novels, All You Need Is kill was engaging enough for me to not want to put it down and the translation comes across solidly. The short story format actually suits the story quite well, preventing it from becoming bogged down in ‘details’ and keep moving at a pace.
Waking from a bad dream, we are introduced to Keiji Kirija, around which the entire novel revolves. This dream is the start of the plot line into which no more than 4 central characters interact – sargent Bartolome Ferrell, Rita Vrataski aka ‘The Full Metal Bitch, Shasta Raylle, Rita’s technician and Jin Yonabaru, Keiji’s bunk mate and fellow soldier. We learn that Keiji is a member of the UDF, United Defense Force, established to fight the Mimics, a relentless species of water borne creature (derived from star fish) laying waste to much of the planet. Stationed on the ‘Flower Line’, on Japan’s Boso peninsular, Keji’s battalion is the last line of defence for a country vital in the manufacture of the armour for the ‘Jackets’, the armoured suits the UDF soldiers wear in their fight against the numerically, and physically superior, Mimic.
As a short novel (the English translation is only 400 pages), the story’s pace is fast and direct. From how the Mimics came to be, to background stories for most of the central characters, there is just enough information in condensed form to make Keiji’s world complete and engaging enough that the reader is drawn in to the story arc. And without giving it away, interestingly the ending is not one you would call happy, or cheery!
As one would expect, the manga adaptation is consceise – the artwork replacing words. There are almost no deviations from the source in terms of story, the only real exception being in the novel, Keiji and Rita are the only ones capable of identifying the ‘server’ Mimic (the one in control); in the manga though, everyone can pick the ‘server’ based on its appearance. Perhaps this change is to aid the condensed and visual nature of an illustrated story but to some degree it seems to lessen the mystery, and point, of Keiji and Rita’s ‘abilities’.
Visually too, the Mimics’ appearance in the novel is likened to looking like dead, bloated frogs; in the manga, they are illustrated like large canon balls with gaping toothy mouths and spikes for legs. It’s a seemingly small detail but again seems to alter the feeling of the story as they seem more alien than they probably should be – Mimics are not alien, more alien mutations of the humble starfish.
The illustration style is not one that gels with me, being very stylised in the typical manga fashion – I’ve never been a fan of the style and my tastes have always drifted more towards the likes of Shirow and Otomo, both of whom manage to give the genre a far more ’grounded’ feel. Overall though, the manga translation of All you need is kill is very literal and holds not real surprises. If you read it before the novel, you’ll probably find the novel a far more satisfying experience.
And then we come to film… a big budget, Hollywood film…
The Edge of Tomorrow takes a very different path. Where the manga is direct translation of the novel, I’d argue the Doug Liman’s screen adaptation is an almost different story entirely, making an intelligent interpretation of its source. In my mind, where the novel works in literary form, it would not have worked as a piece of cinema; the novel’s story arc is far more mundane, revolving almost entirely around Keiji’s life on the base. While the written form affords ability to expand and detail, within the constraints of film it would have been near impossible to keep the interest and pace.
The intelligence of the film’s adaptation comes in the ways it takes many of the elements from its source and indirectly weaves them into the movie. The inclusions are not the all too familiar ‘book to movie hacks’ we are used to seeing from Hollywood adaptations, but rather well thought out reworkings which act as a nice tipping of the hat to the source material.
Cruise’s Major Cage portrays the novel’s Private Keiji. ‘Cage’ was how the Americans pronounced his Keiji’s name – and at the end of the novel, afforded him the nickname “killer Cage’. Interesting though, the Cage in the movie is more of an amalgam of Keiji and a secondary character from the novel, American war photographer and charmer Ralph Murdoch. Initially it seems like an odd choice but it makes Cruise’s character far more interesting, and fitting, for the situation he’s in. Other on screen nods include Cage flipping desperately though the Jacket’s menu trying to turn off the weapon’s safety – the menu is in Japanese. A fght scene between Keiji and another soldier in the base’s canteen becomes a fight scene midway through the film between Cage and a fellow platoon member; a scene used to demonstrate Cage’s situation very effectively. But when it comes to Hollywood flips, in the novel the UDF defends a beach in Japan, while in the film, Cage’s platoon storms a beach in France.
While the film stands by itself as a ‘similar’ story, it holds enough of the source material so anyone who’s read the novel first will see, and understand, the intelligent acknowledgement of the book within it. Unlike many translations to screen, All You Need Is Kill, or should I say The Edge of Tomorrow, companions the pace of the novel perfectly and it’s these elements that make the Edge of Tomorrow one of the better science fiction screen adaptations.