"Rip off!" It's fun little accusation to throw around, isn't it?
These days, whenever we look over any list of forthcoming blockbusters, the default response is to bemoan the lack of originality on display. What's up with all these sequels? Why are there so many remakes? Can a movie ever get made without being based on a comic, novel, TV show or video game? It's enough that we excitedly treat "originals" like they're rare and precious animals wandering onto the farm.
But how strict do we want to get about the notion of a flick "not being based on any prior material?" Well, we're going to argue here that many memorable "original" Hollywood pictures have actually owed enough of a debt to anime that they should really have an additional "based on" credit.
Of course, we can't act like anime hasn't ripped American films off plenty of times (compare Dragon Ball Z's Saiyan Saga with Superman II if you want a laugh), and there are certainly plenty of cases where the same ideas just happen to bubble up in the zeitgeist coincidentally (for fun, contrast the blonde, grouchy, chain-smoking exorcists who inspired both Mushi-Shi and Constantine). Today, though, we're squarely focussing on the most undeniable, laughable, and egregious imitations - ripoffs so flagrant that our frothing nerd rage prevents us from just letting it go. These are not coincidences.
1. Pacific Rim = Neon Genesis Evangelion
Everybody should know this already, but we might as well state it outright...
Sure, Pacific Rim draws upon a wide history of Japanese entertainment, paying homage to the assorted traditions of mecha, kaiju and tokusatsu (represented to English audiences, respectively, by localized titles like RoboTech, Godzilla and Power Rangers). However, any hopes of the Hollywood adaptation of Gainax Studios' anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion finally rising out of development hell have been rather thoroughly quashed by this flick. For all intents and purposes, Pac Rim is what an American Eva would've looked like.
Both stories follow the same broad strokes. Young pilots with traumatic pasts are enlisted by a multinational coalition to battle waves of mysterious extradimensional giants that are appearing with increasing frequency. Big robots vs. the apocalypse is pure Evangelion. Oh wait, so is that part about syncing mentally with another human being. Shit, even the Jaeger pilots' armors kind of look like the Eva pilots' plug suits.
Most strikingly, Pacific Rim's Mako Mori seems like an amalgamation of all three major female characters from Eva. Like Asuka Langley, she's an overachiever who's secretly beset by serious self-confidence issues. Like Misato Katsuragi, she's fueled by a very personal vendetta against the monsters, having watched helplessly as they killed her family when she was a kid. And even her look pays tribute to Rei Ayanami: a pixie cut with a shock of blue hair being a more modest stab at Rei's striking blue dye job.
2. The Lion King = Kimba the White Lion
Go on and keep trying to claim that this is based on Hamlet, or whatever Shakespeare play sounds best that day - everybody knows the truth at this point. The Lion King is Kimba the White Lion, plus a few sassy animal sidekicks and a dash of songs about how to relax.
The similarities are so blatant, they're almost insulting (oh, he's Simba, not Kimba? COME ON. You're not even trying). The iconic lion-standing-on-a-cliff shot, the even-more-iconic-talking-to-dead-dad-via-cloud shot... they're all borrowed/traced from a brilliant dude by the name of Osamu Tezuka. Early concept paintings even include a white-furred Simba, for crying out loud!
Much like that infamous easter egg where dust spirals to spell "sex," they say that if you squint real hard, you can also see all the corporate lawyers, lurking in the crowd shots during the "Circle of Life" number. Their arms are crossed, daring anyone to call foul on this farce.
3. Black Swan/Requiem for a Dream = Perfect Blue
Hollywood can't get enough of cribbing from the Satoshi Kon playbook (and who can blame them? The guy was brilliant), and Darren Aronofsky is possibly the most openly dedicated to such borrowing. He even went so far as to buy the rights to Perfect Blue just to exactly copy one shot for Requiem for a Dream. Sure, "girl screaming in bathtub" is a scene you may have run into before in cinema, but this is SHOT FOR SHOT.
Black Swan is the real offender here, though. Covering all the same themes - fame, loss of self, aggressive ambition, repressed sexuality, confusion about the line between fantasy and reality - it pretty much tells the same story, beat for beat. Both movies aim to give you the heeby-jeebs by roughing up a classically delicate, feminine subject with a bit of evil, murderous implication. Even their posters are eerily similar, swapping a bloodshot ballerina in for a bloodstained pop idol. With only a few details changed for American audiences, Black Swan feels so much like Kon's work that it'd be easy to mistake it for his live-action directorial debut.
4. The Matrix = Ghost in the Shell
Yup, The Matrix was pretty much pitched as a live-action Ghost in the Shell. The Wachowskis even showed clips from the anime to studios to get the money people psyched. Especially obvious "references" include the scene where Neo runs through a city street while gunshots blast apart watermelons all around him, the general green-ness of the cinematography, and that particularly iconic computer display featuring all the green code.
Oh, and Trinity is very much in the Motoko Kusanagi "type." As in, looks just like her, with a different haircut.
The Matrix surprised US audiences with a "new" approach to action and storytelling (which, of course, largely borrowed from anime, kung fu flicks and HK crime cinema), but the particular influence of Masumune Shirow's world and attitude about sci-fi is pervasive. One of the cooler moments in Ghost in the Shell is when a garbage man realizes that his memories - wife... kids... his entire life, really - were fabricated by a hacker called the Puppet Master. Bam! There's The Matrix. Right there in one scene.