Last year, I chose Silver Spoon as one of the best five anime of 2013—so when I heard there was a live-action adaptation in the works, I was more than a little excited. Unfortunately, I am sad to report that the live-action film is devoid of much of what makes the Silver Spoon manga and anime so great.
The area where this film succeeds is in its look. The rural landscapes of Hokkaido are beautiful and really give a sense of a place far different from that of your normal city or suburb. In the school and farms, everything looks authentic—from the milking equipment and slaughter houses, to the horse riding club's barn and the dormitory rooms. Moreover, all the animals in the film are real—horses, cows, and pigs included. There is no cheap-looking CG to be found in this movie.
The character casting is equally spot on. Almost everyone looks so much like their anime/manga counterparts that they are instantly recognizable. By far, the best cast character in the film is Tamako as she both looks and sounds like she was ripped straight out of the anime. It's uncanny, really.
In both the manga and anime version of Silver Spoon, we, the reader/viewer, are privy to Hachiken's innermost thoughts. Thus we know why he acts the way he does. There is, however, no such first-person insight in the live-action film. Without it, Hachiken comes off as a very different character.
Basically, he seems like a total ass to everyone around him (instead of the eager-to-help person he truly is). From this outside perspective, it's hard to see how Hachiken makes friends at all, much less inspires his peers to go far out of their own ways to help him. So while the lack of first-person does make for an interesting watch—especially for fans of the anime and manga—it also makes the character a little less believable.
The story of the film covers the same time frame as the first two seasons of the anime. In other words, it tries to cram 24 episodes of story into a two-hour movie. As you might expect, this makes the movie come off feeling especially rushed.
The main dilemma of the first story arc of the source material—i.e., how he feels about naming and raising a pig for slaughter—is almost completely marginalized. The whole “pork bowl” issue is introduced and resolved in the same five-minute window. The secret Mikage and Komaba are hiding from him is similarly discovered mere minutes after it is first brought up. And with the major personal/moral conflicts practically removed, this has one other major impact:
Silver Spoon is the story of a young man, running away from the stressful life his parents forced him into and discovering who he really is in a setting completely unfamiliar to him. In this new setting he struggles against the morality of what he has always known and the more pragmatic farm morality.
This struggle is the key to Hachiken as a character. He treats his new life and the quandaries he encounters with serious thoughtfulness—and more than a little angst. But as he passes through each dilemma, he comes out a stronger character and a better person. Watching him change step by step into an adult is the heart and soul of this story—another reason why the first-person narration is so important.
But in the film, Hachiken has no noticeable arc. He doesn't seem to learn anything and, as his dilemmas take only minutes to be introduced and then resolved, they have seemingly little impact on both Hachiken and the audience.
So without the focus on Hachiken's inner turmoil, the live-action film spends its time on resolving Mikake and Komaba's stories. This, in turn, allows Hachiken to be the hero of the tale by working hard to help his friends get through some tough times. His hard work inspires other people to also pitch in, and by the end, he finds his place and is even accepted by his parents. Basically, the Silver Spoon movie turns the deep character-driven story into a cliché feel-good film.
The Silver Spoon live-action film is not a terrible movie by any stretch, but it is a terrible adaptation. It tries to cover too much story and in the process loses what makes Silver Spoon so great in the first place, Hachiken's honest struggle to come to terms with the world and his life as he moves into adulthood. If you are a fan of Silver Spoon, this film will likely be a let-down. But if you are in the mood for a standard feel-good film, exploring a world you may know nothing about—i.e., the agricultural world—Silver Spoon will probably be an enjoyable watch.
Silver Spoon was released in Japanese theaters on March 7, 2013. There is currently no word on an international release.
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