Viz Media has announced that Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to work on a Bleach Live Action Movie! VIZ Productions, Viz Media’s live action license and production house for anime/manga properties, will be providing expertise to Warner Bros., but fans are worried what kind of result the major Hollywood studio will make of their beloved Bleach series. With this fan worry in mind, Deb Aoki from About.com decided to interview Jason Hoffs, Head of Production at VIZ Productions!
Q: What exactly is VIZ Productions? That is, what are VIZ Productions’ goals and purpose that makes what you do related, but distinct from VIZ Media’s publishing and licensing divisions?
Jason Hoffs: VIZ Productions was formed to produce live-action theatrical film and television projects based on cutting edge Japanese intellectual property. We work very closely with manga and anime as source material but are also working from novels and live-action films as well.
There are so many works that have originated in Japan that are unpublished or are almost unknown in the States. We love working with hit properties like Bleach, but we are always also digging for hidden gems that (we hope!) can make great films.
Q: Is VIZ Productions currently working on other film projects besides Bleach?
Jason Hoffs: We have several projects at various stages of development at the studios. All You Need is Kill, an adaptation based on the science fiction novella by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is on the fast track at Warner Brothers.
The screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (Night at the Museum) is adapting the manga Tuxedo Gin for Walt Disney Pictures.
We are also working on many other film projects in various stages of creative development. Once we begin working with a property, our first step is usually to identify a screenwriter or director (or both) who is a fan of the property, and shares a vision with the creator and with our team for how to approach the film version.
Q: Is Bleach the first VIZ Productions project to get to this stage in Hollywood, or was Dragon Ball: Evolution also a VIZ Productions project?
Jason Hoffs: VIZ Productions was not involved with the Dragon Ball movie at all. The Dragon Ball film project had been in development at 20th Century Fox for several years, and had entered production before VIZ Productions was formed.
Q: There’s always some anxiety from fans when Japanese manga is adapted by Hollywood, that it will be… well, changed a lot from the original stories/characters/premise. Would you like to address this issue/concern from fans?
Jason Hoffs: Every creator, and every fan, has a picture of the property or a relationship with the property that is formed with the original medium. Creators and fans of manga are not alone in that regard. Any adaptation requires a change of format and of style.
In the case of manga, so much has to be condensed to squeeze the story into a feature film format. So even in the best of circumstances, it’s a big challenge. Fans have been disappointed with recent manga and anime-based features. We have to learn from these examples, and keep working to do better.
We build a relationship between the creator, his/her team in Japan and the Hollywood creative team to create a basic common vision from the beginning of the process. There is an essence or quality in the original material that makes it attractive as a feature film, and the team tries to preserve and translate this essence into the film version.
Our greatest goal, and certainly the goal of the creator, is that the film should delight the fans. At the same time, the intention of the film version is to introduce a larger global audience to the property. It will always be a challenge to balance fidelity to the original work, while supporting the creativity and originality of the filmmakers in bringing their vision to the film.
Q: How long ago did this process start (from initial pitch/idea to a signed development deal with Warner Brothers)? By any chance did this process start when Kubo-sensei came to San Diego Comic-Con in 2008?
Jason Hoffs: Yes, we first began our discussions in 2008. We all went back and forth on the key creative elements, and when we were satisfied, began to assemble to team here. Because Bleach is such a large and popular property, it took some time to make the deal with Warner Bros. Now we are all so excited to begin the creative work on the screenplay!
Speaking of Comic-Con 2008, the outpouring of enthusiasm for Kubo-sensei’s visit was amazing. So many fans waited for hours in line to meet him and so many of the costumes, zanpakuto and accessories were beautifully and lovingly made. When we think about the level of passion and commitment, both on the creator’s and the fan’s side, it reminds us how important it is to make the best Bleach film we can.
Q: Was Bleach a project that VIZ Productions pitched to movie studios, or was it a situation where the producers approached VIZ Productions to get the rights? There was mention in the press release that a few folks involved with this project are big fans of Bleach.
Jason Hoffs: VIZ Productions teamed up with Masi Oka early in the process. Masi is a huge fan of Bleach, and a true otaku.
Early on, we had many discussions with Shueisha and Kubo-sensei about the creative direction of the film. Masi had worked with Pete Segal and his partner Michael Ewing on Get Smart, and Masi brought Bleach to Pete. The writer, Dan Mazeau had been on everybody’s radar, so when he committed we were all thrilled. Once the team was assembled, we approached Warner Brothers.
Q: Now that Warner Brothers has acquired the rights to produce Bleach, what does that entail? What I mean is, what happens now? I know there’s a lot of steps involved to make a big project like this come to fruition, but any idea when fans might expect to see this Bleach feature film? I understand that it’s probably not possible for you to give us a firm release date at this early stage of the game, but can you give us some idea where things stand now?
Jason Hoffs: Our screenwriter, Dan Mazeau, will begin writing the film shortly, with the input of our director and the producing team. We hope to have a first screenplay later this year. We of course communicate with Kubo-sensei and the Shueisha team at key stages in the process.
Q: Can you share any reactions or thoughts from Kubo-sensei or Shueisha, regarding the Bleach movie project?
Jason Hoffs: Kubo-sensei and the entire Shueisha team cares deeply about Bleach and its millions of passionate fans. We take the trust they have placed in us very seriously, and we very much hope to make a film that they can all be proud of.