Those who follow my musical theatre writing career know that I truly appreciate the storytelling, artistry, and emotionality of Japanese manga and anime – especially the way in which they can be translated to western-style theatre, film, and music. On April 12, 2022, I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere of Manga Productions’ newest action fantasy film, THE JOURNEY, directed by Kobun Shizuno (Godzilla), written by Atsuhiro Tomioka (Pokemon), and co-produced by Toei Animation. Watch the trailer.
This was a historic night at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood – not only because film premieres are up and running once again post-pandemic, lighting up Hollywood Blvd. as they have throughout Hollywood’s history – but because this film was the first-ever co-production between Japan and Saudi Arabia. Never before has a creative team from Japan teamed up with Saudi filmmakers in art, storytelling, and filmmaking. To see this union generate such a beautiful piece of work was a true thrill and I feel lucky to have been in attendance!
After the impressive red-carpet entrance into Hollywood’s most beloved theatre, the evening began with an opening speech by Dr. Essam Bukhary, CEO of Manga Productions. He said, of the film and of the collaboration, “I believe movies and creative arts are the bridge to a peaceful world.” It was clear that this film was a labor of love and meaning.
Admittedly, I’m no film critic. But I do appreciate story – and the way this film merged the traditional Saudi story of the Elephant Army with western Biblical tales was creative and well intertwined. The tales paralleled each other in that they featured an unlikely hero achieving an amazing feat… For example, the film juxtaposed Aus, who defeated Abraha’s approaching takeover of Mecca, with Biblical figures Rachel and Noah. It was an inspirational story that laced devotion to family and love, with fighting for justice and independence.
Even above the storytelling, I loved the beautiful artistry of the piece. The film featured traditional anime characters and animation styles during the Saudi storyline, and delicately switched to magical realist, impressionist segments during the telling of the Biblical tales. These were twinkly, radiant, and breathtaking interstitials that were both surprising and glorious.
Overall, the night was truly special… from the glamorous red carpet, to the opening speeches, to the historical film, to the gift bags featuring tee shirts with artwork from the piece!