Director: Yuichiro Hirakawa
Cast: Minami Hamabe, Kairi Jyo, Rihito Itagaki, Keiko Kitagawa, Naomi Watanabe
Runtime: 1 hr 59 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 7 January 2021
Synopsis: The “forbidden” live-action film adaptation based on the extraordinarily suspenseful prison break manga that has sold over 25 million copies worldwide! Grace Field House is a paradisiacal orphanage filled with happiness, where the orphans who live there with their “Mother”, the caretaker, Isabella, all look forward to the day they grow old enough to be adopted. However, when Emma (Minami Hamabe), Ray (Kairi Jyo), and Norman (Rihito Itagaki), stumble upon the orphanage’s dark secret, they realise that everything was all but a fantasy, and set in motion their dangerous and desperate plan to break out of Grace Field House along with their other siblings.
Judging from the excited audience at the preview of this movie, we gather that The Promised Neverland is a very, very successful manga series which has earned its right to be adapted into a live action movie. Some quick research shows that the manga had more than 26 million copies in circulation as of December 2020 (including digital versions), and it has won many awards and has enjoyed rave reviews. The anime has also received several accolades. It is only right that there is this movie version, and not surprisingly, an American live action series is in the works.
It’s easy to see why the story is popular. The premise is about a group of children as they plan their escape from an orphanage after they discover a dark secret. At the picture perfect Grace Field House, orphans dressed in white seem to be well taken care of a graceful lady Isabella, who is also affectionately known as “Mother”. As the kids receive news of successful adoption one by one, it is believed that they are going to lead better lives. Alas, there is actually a scary fate which awaits those who leave the orphanage.
The 119 minute movie is easy to sit through as you see how the kids find out about their impending fate, gather the troops to plan an escape, make a few attempts, before the finale where you eagerly anticipate whether they can get away from the evil forces. The fantasy backdrop means there are out of this world characters and storylines. If you aren’t already a fan of the manga and anime series, you can almost imagine how the story is told on print and in animated formats.
The young actors are likeable enough for viewers to be invested in what happens to them throughout the two hour runtime. Rihito Itagaki, Minami Hamabe and Kairi Jyo are three main leads playing Norman, Emma and Ray respectively. While we won’t be the best people to comment on their likeness to the manga, the three teenagers do a fine job here. Keiko Kitagawa, with all her demureness, is an apt candidate to play Isabella. She manages to be convincing as a villain who goes berserk when she has to get the kids in order.
In the manga, there is another antagonist Sister Krone who is black. Here, she is portrayed by renowned comedienne and fashion designer Naomi Watanabe. There has been a bit of outcry over the casting, but purely from the viewer’s point of view, we feel that more could have been done with the character who is comically menacing, especially with Watanabe’s terrifyingly maniacal appearance. It’s a shame too that her screen time is limited.
We haven’t heard whether there are future plans for the movie (there is definitely room to expand the story), but as with many other manga or comic movie adaptations, fans may feel often feel that the storytelling is too rushed and important details and nuances have been left out. While we do not feel anything jarring in this movie directed by Yuichiro Hirakawa, we are pretty sure there are purists out there who feel that the escapist tale would have been better appreciated if it stayed within the pages of a manga.
(An enjoyable live action adaptation of a popular manga series that delivers enough thrills to keep you engaged throughout)
Review by John Li