Sawa (India Eisley) is orphaned at an early age, her parents gunned down in their home. She’s taken in by her father’s cop partner (Sam Jackson) and with his help she’s taking bloody revenge on the lowlifes responsible.
At Your Own Peril
Let me save you the time, don’t bother seeing this film. It’s a total waist, regardless of whether you’ve seen the original anime it is adapted from.
From the writing, to the performances, to the visual presentation, KITE sees fit to wallow in mediocrity — all to the point of insult. I had to double check the credits just to make sure this film wasn’t directed by Uwe Boll and I’m still not terribly convinced it wasn’t.
A Place To Start
In 1998, animation director Yasuomi Umetsu made KITE; an animated film that pushed the boundaries of content in mainstream animation. It was highly criticized by western critics and home video releases were largely censored due in part to its more risque content. The original film’s plotline tells the story of SAWA, a young teen who witnesses her family being murdered during a home invasion and she’s taken in by the killers who raise her to be their own personal assassin. Killing becomes her reason for going on and despite being in the company of the men who butchered her parents, Sawa makes no moves of retribution.
Being so young and with her parents gone, she has no other family. It’s a sad soleless existence for her until she meets OBURO, another child assassin in the employ of the corrupt men who control her. Oburo shows her a genuine affection that she hasn’t felt since her family and suddenly her story has the opportunity for a positive direction. That’s the original KITE in a nutshell. That and mind blowing action sequences, one of those action scenes even inspiring an homage by the then highly popular music band NO DOUBT.
It’s a memorable film in many ways, visually striking design work, high quality action, and probably the more talked about item — the sex. The original film has graphic sexual scenes (for a mainstream effort), not surprising when you consider that Umetsu, the director, was coming off of many years in the Hentai (animated porn) industry. The scenes appear gratuitous when you recall that this is sex between a child (she’s probably 15-16 by my estimation) and a 40-some year old man. It could be argued that those scenes should have been toned way down, but on the flipside and seen in the context of the storyline, they could also be said to be justified. They make it clear that these corrupt officials (they’re members of law enforcement) who’ve taken custody of Sawa are not redeemable, no matter what other good they’ve done.
So, that’s the original film. How does the new one handle the original plot and characters…
The new film keeps the origin of Sawa somewhat intact. Her parents are murdered in front of her as in the anime, but this time around she doesn’t remember who did it. Her father’s occupation was never addressed in the original and we never learn why her family were killed. It wasn’t important to that story. This live action take specifies that the father was a cop and he was killed for something he did on the job. His partner, played by Samuel L. Jackson, takes Sawa in and helps her to investigate and take revenge on the people responsible for her parent’s murders. Also according to this incarnation, the killers are supposedly tied to an underage sex trafficking ring and Sawa infiltrates it as a prostitute, literally shooting her way to the top of the food chain.
Knowing the original anime, it was clear that the sexual component would not remain intact for this transition. It couldn’t, for obvious reasons. Sawa’s age in this incarnation is considerably older, as you’d expect and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does make it less heartbraking of a story, but again it’s par for the course in adaptations. Hitgirl is much younger in the comics compared to Chloe Moretz’s version in the live action KICK ASS film adaptation. For all the faults of that particular adaptation, the age of the character didn’t hurt the success of the narrative.
What doesn’t work is their decision to use sex trafficking as the backdrop for the story and then barely tackle it. Sex was used in the anime as a means of illustrating how despicable the antagonist is, it was never the focus. By contrast, the new film attempts to hang the narrative on it, but never really drives home the fact. Change around some dialog and it could just as easily have been a run of the mill kidnapping racket. There are a couple scenes that give lip service to the sex trafficking angle — a kidnapped group of girls is saved from a cell by Sawa and she kills one of the Johns (pimp) during a taste test session where she has to do the boss to prove her worth. Nothing happens of course as she offs him pretty quickly and before anything happens. There are ways to get an idea across without being explicit and in your face. Action occuring off screen is just one example. The result is that we never really get that establishing moment.
The action sequences in the film are this adaptations most disappointing aspect as they’re about as mediocre as it gets. Nothing memorable; not even the scenes “ripped” right out of the original anime. The film’s opening recreates one of many infamous action scenes from the anime involving an elevator shooting that opens the film. For a sequence involving an exploding head it plays as very pedestrian and frankly boring to watch. There was never any hope that this adaptation could match the scale of the action from the original film, but there are many creative things that could have been done in the staging and execution of scenes to keep things exciting. Animation has the luxury of allowing the creators to defy reality. You can go so much broader and over the top compared to live action so, it’s no big surprise that this new film doesn’t. Sawa has exploding bullets for goodness sake. If Uwe Boll can make an occasional action scene exciting…I’ve seen better action scenes on a throwaway SyFy channel presentation.
As actor performances go, there’s not much to say. Sam Jackson sleepwalks through this. Not his worst performance by any means — anyone remember him on the original 21 Jump Street tv show? Don’t. In KITE, Jackson’s character is uninteresting to watch and brings surprisingly little to the plot other than as a talking head. His character’s motivation is completely changed from the anime and strange as it sounds could have benefited from being more 2 dimensional. That isn’t a complement however as the performance direction just isn’t conducive to a worthwhile outcome. India Eisley who I’ve never seen before this film is not much better than Jackson. Her character is on drugs for most of the film and much of her performance involves stumbling around and drooling then a stabbing or exploding heads here and there.
Like Boll before him, this director has taken what was a standout piece of source material and turned it into something that fails to be even a shadow of the work that “inspired” it. I long for Paul W. S. Anderson to ruin another franchise over watching this. This should be avoided if you value your health. The film is just not worth your time, even for free.
Instead you should seek out the original KITE in any of its forms and maybe even its subsequent successors, Mezzo Forte, Mezzo DSA, and KITE Liberator — in that order. All are worth at least a “free” viewing (available on Netflix).
Rather than link to the movie trailer, Here’s NO DOUBT music video; a strangely better adaptation of the original anime.