Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney)

By Jorge Ba-oh 10.11.2012 5

Capcom's world famous defence attorney has stepped into Global Studios to take on Hollywood. Is it a case too far for Phoenix Wright?

Video games to film conversions haven't had a smooth ride since studios attempted to capture the magic starting with Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. Trying to transpose cartoon/stylised characters into the human world is ridiculously tricky to get right when working with a huge fan base and history.  Are the characters convincing? Is the dialogue accurate but not too cheesy?

Over the years there have been some highlights over the stinkers, including Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat adaptations, yet these were buried in the dross like DOA: Dead or Alive, House of the Dead (shudder) and more recently, Tekken.

Nintendo's own Pokémon decided to stay strictly animé, fortunately, and not cast the likes of Justin Beiber as the lovable Ash Ketchum - yet. Others have attempted 3D/CGI animation instead, including Final Fantasy VII Advent Children and Resident Evil: Damnation.

Ace Attorney, known in Japan as Gyakuten Saiban, could have taken the easier route and produced an animé or a CGI adaptation as the sequences in Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney look sublime. But instead was down to famed Japanese director Takashi Miike to weave the main storyline arc from the first game - Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - into a two hour affair using real actors and a spattering of special effects.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney)

It's a difficult film to review as from a fan's perspective, but from someone who's gone through the games in the original Phoenix Wright trilogy; it's by far one of the best, faithful and surprisingly accurate takes on a video game as source material. However for those unfamiliar with the plot it can be excruciating to work it all out and you might feel like the bumbling detective Gumshoe.

The first five minutes throws the audience into a blood rich, dark tale of mystics and communication with the dead to unravel a mystery. This sort of production Miike has done exceptionally well in the past and we're introduced to the lead characters Phoenix Wright, portrayed by Hiroki Narimiya, and Rei Dan as mentor Mia Fey. This blends with scenes from Takumi Saito as the proud Miles Edgeworth, culminating into the incident that sets the action in motion. It's all a blur of different chunks of a story that could perhaps have done with a bit more thought for someone coming into the series blind, but the accuracy and intricate details draws a seasoned Ace Attorney fan in like Larry Butz to girlfriends.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney)

Whether you know the characters or not, however, it's the portrayals that help keep things interesting.  Hiroki Narimiya as Wright was done to near perfection - scripted accurately, facial expressions, finger pointing and paper fumbling spot on. Edgeworth, Butz and Von Karma are standout folk and give a convincing response to their pixel counterparts. Supporting characters are also integrated well where needed, in particular Fumio Kohinata who plays the vital witness in the DL-6 case and the quirky Mitsuki Tanimura as photographer Lotta Hart. However Dick Gumshoe and The Judge, both known to be quite clueless and a teeny bit awkward in the games, were baked just a little stale and left to the background.

The franchise's court room exchanges are very distinct in the look, setup and laws that getting it across in film could have stripped the setting of its identity and humour, however these scenes - which play out for a majority of the film - are convincing, using a blend of holographic projections to display evidence and nippy flashbacks when witnesses give testimonials. It certainly helps explain some of the more visual-dependant evidence for those completely unfamiliar with how it works - for example a floor plan of an office with a dead body to boot.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney)

How Phoenix Wright and Maya unravel holes in a testimony are accurate to a tee and will certainly keep fans smiling, but often these conclusions come at such a quicker pace that in the game that their significance may not be quite as rewarding or as convincing.

What is done right though is the incredible amount of fan service poured into every inch of footage - from the large balloon of the Steel Samurai to the costumes, the hair to the Judge's insatiable beard - there's a lot to love if you've seen it all before without being over the top. I don't think I can ever shake Bob Hoskins as Mario. Ever.

There are issues with pacing and it may have been better suited to a short TV series to really explore the story, develop the supporting characters and bring more significance to the evidence gathering, but director Takashi Miike has done a superb job of bringing the world of Ace Attorney to life in just over two hours.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney)


[score=8]Gyakuten Saiban does rank up there in must-see films based on video games, but playing through the game itself on the Wii, DS or mobile before watching it through is advised before settling down with a handful popcorn and burgers.

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larry butz looks utterly ridiculous, I really wanna see this though.

( Edited 10.11.2012 22:44 by JayUK )

I think I'll definitely be watching this in the next couple of days! Smilie Thanks for the review - maybe you could do one for the Animal Crossing movie as well? Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Is this getting an European release with English subtitles by the way?

I would certainly hope so! I don't think there's been any confirmation yet, though, unfortunately Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

As far as I know there'll be some release internationally with dubs/subtitles - though unsure when. There are unofficial subs out there, and they're not too bad - if you know the first game inside out, it's really rewarding. Can't link here, but there are ways to watch Smilie

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

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