A handful of popular Japanese manga/anime series have been rumored to get live-action Hollywood movie adaptations in recent years, though the majority of them have yet to gain much traction (see Death Note) or they continue experiencing setbacks during pre-production (see Akira). However, the Scarlett Johansson-headlined Ghost in the Shell scheduled for Spring 2017 is currently poised to make its way beyond the early stages of development, unlike its peers.
Lionsgate has now joined that slow-going race by acquiring the live-action film right to the popular manga/anime franchise Naruto. The original manga (written/illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto) debuted in 1999 and ran until 2014; the Naruto anime adaption (as well as the anime sequel series Naruto: Shippuden) began thereafter in the 2000s. Story-wise, the franchise revolves around Naruto: a young and mischievous ninja-in-training, who had a powerful supernatural creature (a mystical fox known as the Nine-Tails) sealed inside his body, when he was a newborn (see the whisker marks on his face).
The Tracking Board (hat tip Variety) is reporting that Lionsgate has begun actively courting visual effects/animation artist Michael Gracey, with the intent of getting him to commit as director on the Naruto live-action movie. There’s no mention of a potential screenwriter for the project mentioned in the Tracking Board report, though Ghost in the Shell and former Spider-Man franchise producer Avi Arad is also backing the Naurto adaptation. Presumably, if Gracey does become attached to direct, he will oversee script development on the project, too.
Gracey is loosely attached to direct a number of films that are currently making their way down the pipeline, though it would appear he will make his feature-length helming debut on The Greatest Showman on Earth: a musical about P.T. Barnum that Hugh Jackman is set to headline, for a December 2016 release date. (Trivia time: Gracey was once set to make his directing debut with the Snow White-inspired martial arts epic Order of the Seven starring Saoirse Ronan, before Walt Disney Pictures pulled the plug on the project around mid-2012.)
The Naruto property blends supernatural fantasy and martial arts genre elements, albeit in a generally kid-friendly package; hence, in the U.S., the anime show has aired on such channels as Disney XD and Nickelodeon, in addition to being part of Adult Swim’s Toonami block. However, a live-acton Naruto faces the same dilemma as other live-action manga/anime features: how to adapt the property without “westernizing” or “white-washing” it to the point where it becomes a bland imitation of the original series.
Indeed, the ‘code’ for a successful Japanese anime/manga live-action adaptation is one that (arguably) hasn’t been cracked by Hollywood yet, with the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer coming the closest, relatively speaking (with the 2009 film Dragon: Evolution landing even further away). A special effects guru such as Gracey might be qualified enough to have a decent shot at bringing Naruto to life in live-action in a creative fashion, but best to wait until he actually directs a film before making the call in that regard.
We’ll bring you more information on the Naruto movie as it becomes available.