Confusion swirled over the casting choices made for director Fumihiko Sori’s live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film. Despite shooting taking place in Italy, and the fact the manga’s story encompasses a European ensemble led by brothers Ed and Alphonse Elric, it was decided that the cast for the film would be entirely Japanese.
Sori recently stepped in to explain his line of thinking over the decision. On Twitter, he said that while he wouldn’t deny the character names and locations were western, the characters themselves were, in spirit, “exceedingly Japanese”. He also made the excellent point that manga author Hiromu Arakawa originally wrote FMA’s most infamous and beloved moments in Japanese.
“The most important point in this story is the relationship of the bond between the brothers,” Sori went on. “I don’t think anything is different from the feelings of love between siblings around the world.” The only thing that shifts, he feels, are the sociopolitical factors of older and younger brothers’ relationships in different countries. Depending on where you are in the world, a different social standing may be placed on the eldest, informing the reverence with which young Al sees and speaks to Ed.
“Since culture and the way people think differs greatly from country to country, I think it’s impossible to entrust this Japanese style story and characters with Japanese mentality to foreign actors. Ultimately, it was a choice between facial features or what’s inside,” Sori said. “Which answer is correct varies from person to person. For this movie, because I was putting so much importance on the characters’ mental state, I picked a Japanese cast.”
Sori did worry about the film’s choices, but felt a great sense of relief when it was met with overwhelming positivity at its US debut screening in New York. It’s hard to differ with his point that using a European cast may have clashed with some of the subject matter, and muddied the soul of the story through cultural misunderstanding. It is, after all, still a Japanese film, so we think it’s better this way. We can deal with crossing our fingers for a decent western adaptation, right?