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star struck

New life for an old hero
An all-star cast re-invents the story of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins
By Chris Betros

Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan (left) stands with cast members Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe and Katie Holmes in Tokyo
courtesy of Warner Bros

You can’t keep a good comic book hero down—especially at the box office. Spider-Man and X-Men have been big hits, Superman returns next year and now we see the origins of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes.

Batman—or rather The Batman, we should say—first appeared in Detective Comics as Birdman in 1939, the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. A camp TV series in the 1960s and four movies in the late 1980s and ’90s have kept Batman firmly entrenched in pop culture, even for those who don’t read the comics. Nolan, best known for Memento and Insomnia, acknowledged the task of re-inventing Batman, especially after Tim Burton’s first two films. “What Tim did was very visionary, but it was an idiosyncratic version and not the story of the comic books that I saw,” he said. “If I hadn’t seen the character in a different light, I wouldn’t have taken on this project.”

Similarly, Bale, the 31-year-old star best known for American Psycho, felt that his predecessors—Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney—had not made Batman as interesting as the comic book character. “The graphic novels of the Dark Knight were my reference,” he said. “The image of Batman was far more threatening. His motivations are questionable. For me, this is a genesis story. I just pushed the other films out of my mind.”

Batman Begins explores how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, a grim character driven by vengeance after witnessing the murder of his parents. As a disillusioned young man, Wayne travels to Asia seeking the means to fight injustice. In the Himalayas, he meets the League of Shadows, a ninja cult whose leaders (Watanabe and Neeson) instruct him in all he needs to know to fight injustice and conquer his fear.

Most of the cast—except Watanabe, naturally—said Batman left an impression on them in their youth. “Growing up in Ireland, Batman was a little bit scary to me,” said Neeson. “I didn’t really see him as a hero because he didn’t have superpowers like Superman.” Nolan thinks Batman is popular precisely because he doesn’t have superpowers. “He is human and driven by complex, negative impulses, but he manages to channel that rage and anger into something positive. Anyway, I liked all those heroes when I was growing up: Batman—even the TV one—Superman and James Bond.”

For Freeman, who is having a busy summer with Million Dollar Baby and Danny the Dog, Batman’s biggest appeal is that he is a disciplined crime fighter who survives by training all the time. Another appeal is the big paycheck he got. “I’ve never been asked to be in a blockbuster like Spider-Man, Superman or Star Wars,” he said. “I remember Alec Guinness telling me once that he got paid more money for being in Star Wars than he did for all the other movies he did combined. So I thought, it’s my turn.”




 

Q&A

Jean Snow
Design blog guru says Tokyo is the only place to be

Webmaster of two of Tokyo’s hottest design sites and contributor to many others, 31-year-old Canadian Jean Snow has an eye for style and a passion to share.

What brought you to Tokyo?

I was in China studying the language where I met my wife, who is Japanese. She needed to come back to Tokyo to finish her degree, and we’ve been here ever since.

What keeps you here?

I am absolutely in love with this city. A quick scan of my websites will show you why.

Tell us about the sites?

My personal site (http://jeansnow.net) is a blog I’ve been running for more than three years. It’s a guide to design and pop culture in Tokyo. I’m also editor of MoCo Tokyo (http://mocoloco.com/tokyo), a directory of contemporary design, and I contribute to Gizmodo, Superfuture and Tokyo Q.

What pays the bills?
Teaching English to children, freelance writing, and (believe it or not) Google ads.

What are your Tokyo design recommendations?
I am a slave to Muji’s flagship in Yurakucho, and down the street in Ginza check out Ginza Graphic Gallery, Creation Gallery G8, and Matsuya’s Design Gallery. My favorite area is Aoyama for the cafés, exhibitions and shops. Office in Gaienmae is a favorite drinking stop.

Where do you live?
Ikebukuro. If not hip, it’s incredibly convenient—the two biggest department stores in the world, several Bic Cameras, the nine-floor Junkudo bookstore, cheap restaurants aplenty, and some of the tastiest ramen in Japan.

What is your favorite possession?
I have two: my iMac and my iBook. My whole world revolves around them. What are you reading this week? Time, Metropolis, Wallpaper, +81, ART iT, Pen, Casa Brutus. Reading is an unhealthy obsession of mine.

Listening to?
Live Pixies recordings and some Fantastic Plastic Machine.

Watching?
A lot of anime, The Daily Show, and my favorite weekly comedy shows like Mecha Mecha Iketeru. Yesterday I watched a terrific film, The Taste of Tea (Cha no Aji), featuring my favorite actor, Tadanobu Asano.

Where’s your favorite place in the world and why?
That would be Tokyo—it’s such a rich and exciting city to live in with a curatorial spirit that can’t be beat.

What’s the strangest thing you ever saw here?
While I was looking for a bar in Shibuya, I turned into a dirty, narrow backstreet to be confronted by two sailor-uniform wearing girls in their 20s playing badminton. AV



Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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