You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’

Director Fumihiko Sori's live-action update of the classic, oft-adapted manga from Hiromu Arakawa is a hit-and-miss affair.

Fumihiko Sori
Ryosuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka


2 hours 13 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5607028/

The first live-action adaptation of the phenomenally popular Japanese manga created by female author Hiromu Arakawa proves to be a mixed bag of eye-catching visuals and uneven storytelling — rushed and choppy at times, and draggy and repetitive at others. Set in a fascinating early 20th-century alternate world in which two young brothers, both experts in the magical art of transmutation, attempt to rectify a calamitous experiment they carried out as children, “Fullmetal Alchemist” will initially attract huge local audiences when released on Dec. 1 but is unlikely to win viewers not already familiar with the source material or its numerous TV, video game and animated feature incarnations. U.S. release details are pending.

Directed and co-written by Fumihiko Sori (who helmed 2008’s feature “Ichi,” as well as video game adaptation “Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker”), the film opens with a prologue showing blond-haired brothers Ed and Al Elric as budding young practitioners of alchemy, a pursuit that’s considered normal and career-worthy in this particular universe, which just so happens to look a lot like Italy. When their mother drops dead without explanation, the lads attempt to bring her back to life, with disastrous results.

Though not fully explained until much later, Ed and Al have violated laws forbidding human transmutation. The cost to Ed is the loss of a leg, while Al pays with his life — well, the physical part of it anyway. Somehow, Ed manages to strike a deal inside a metaphysical domain known as the Gate of Truth. In exchange for one of his arms, Ed is permitted to keep Al’s soul alive inside a medieval suit of armor handily located at the Elric home.

In the present, Ed (Ryosuke Yamada) is a fully-fledged State Alchemist with a prosthetic arm and leg, while Al (voiced by Atomu Mizuishi) stomps around in his hulking metal skin. In a terrific action sequence set in a town square, Ed sees off Father Cornello (Kenjirou Ishimaru), a nasty clergyman-alchemist who appears to possess the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Ed believes the priceless gem can restore his missing limbs and Al’s body. Unsurprisingly, Cornello’s rock proves to be a fake, prompting an ongoing mission to find the real thing.

Following this spirited set-up, the story never gains much propulsion or emotional weight. Part of the problem lies in the rapid comings and goings of secondary characters, as if they’re names that need to be ticked off a long and daunting list. Best of the thinly drawn lot are handsome military man Col. Roy Mustang (Dean Fujioka), Ed’s loyal friend Capt. Hughes (Ryuta Sato, excellent) and Prof. Shou Tucker (Yo Oizumi), an alchemist stuck in a career rut.

In the crucial role of Winry, a childhood friend of the brothers and the mechanic who keeps Ed’s metal limbs functioning properly, actress Tsubasa Honda is poorly served by a screenplay that shows virtually nothing of the character’s girl-power attributes. Instead, she’s a bland sidekick with little to do but remain constantly bubbly.

Also found wanting are Ed’s main enemies, a trio of snarling homunculi who look like members of a 1980s Goth rock band and answer to the names of Lust (Yasuko Matsuyuki), Envy (Kanata Hongo) and Gluttony (Shinji Uchiyama). Their motives are hazy at best, and they’re forever showing up with dialogue that’s not much different from what they’ve said before.

But the film’s greatest weakness is failing to adequately transmit the huge guilt Ed feels for having brought about his younger brother’s fate. This fundamental emotional element doesn’t receive proper attention until the story’s in full stride and then fails to resonate under the weight of uninspired dialogue and unconvincing delivery by Yamada. A notable exception is a fistfight between the duo in which Reiji Kitasato’s stirring music expresses so much of what’s been missing in words.

Production design and costumes are on the money. Visual effects are generally very good, with a late sequence featuring millions of marauding homunculi being the standout. All other technical work is solid.

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (opener), Oct. 25, 2017. Running time: 133 MIN. (Original title: “Hagane no renkinjutsushi”)

Production: (Japan) A Warner Bros. (in Japan), Funimation Films (in U.S.) release of a Fullmetal Alchemist Film Partners production. (International sales: Warner Bros., Tokyo.)  Producer: Katzuya Hamana. Director: Fumihiko Sori. Screenplay: Sori, Takeshi Miyamoto, based on the manga "Hagane no renkinjutsushi" by Hiromu Arakawa. Camera (color, widescreen): Keiji Hashimoto. Editor: Chieko Suzaki.

With: Ryosuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka


, Ryuta Sato, Yo Oizumi, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Kanata Hongo, Kenjirou Ishimaru, Shinji Uchiyama, Natsuna Watanabe, Jun Kunimura, Natsuki Harada, Atomu Mizuishi.

More Film

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: Early Reviews

    'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: 'The MCU Feels More Complete'

    “Captain Marvel” is soaring following advanced press screenings on Tuesday. Reactions from early showings have hit Twitter, and audiences are keen on Marvel’s first female-led standalone movie. More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh Out' Critics are praising Brie Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, the nostalgic ’90s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content