PRODUCTION & LOGISTICS – IN BRIEF
A map of Mementos as shown in the game. This will be the basis for the design of Yusuke’s painting.
Let’s do a quick review of a tentative shooting schedule. It only makes sense to shoot all three films simultaneously. You have to plan for at least four to six weeks of shooting on location in Tokyo itself. As Tokyo is notorious for not allowing film permits, you’ll have to catch a lot of stuff on the fly or recreate notable areas on set. You’ll also want to get a few B-roll shots of Shinjuku square and several sequences in the subway system.
You’ll want to use the locations that occur in the game with their real-world equivalents, adding a layer of authenticity. For Shujin Academy, let’s find an abandoned school where we can renovate to film interiors and exteriors.
If there is an abandoned school we can renovate for on-location shoots, it will make sense to convert that school into multiple sets for other locations. The SIU Director’s office, Ren’s Bedroom, Untouchable, Takemi Medical Clinic, and even Leblanc Coffee could be built in former classrooms on the school grounds, converting the building into one large production studio.
Most palaces will have to be on a virtual set, as the budget would not be enough to shoot in real castles, casinos, or pyramids. An Unreal Engine-driven LCD set can be used to recreate these environments. Since palaces take place within a “fantasy” world, the Unreal Engine platform can creatively augment or exaggerate the environment. The difference in look and feel compared to the “real” world settings would help sell the story.
Since the neighborhood of Sangenjaya was the basis for Cafe LaBlanc’s location, we can utilize this to significant effect. The characters spend so much time in that neighborhood, and it’s much quieter than Shinjuku. You can quickly get shots there. Also, it’s not too far from Atlus Headquarters in Japan.
The game does a lot of exciting things with angles and corners. There’s a natural tilt to the world the characters inhabit, augmented by the UI/UX design of the menus. There are a lot of zigs and zags.
As a rule, I would have my cinematographer shoot much of the first movie using Dutch angles. As the film series progresses, the camera angles lessen. Everything is straight on and level by the end of the third film. It would be a simple but highly effective way to show how the world of Persona 5 is slowly rectifying itself due to the main characters’ actions.
In terms of color and lighting, for the real-world scenes, I would draw heavily on films like Lost in Translation (2003) and Shoplifters (2018). The real-world needs to feel soft, painterly, and pastel except for the color red, which will highlight specific locations and objects, just like in the films The Sixth Sense (1999) and Three Colors: Red (1994). We can shoot in natural lighting and use post-production to augment the red hues.
When characters find themselves in the metaverse, you’ll get all of the neon, colorful lighting techniques they use in films like John Wick 2 (2017) or Tokyo Drifter (1966).
All of the later period yakuza films directed by Seijun Suzuki would be an excellent inspiration for colorful action in the metaverse. (Tarantino has gotten a lot of mileage from the visual style of films like these.) Regardless, bright, moody lighting is a great way to make sets look more exquisite and hide flaws, especially when you’re on a budget. An entire cinematic look was invited just for that reason. In Blade Runner (1982), director Ridley Scott was so disappointed by the set design he only shot in the dark with lots of smoke and minimal lighting to hide the poor quality of the location.
Of course, you really can’t do a Japanese film series justice without having a series of visual references to Ozu and Kurosawa. The far establishing shots of Kurosawa can help frame the palaces in a way that seems natural, mysterious, and intimidating. For the character interactions, Ozu’s framing of shots (Wes Anderson borrows a lot from this atheistic) can help make those interactions visually exciting and keep the audience focused.
Good cinematography can instantly show how a character feels without resorting to lengthy exposition. We would be making a critical mistake if we didn’t pay homage to several classic Japanese directors like Akira Kurosawa in framing the sequences.
SOUNDTRACK & INTERIORS
As for the original music, it’s fantastic. Shoji Meguro did such a tremendous job; there’s no reason to rewrite any of it. We will undoubtedly re-record or rework the original music with an orchestra, but we have everything (musical cues and themes) we need. It would be interesting to hear slower versions of specific tunes. “Beneath the Mask” performed by a music box is downright haunting. Finding new ways to express the music established in the video game will surprise long-time fans that have already memorized the tunes from hours of gameplay.
Persona 5 comes complete with richly developed music and art direction. All significant set design work has already been finished for the video game and animation from a pre-production standpoint. I imagine from an artistic perspective; you will want to make very few changes except translating the spaces to best suit the cinematography, which will be determined by the way the action sequences evolve in the script. The only real caveat would be to ensure that much of the set design is more of a labyrinth, too narrow to allow for the gag when Morgana transforms into a van. Also, more compact spaces make for much better and more contained thrilling suspense sequences. Each Palace will need its own set, although a clever set design team can re-purpose textures and some props from one set to the next. There’s also a case for utilizing virtual LCD sets where applicable, especially for the inevitable reshoots, but the more you can get on camera, the better. Special effects are expensive, and there will be several creatures developed in CGI as it is.
Scouts would find several locations worldwide and shoot there in the most idealistic circumstances. Unfortunately, that will probably be out of the question for a movie series with a far more limited budget, which I imagine this project would have. You’ll have to send a second unit crew to scout locations and grab those cinematic opening shots of Futaba’s pyramids in Egypt (the only actual location outside of Japan) and other sites around Tokyo. Because the set pieces will contain a lot of action sequences and visual effects, you’re probably going to want to allow for at least four to six months of shooting.
Once all of the scenes are shot on the sets, you fly back to Tokyo to get any remaining location shots you didn’t grab the first time around. The crew can start taking apart the majority of the sets but leave sections behind so you can get the reshoots you’ll need when you start editing the films together.
If you want to make a profit from a financial standpoint, you’ll want to see if you can complete all three films for under $250 million US. You want a theatrical release accompanying an exclusive streaming contract roughly two months after each film opens worldwide.
It’s a really interesting time in Japan right now for cinema, and Japanese studios are looking for big box office success stories. Although there are still major differences between Japanese and American sensibilities, a perfect combination of those two cultures can lead to something new and exciting. We’ve been borrowing and stealing from each other for years, it’s about time we worked in unison on more creative endeavors.
I’m not placing comments on this post but feel free to write to me directly. I’d love to know what you think… just email me.
If anything, what I hope this synopsis expresses is not that my own ideas are necessarily the best, or this is exactly how to translate Persona 5 into a film or a television series… but that a Persona 5 film series is a really good idea and far more feasible that one might initially think. When you start digging deep into the main story, which is simply brilliant, you can turn this into something special. There’s been animation and a stage play, a film series seems like a logical next step. Maybe video games will finally have their moment in cinema, it’s been long overdue. By breaking up the story, stripping it down to what drives it the most effective, then rebuilding it using all of the hard work Atlus has already completed, you can create something that works as a film while truly honoring the original source material. And if this all of this helps gain some momentum for a film adaptation, it would be a job well done.
Michael William Foster
(Just One More: I wrote this article for fun as an editorial about film and the tricky nature of adaptations. I’d like to thank Atlus and the gaming community for much of the material which acted as an inspiration for this article. If you haven’t bought Persona 5 Royal, you should.)