Pokémon: The First Movie

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Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back
Pokemon-mewtwo-strikes-back.jpg
Japanese Theatrical release poster
Japanese劇場版ポケットモンスター ミュウツーの逆襲
HepburnGekijōban Poketto Monsutā: Myūtsū no Gyakushū
LiterallyPocket Monsters the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back
Directed byKunihiko Yuyama
Screenplay byTakeshi Shudo
Based onPokémon
by Satoshi Tajiri
Produced byChoji Yoshikawa
Tomoyuki Igarashi
Takemoto Mori
Starringsee below
CinematographyHisao Shirai
Edited byToshio Henmi
Yutaka Itō
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • July 18, 1998 (1998-07-18) (Japan)
Running time
75 minutes[1]
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Budget¥350 million[2] ($5 million)[3]
Box office$172.7 million[3]

Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back[a] is a 1998 Japanese anime film[4] directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, the chief director of the Pokémon television series. It is the first theatrical release in the Pokémon franchise.

It was first released in Japan on July 18, 1998. On July 8, 1999, a Complete Version[b] of the film aired on Japanese television. In addition to an added prologue, the updated version included new animation and CGI graphics.[5] The English-language adaptation, produced by Nintendo and 4Kids Entertainment and licensed by Warner Bros. Pictures, was released in North America on November 12, 1999. The events of the film take place during the first season of Pokémon: Indigo League.

The film primarily consists of three segments: Pikachu's Vacation, a 21-minute feature focusing on the series mascot Pikachu; Origin of Mewtwo, the 10-minute prologue added to the Complete Version of the film; and Mewtwo Strikes Back, the main 75-minute film feature. Overseas, the prologue can only be seen as a bonus short in DVD versions of Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns.

In Japan, Mewtwo Strikes Back was positively received, with praise directed at the film's emotional impact and exploration of ethical topics such as cloning, genetic modification and existentialism. However, the English-language version received generally negative reviews from film critics, with much of the criticism pointed at the poor voice acting and its inclusion of an anti-violence message despite it being a Pokémon film. Further retrospective criticism of the English-language version has been targeted against the removal of most of the ethical topics such as part of Mewtwo's origin story. Despite the reviews, it was a box office success worldwide, topping the box office charts in its opening weekend, and eventually grossing over $172 million at the worldwide box office. It also sold 10 million home video units in the United States, including 4.2 million VHS sales that earned $58.8 million in 2000.

During the end credits of Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us (2018), it was announced that a remake and a first full CGI, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back—Evolution was set to release on the following year. In December 2018, the release date of the remake was revealed as July 12, 2019.

Plot[edit]

Pikachu's Vacation[edit]

The Pokémon of Ash Ketchum, Misty, and Brock are sent to spend a day at a theme park built for Pokémon. Pikachu, Togepi, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle cross paths with a group of bullies consisting of a Raichu, Cubone, Marill, and a Snubbull. The two groups compete against each other in sports, but it leads to Ash's Charizard getting its head stuck in a pipe. Pikachu, his friends, and the bullies work together and successfully free Charizard and rebuild the park, spending the rest of the day playing before parting ways when their trainers return.

Mewtwo Strikes Back[edit]

Scientist Dr. Fuji is hired by Giovanni, leader of Team Rocket, to utilize his expertise in cloning in order to create a living weapon based on an eyelash from mythical Pokémon Mew. Fuji is revealed to be allying with Giovanni as a means to fund his side project: the resurrection of his deceased daughter Amber. In a laboratory, the weapon eventually gains sentience and is named Mewtwo. Mewtwo befriends the salvaged consciousness of Amber, named Ambertwo, as well as the clones of other Pokémon in the laboratory. However, Mewtwo is left deeply traumatized after Ambertwo and the rest of the clones decompose and die. In order to stabilize him, Fuji tranquilizes Mewtwo, causing him to forget the time he spent with his friends.

After Mewtwo fully matures and awakens from a long slumber in a laboratory on New Island, he learns of his origin as Mew's clone from Dr. Fuji. Infuriated that Fuji and his colleagues see him as nothing more than an experiment, he unleashes his incredibly strong psychic abilities and telekinetically destroys the laboratory, killing Fuji and the rest of the scientists. Giovanni, witnessing the carnage afar, approaches and convinces Mewtwo to work with him to further develop and perfect his mental abilities. However, after Mewtwo learns of his purpose to be a weapon for Giovanni's benefit, he escapes back to New Island where he plots revenge against humanity and Pokémon alike.

After Mewtwo rebuilds the laboratory and establishes a base there, he invites several trainers with hologram messages to battle the world's greatest Pokémon trainer at New Island. Ash, Misty, and Brock receive a message and accept the invitation, but when they arrive at the port city, Old Shore Wharf, Mewtwo creates a storm, causing the boats on the wharf to be closed off for safety. As a result, Ash's group are picked up by Team Rocket disguised as Vikings on a boat. After the storm sinks their vessel in the middle of the ocean, Ash and his friends use their Pokémon instead to reach New Island.

Escorted into the island's palace by the woman who appeared on the hologram, Ash and the other trainers who were able to reach the island encounter Mewtwo. The woman is revealed to be a brainwashed Nurse Joy after she is released from Mewtwo's mind control. Mewtwo challenges the trainers using cloned Pokémon coincidentally modeled after the deceased friends from his childhood. Meanwhile, Team Rocket also reach New Island and explore its inner sanctum with a Mew innocuously following them. After Mewtwo's clones effortlessly defeat the challengers' Pokémon, he confiscates them and expands his clone army. Ash chases after his captured Pikachu down the cloning lab, where Team Rocket's Meowth is also cloned. Ash destroys the cloning machine, frees the captured Pokémon, and leads them to confront Mewtwo and his clones. Mew then reveals itself and Mewtwo challenges it in order to prove his superiority.

All of the Pokémon originals battle their clones save for a defiant Pikachu and Meowth, who makes peace with his own clone after realizing the senselessness of their fighting. Horrified at the pain and anguish felt on both sides of the battle, Ash puts himself in between a psychic blast caused by Mewtwo and Mew's fighting, leading to Ash to become petrified. Pikachu tries to revive Ash with its electricity but fails. However, the tears of the Pokémon are able to heal and revive Ash. Moved by Ash's sacrifice, Mewtwo realizes that he should not have to be judged by his origins but rather his choices in life. Departing with Mew and the clones, Mewtwo turns back time to just before the trainers leave Old Shore Wharf, and erases everyone's memories of the event.

Back in Old Shore Wharf, the now-restored Nurse Joy has returned to reopen the Pokémon Center to shelter the trainers. The storm outside clears up, Ash spotting Mew flying through the clouds and tells his friends of how he saw another legendary Pokémon the day he left Pallet Town. Meanwhile, Team Rocket find themselves stranded on New Island but enjoy their time there.

After the credits, a brief scene shows Mew flying towards the mountains.

Cast[edit]

Character (English name) Japanese English
Satoshi (Ash Ketchum) Rika Matsumoto Veronica Taylor
Pikachu
Kasumi (Misty) Mayumi Iizuka Rachael Lillis
Takeshi (Brock) Yūji Ueda Eric Stuart
Narrator Unshō Ishizuka Rodger Parsons
Togepi
Musashi (Jessie) Megumi Hayashibara Rachael Lillis
Kojirō (James) Shinichiro Miki Eric Stuart
Nyāsu (Meowth) Inuko Inuyama Maddie Blaustein
Fushigidane (Bulbasaur) Megumi Hayashibara Tara Sands
Lizardon (Charizard)
Shinichiro Miki
Zenigame (Squirtle) Rikako Aikawa Eric Stuart
Umio (Fergus) Wataru Takagi Jimmy Zoppi
Sorao (Corey) Tōru Furuya Ed Paul
Sweet (Neesha) Aiko Satō Lisa Ortiz
Voyager (Miranda) Sachiko Kobayashi Lisa Ortiz
Raymond Raymond Johnson Maddie Blaustein
Mewtwo Masachika Ichimura
Fujiko Takimoto (young; radio drama)
Showtaro Morikubo (young; anime)
Philip Bartlett
Mew
Sakaki (Giovanni) Hirotaka Suzuoki Ed Paul
Junsar (Officer Jenny) Chinami Nishimura Lee Quick
Joy (Nurse Joy) Ayako Shiraishi Megan Hollingshead
Dr. Fuji Yōsuke Akimoto Philip Bartlett

Characters that appear in the radio drama and The Uncut Story of Mewtwo's Origin[edit]

Character (English name) Japanese English
Aitwo (Ambertwo)[6] Kyōko Hikami Kerry Williams
Doctor Fuji's wife[6] Shinobu Adachi unknown
Fushigidanetwo (Bulbasaurtwo)[6] Etsuko Kozakura Tara Jayne
Hitokagetwo (Charmandertwo)[6] Yūji Ueda Michael J. Haigney
Zenigametwo (Squirtletwo)[6] Satomi Korogi Eric Stuart

Characters exclusive to the radio drama[edit]

Character name Japanese voice actor
Announcers Kentarō Itō
Katsuyuki Konishi
Saori Higashi
Trainer Saori Higashi
Investigator Shinpachi Tsuji
Researchers Katsuyuki Konishi
Takuma Suzuki
Madame Boss Hiromi Tsuru
Miyamoto Yumi Tōma

Production[edit]

Kunihiko Yuyama directed the original Japanese version of the film, while Choji Yoshikawa and Takeshi Shudo served as producer and script writer respectively. The film wasn't produced by Pikachu Project.[7] According to Shudo, certain episodes in the anime were intended to tie-in with the movie prior to its release in Japan and provide background behind the events in the film. However, the controversy surrounding the "Dennō Senshi Porygon" episode delayed the tie-in episodes, causing Shudo to expand the beginning of the movie and, thus, the length of the film.[8]

Norman J. Grossfeld, former president of 4Kids Productions, served as the film's producer for the English-language North American version. Grossfeld, Michael Haigney, and John Touhey wrote the English adaptation, and Haigney served as the English version's voice director.[9] The English script was heavily edited from the original Japanese one; along with various content edits, Mewtwo was portrayed more maliciously because Grossfeld felt American audiences needed to see a "clearly evil" villain rather than a morally ambiguous one. As such, the existentialist themes seen in the Japanese version were significantly toned-down.[10]

The English version editors translated various Japanese texts, including those on signs and on buildings, into English. The Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions (formerly Shogakukan Productions) also altered various background from the original version of the film in order to enhance its presentation overseas.[11] In the English dub, three Pokémon are referred to by the wrong name. Pidgeot was called Pidgeotto, Scyther was called Alakazam, and Sandslash was called Sandshrew. 4Kids said that they decided to leave the Alakazam and Sandshrew errors when they noticed it as something for the children watching to notice and because they felt it was plausible in context that Team Rocket could make a mistake.[12]

Grossfeld also had new music re-recorded for the film's release, citing that it "would better reflect what American kids would respond to". John Loeffler of Rave Music produced the English-language music and composed the film score with Ralph Schuckett. Loeffler also collaborated with John Lissauer and Manny Corallo to produce the English-language "Pikachu's Vacation" score. Grossfeld also revealed that the English version of the film "combines the visual sense of the best Japanese animation with the musical sensibility of Western pop culture".[11][13][14]

Themes[edit]

Shudo explained in his blog that Mewtwo being torn over his life purpose reflects the film's theme of existentialism. In the Japanese script, for instance, the moment Mewtwo realizes he has a right to be in the world just as much as any other living creature represents the central message of accepting one's existence.[15][16] These themes were largely toned down by 4Kids, as Grossfeld felt American audiences needed to see a "clearly evil" villain rather than a morally ambiguous one.

Marketing campaign[edit]

Toshihiro Ono, author of Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu, created a manga version of the film. Asked by editors to draw Mewtwo's birth, he received the source material to base the manga off of in April 1998 and finished the manga in May. In July of that year, a five episode radio drama titled The Birth of Mewtwo was broadcast over the five Sundays leading up to the premiere of the movie in Japan. Written by Takeshi Shudo, the drama delves into Mewtwo's origin prior to the start of the film. It also explores the leadership of Team Rocket under Madame Boss, Giovanni's mother, and the last known whereabouts of Miyamoto (ミヤモト), Jesse's mother. Due to its mature themes, it was never dubbed in English.[15][17] The drama eventually served the basis for the Origin of Mewtwo prologue that would appear in the Complete Version of the film.[5] Since the drama was conceived a few months after the manga, the events depicted in the drama do not match up with the events portrayed in the manga. Ono has even stated that "there's not much connection between the manga and the movie".[18]

In the United States, the first trailer was released in August 1999 and was shown before The Iron Giant and Mystery Men. The second trailer was released in the fall of 1999 and was attached to The Bachelor. In addition, select theaters gave away exclusive Pokémon trading cards, to capitalize on the success of the trading card game. The cards featured likenesses of Electabuzz, Pikachu, Mewtwo, and Dragonite, and were dispensed in random order for each week it was in that particular theater. The subsequent releases of Pokémon: The Movie 2000 and Pokémon 3: The Movie featured a similar marketing campaign. For the March 2000 home video release of The First Movie, had TV, in-school, and internet ads with companies such as Clorox, Kraft and Zenith Electronics, a contest to win a trip to Japan, and a limited edition Mewtwo card (different from that used for the theatrical release) was packaged with the video.[19]

1999 Burger King promotion[edit]

Burger King released a limited series of toys with the purchase of any kids' meal to tie in with the film. Also promoted were six 23 karat gold Pokémon cards, each enclosed inside a large plastic Poké Ball. Every card is a 23 karat gold plated slab of metal inside a clear protective plastic case that came with a certificate of authenticity signed by Nintendo of America chairman Howard Lincoln. The first run of gold cards sent and released to Burger King locations were packaged in a limited blue box that sold out immediately. A large second print of gold cards were packaged in a red box until the film promotion ended.

Deaths[edit]

On December 11, 1999 13-month-old Kira Murphy from California suffocated to death when half of the toy became stuck over her mouth and nose. 12 days later, a second child in Kansas survived a similar incident. These incidents led to a website titled "Pokémon Kills". On December 28, 1999, Burger King issued a recall of the toys. Adults were urged to discard or return both pieces of the toy. Customers returning the toy were given a small order of french fries in return. Nearly a month after the recall, another child suffocated from the toy. The dead children's families settled their lawsuits on undisclosed terms.[20]

Release[edit]

The Japanese version of the film was initially distributed theatrically by Toho on July 18, 1998.[7] That following year, the English-dub of film was produced by 4Kids Entertainment and licensed by Warner Bros. Pictures (under the short-lived Kids WB banner) was released in the United States on November 12, 1999. The film was theatrically re-released exclusively at Cinemark Theatres in the United States on October 29 and November 1, 2016. The re-release included the Pikachu's Vacation short film from the original release and was intended to commemorate Pokémon's 20th anniversary.[21][22]

Broadcast airing[edit]

For TV syndication, the movie was digitally remastered for high definition and aired in TV Tokyo, as well as in other stations, beginning May 3, 2013.[23][24] The remastered version also aired in Cartoon Network in the United States on January 4, 2014.[25]

Home media[edit]

The movie was released on March 21, 2000 in Region 1 format (United States and Canada) on both VHS and DVD by Warner Home Video.[26][27][28] The original DVD release with the snap case contained numerous features deleted from later reprints, such as the origin prologue and most importantly, the Pikachu's Vacation short film. Other options, such as Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, were also removed, leaving only the 2.0 stereo mix available, among other features.

The original VHS release sold 4.2 million units and earned $58.8 million in the United States by the end of 2000.[29] By 2007, the film had sold 10 million units on home video in the United States.[30]

The film was included in the Blu-ray compilation titled Pikachu Movie Premium 1998-2010 in Japan on November 28, 2012.[31]

On February 9, 2016, Viz Media released a limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook containing the first three Pokémon films (Pokémon: The First Movie, Pokémon: The Movie 2000 and Pokémon 3: The Movie), along with single releases on DVD. In accommodation with the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, a digitally remastered version of the film was released on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play on February 27. On October 2, 2018, the three-film Blu-ray set was re-released as a standard one-disc edition. Blu-ray Release on December 13, 2021 in the UK.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Reviews of the original Japanese version have generally been positive, due to the film's emotional impact and exploration of ethical topics such as cloning and genetic modification. However, the philosophical themes were criticized being difficult to pick up on due to their complex presentation, especially for a film aimed at children.[32]

While the English dub of the film received decent reviews from audiences, it received generally negative reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, just 16% of critics have given the film's English adaptation a positive review based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 3.57/10. The website's critics' consensus reads, "Audiences other than children will find very little to entertain them."[33] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 35 out of 100 based on 25 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[34] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[35]

Anime News Network review called the main feature "contradictory", stating that "the anti-violent message that is pretty much crammed down our throats works directly against the entire point of the franchise" and criticized Pikachu's Summer Vacation for being "incoherent, pointless and fluffy".[36] Rating the movie two stars out of four, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the movie "a sound-and-light show, linked to the marketing push for Pokemon in general" and said that the movie had "no level at which it enriches a young viewer, by encouraging thinking or observation."[37] Michael Wood, of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, said that Pikachu's Summer Vacation "can only be described as a mind-numbingly tedious piece, with no discernible storyline and lots of trippy images and silly voices". Wood did note that the main feature had a "mildly intriguing premise", but said that the rest of the film "was like a martial arts movie without the thrills".[38]

Box office[edit]

In Japan, it was the second top-grossing domestic film of 1998, earning a distribution income of ¥4.15 billion,[39] and grossing a total of ¥7.6 billion.[40]

In the U.S. box office, Pokémon: The First Movie was an instant commercial success, debuting at number one and earning $10.1 million on its Wednesday opening day. This day is commonly referred to as the "Pokéflu" because so many children missed school to see the film, much to the chagrin of educators. This was the biggest animated film opening for any film in the history of Warner Bros.[41] The film remained the only anime film to top the U.S. box office until 2021 when Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train topped it.[42] During its first weekend, it grossed $31 million and went on to generate a total of $50.8 million since its Wednesday launch in 3,043 theaters, averaging to about $10,199 per venue over the three-day span. It also held the record for being the animated feature with the highest opening weekend in November outside of the Thanksgiving holiday. Despite a 59.72% drop in its second weekend to $12.5 million, the film made $67.4 million within 12 days. It closed on February 27, 2000, earning $85.7 million in North America, and $77.9 million in other territories. It is the highest-grossing anime film in the United States and the fourth highest-grossing animated film based on a television show worldwide.[1] It was also the highest-grossing film based on a video game at the time, until 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.[43] Commercially, Takeshi Shudo states the film fared better overall in the U.S. than it did in its home country.[15]

In the United Kingdom, the film grossed £10.8 million at the box office.[44] It is also the highest-grossing Japanese film in France and Germany, where it sold 2,224,432 and 3,222,452 box office admissions, respectively.[45] In total, the film's worldwide box office gross was $172,744,662[3] (¥19 billion).[46]

Soundtrack[edit]

Pokémon: The First Movie – Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture is the soundtrack to the first Pokémon film in the United States. It was released on November 10, 1999 on Compact Disc and Compact Cassette. "Don't Say You Love Me" by M2M was released as a single from the album.[47]

CGI remake[edit]

During the end credits of Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us (2018), it was announced that a CGI remake was set to release on the following year. In December 2018, the release date of the remake was revealed as July 12, 2019. Pokémon fansite Serebii reported that the film, titled Mewtwo Strikes Back EVOLUTION, will be directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara.[48][49][50][51][52]

On January 22, 2020, it was announced that Netflix would be releasing the English dubbed version of the film.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Known in Japan as Pocket Monsters the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Japanese: 劇場版ポケットモンスター ミュウツーの逆襲, Hepburn: Gekijōban Poketto Monsutā: Myūtsū no Gyakushū)
  2. ^ Japanese: 完全版, Hepburn: kanzenban

References[edit]

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