French animated film ‘Le Sommet des Dieux’ comes home to Japan

A scene from “Le Sommet des Dieux”

The late Jiro Taniguchi’s manga adaptation of a novel by Baku Yumemakura has been turned into an animated film in France. The film, “Le Sommet des Dieux” (The Summit of the Gods), opened in Japanese cinemas earlier this month.

The film is based on the manga “Kamigami no Itadaki” (The Summit of the Gods) by Taniguchi, who died in 2017. The manga is in turn based on Yumemakura’s novel of the same name. The novel has not been translated into French while the manga has, leading to a rare example of a manga adaptation inspiring an anime adaptation overseas.

The protagonists are Habu, a brilliant mountaineer who takes on the southwest face of Mt. Everest, and Fukamachi, a mountain photographer who follows Habu. The story pursues the question of whether British mountaineer George Mallory, who went missing near the summit of Mt. Everest, was the first man to reach the pinnacle of the mountain.

The novel, published in 1997, won the Renzaburo Shibata literature prize. Taniguchi adapted the work into a manga from 2000 to 2003, and this was translated into French shortly afterward. The manga, which depicts with incomparable artistry the novel’s fundamental question of why people climb mountains, won a French comics award in 2005.

The animated film is directed by Patrick Imbert and produced mainly by a creative team in France. The film’s mountains are sublimely rendered, and its Japanese cityscapes feel amazingly natural. All the main characters, including Habu and Fukamachi, remain Japanese.

“[The creative team] studied actual Japanese settings, such as izakaya pubs, very well,” said Yumemakura, 71. “I felt the French sensibility on two points — that they pared down the side stories, such as the romantic relationship between Fukamachi and his girlfriend, to focus on the story of a man who tries to climb Mt. Everest no matter what, and that they replaced the religious elements I had thought up, such as the tie between mountains and the gods, with images of people who take on and overcome nature.”

This remarkable adaptation into an animated film came to fruition because Taniguchi is more famous and better appreciated in the French-speaking world than in Japan. Since the story realistically depicts people braving a mountain climb, it would have been difficult for the Japanese animation industry to turn this story into an animated film, as more fantasy-oriented stories are favored in Japan.

Yumemakura hopes that this film about mountaineering, which has been produced with a French sensibility, will be commercially successful in Japan.

“I hope it will be a good opportunity to open up the gates to new subjects for animated films in Japan,” he said.