Last weekend, my wife and I decided to go to watch Disney’s Big Hero 6, which had just opened in Japan under the title Baymax, after its marshmallow-like central robot character. As we made our way into the theater, she asked me if I had a pack of tissues, adding, “I heard the movie is really touching.”
This kind of took me by surprise. Sure, most Disney films have a heartwarming side to them, but wasn’t this movie about a team of superheroes and their robot?
If you’ve seen Big Hero 6, you know by now that it does a solid job of handling both action and emotional scenes. You probably wouldn’t get that impression from the tender Japanese ads for the movie, though, which is why many Japanese moviegoers were pleasantly surprised to find that Baymax isn’t just sweet, but also pretty awesome.
Emphasizing the soft side of movies is a pretty standard course for marketing to take in Japan, especially when the feature in question comes from Disney. Big Hero 6 meshes with this plan pretty easily, since you wouldn’t be wrong describing the plot like this:
1. Boy’s brother builds kind caretaker robot.
2. Brother dies in an accident.
3. Caretaker robot helps boy cope with his loss, rediscover the joy of life.
Working off this blueprint, here’s how the Japanese trailer ended up.
While we get some very brief glimpses of chase scenes and a short flying sequence, the images primarily come from quieter moments of the movie that show the emotional bonds between the characters. Right at the start, we get main character Hiro explaining, “This is my brother Tadashi. His dream was to help many people. I loved him so much, but he lost his life in an accident, and I was left all alone…until he showed up.”
The onscreen text asks viewers the question, “Can kindness save the world?” and Baymax, aside from telling Hiro it’s OK to cry when he wants to, ends the trailer by promising, “Hiro, whatever happens, I’ll protect you.”
But remember those basic plot points we talked about above? Well, you could also go with this alternate summary of Big Hero 6’s events:
1. Genius teen inventor’s brother is killed.
2. Teen overhauls brother’s robot, giving it awesome combat capabilities.
3. Teen and robot track down brother’s killer in order to bring him to justice, but only after initial plan to kill him in vengeance fails.
So while the American and Japanese trailers share some of their visuals, the trailer shown in the U.S. contains a lot more action, even if it doesn’t showcase that last dark detail.
The U.S. version takes a while to build up steam, but instead of opening with Hiro talking about his family situation and personal loss, we have a police officer, repeating the details of Hero’s report, saying, “A man in a kabuki mask attacked you, with an army of miniature flying robots.”
▼ Can kindness save…you when a super villain starts throwing cars?
During its two-and-a-half-minute run time, we also hear Hiro declare “We gotta catch that guy!” One of his friends informs the audience “A lunatic in a mask just tried to kill us.” And Baymax’s last line? No promises to keep Hiro safe here. Instead, he wants to remind the teen “We jumped out a window.”
In fairness, there is a second U.S. trailer that starts with narration very close to what’s said in the Japanese version.
Even still, it makes sure to include the police officer’s line about “a man in a kabuki mask attacked you” and Hiro’s “We gotta catch him.” And just to make doubly sure you know there’ll be some fighting and destruction mixed in with all the hugging, we see the team suited up in their combat uniforms, and we also hear “Reports are flooding in about a major catastrophe,” and “We’re under attack by a super villain.”
▼ Can spin kicks save the world?
But since it’s almost entirely absent from the Japanese trailer, most moviegoers in Japan weren’t expecting anywhere near that amount of action in a movie with a poster that looks like this.
Of course, that’s not to say they minded the heat being turned up, judging from the positive online comments from those who saw Baymax last weekend.
“Baymax was awesome! The ads over-emphasize the emotional parts, and while it’s true I cried, it’s totally a super hero movie! If you like robot anime, you should definitely go see it.”
“I thought it was going to be a sweet cartoon, but it’s more like [anime mecha series] Gurren Lagann!”
“The actions scenes are the kind of thing you can only get from American comics, and they’re just too cool! If you’re on the fence about seeing Baymax, you should try to check out the overseas commercials first.”
“I wish they’d show the American ads here. They get me so much more pumped up!”
“I think they were trying to target Frozen fans with the Japanese ads.”
You could criticize the marketing decision as a reverse of the cultural pigeonholing Nintendo habitually engages in when it makes video game character Kirby look more aggressive in promotional art for the U.S. market. Or, you could simply accept that there’s only so much you can show in a single trailer, and that sometimes there just simply isn’t time to touch on every facet of a film.
▼ Thankfully, they found space for the awesome mechanized koinobori carp streamers.
So in the end, is Big Hero 6 a heartfelt story of family and friendship, or is it a science-fiction action romp?
If you’ll forgive Japanese moviegoers for answering a question with another question, their response seems to be, who says it has to be one or the other?