Live action anime movies have a reputation for being terrible. This reputation is not unearned - anyone who has seen or even heard of the atrocious Netflix Death Note adaptation can see that much. Whether it's whitewashing characters or destroying complex plots in favor of nonsense, most live action anime adaptations just don't do a very good job of bringing their source material to life.
Despite their dire reputation, there are actually some surprisingly good adaptations out there. Most of the best live action anime movies were made in Japan, but maybe someday the Western world will catch up and start making noteworthy live action anime movies.
The live action version of Rurouni Kenshin is, by some accounts, a nearly perfect film adaptation. Both the original anime and the film tell the story of Kenshin, a samurai who has resolved never to kill again after a lifetime of brutality.
Although the movie relies less on slapstick humor than its source material, it does retain the original's tone. The sword fights are beautifully choreographed, and the acting is spot on. One of its only flaws is that the leading lady, Emi Takei, is almost too pretty to play the plain Kaoru, which isn't much of a flaw.
Oldboy is a Korean film based on a Japanese manga by the same name. In both stories, a man is imprisoned and tortured for over a decade for reasons that are never explained. The film maintains the same general storyline, but Oldboy amps up the pain, creating a dark and miserable movie that will leave you shaking in your seat.
While the manga protagonist simply wants to reintegrate into society after his nightmarish experience, the movie protagonist comes out hellbent on revenge.
Your Lie in April follows roughly the same storyline as the anime, but with one key difference - in the live action film, the protagonists are in their second year of high school instead of middle school. This change does not detract from the story, but it does create a greater sense of emotional maturity, which is necessary for such a painful story.
The musical performances create the same sense of transcendent beauty that characterizes the original anime, and the ending will make you cry just as hard.
The American live action adaptation of Death Note was nothing short of awful, but fans who want to see their favorite characters portrayed by real people have another option, and it's actually really good. That option is the Death Note, and its sequel, Death Note 2: The Last Name.
These movies loosely follow the Death Note storyline, but with one key difference: the great Detective L actually survives. If that's not a good enough reason to check them out, these movies have won multiple awards, including the Pegasus Audience Award at the 2007 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film, the Hochi Film Award, and the Yokohama Film Festival Prize.