How often do we see live action adaptations of the anime we love? Of more recent there have been many a handful from the studios of Hollywood and depending on your fandom, you see these movies in whatever light you hold to the original. Some like to see anime turned into “real” people and some don’t… again depending on your fandom. Yet how interesting would it be to see a live action re-interpretation of a beloved classic during that anime’s original run when it was current in the zeitgeist. Enter 1979… the year Riyoko Ikeda’s manga of Rose of Versailles would become a full blown animated television series and… and, a live action motion picture by the name of Lady Oscar.
Twice I have talked about The Rose of Versailles here at CAM (original entry, updated entry), so I will not delve very deep into the story. Without question one of the landmark anime of the 1970s, The Rose of Versailles is for me and many others a personal favorite. A story of passion, duty, humanity, freedom, love and gender identity all wrapped up under the guise of late 18th century France, the time of the French Revolution. A radical time and a dangerous one at that, a powder keg of the clash between old and new. I love The Rose of Versailles and respect Oscar François de Jarjayes as one of my favorite characters of all time. When I learned there was a live action film adaptation, I was keenly interested.
Financed by Japan and directed by famed French director Jacques Demy, ironically the film’s native dub would be in English. Interesting and convenient for those of us who speak English as our native tongue, but perhaps French may have been more appropriate? English of course allows for more international distribution as I am sure this film was made more for an overseas audience than just Japan alone, my hypothesis. And how does it fair as a film? It’s good, slightly above average, but nothing like the tv series. Accept no substitute when comparing 40 half hours of content to only two hours. Anime is often more colorful and The Rose of Versailles does show itself with many grand colors, but it is never off the wall. Lady Oscar is more muted, which makes sense as this is not animation. Props for the costume designs though!
Besides the original TV series of The Rose of Versailles, I also think of another contemporary film to Lady Oscar, which told a story in a similar time frame of the late 18th century, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Honestly I kept thinking why couldn’t Lady Oscar look and feel more like Barry Lyndon? I am sure Lady Oscar’s budget was nothing close to Barry Lyndon’s. Stanley Kubrick’s style for lighting, intensity and photography are also his own, a true auteur, and I am sure Jacques Demy had to play the part of following the boss’ orders to the best of what he was given. My ideal vision for a filmed version of The Rose of Versailles would be more Barry Lyndon than Lady Oscar, but I have to accept what is. Instead of a grand cinematic experience, Lady Oscar feels more like a TV special, but it does a good job with what it had to do. I can’t be judgmental, or hard on the things in life I cannot control.
Lady Oscar is not a bad film, or a great film, it is just a good movie to enjoy and try out at your own leisure. While live action adaptations are often tempting, they never seem to hold a candle to the original TV series, or even the manga if that is your preference. Lady Oscar is a good supplementary entry on your watch list, but should never be a full blown substitute to the grandeur of the original The Rose of Versailles TV series. Yet it is a treat that this film was even made, but when it comes to live action adaptations, I prefer to keep them as their original form. Let cartoons, be cartoons and anime, anime (which to me is saying the same thing twice,) because it is perhaps one of the best story telling mediums ever created.