Netflix’s ‘City Hunter’ Star Ryohei Suzuki Gets Wild In ‘Rom-Com’ Film, Has Ideas For Sequels

This interview has been edited for clarity.

When it comes to Hollywood adaptations of books, video games, manga and comic books, fans tend to have a lot to critique, usually about how Tinseltown doesn’t honour the source material. But in a situation that’s largely unique to manga, fans will take the lead of the manga creator, to see if the originator of the work endorses the Hollywood version, or not.

In the recent case of Netflix’s One Piece (2023), creator Eiichiro Oda had an active role during production, overseeing changes and giving his final blessing at various stages of production, providing fans with the comfort that his involvement would represent a higher level of adaptation. On the other hand, we have Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop (2021), where creator Shinichiro Watanabe kept relatively silent during production, and wasn’t active in promoting the live-action series.

As it turns out, Cowboy Bebop was cancelled after one season, while One Piece proved to be a huge hit for the streamer. While the involvement of the creator doesn’t guarantee success, Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Tsukasa Hojo’s City Hunter series into the first Japanese live-action adaptation of the source material seems to be in good hands, as Hojo-san has seen the final film, and is supportive of the film, says series star Ryohei Suzuki, who plays Ryo Saeba aka the City Hunter. 

In the interview with Geek Culture to chat about the challenges and triumphs of bringing City Hunter to the screen, Suzuki reveals that his long-time friend Hojo-san has given the film a thumbs up. 

“He did see this film and said he liked it very much,” Suzuki laughs, and as if expecting folks to question his proclamation, continued, “I believe it’s true, because Mr Hojo became really cooperative for promotion after watching the screening.”

City Hunter

Created by writer and illustrator Hojo in 1985, the long-running manga follows the exploits of Ryo Saeba, a “sweeper” who rids Tokyo of crime, alongside his partner Kaori Makimura, the adopted sister of his original partner Hideyuki. It has since spawned multiple anime series and movies, as well as a spin-off manga, Angel Heart.

During production of the film in Tokyo last year, when Geek Culture visited the set, Suzuki revealed that Hojo-san actually gave his blessings to the team, to make changes to the source material. 

Recalled the actor last year, “The funny thing is Mr Tsukasa Hojo is so generous about his work, and I’ve been a good friend of his for a long time. He always says, ‘When you make a live-action, you can do whatever you want, you can change whatever you want to change. My City Hunter is just mine, you can make your own City Hunter.’ That’s his stance.” 

“But I am too a big fan of City Hunter, so I cannot change things like he wants me to do,” admitted the actor.

And now that the film is set to make its debut, Suzuki revealed a little of what the team went through, in ensuring that their version of City Hunter remained true to the source material while translating it for a new audience. 

“We learned [from past adaptations]. We tried. The first thing we did was set the line of reality, how realistic we should make the show.” This tightrope walk between faithfulness and grounding the anime in a believable world is especially crucial for Netflix’s City Hunter, a series known for its blend of high-octane action, humour, and a surprising amount of heart.

And a majority of that comes from the franchise’s two leads – the gun-slinging sweeper and hopeless playboy Saeba, and his late partner’s adopted sister, Kaori Makimura.

“I’m such a big fan of City Hunter,” he admits, “and I always thought that the theme of this story is often misunderstood as a story of action, or beating up bad guys as revenge, but it’s actually a story of love.” 

Given the series’ reputation for explosive shootouts and flamboyant takedowns, such a perspective is refreshing.

City Hunter

“The film is a story about how we overcome the loss of someone we love,” Suzuki highlights this point further, explaining, “This bond grows stronger as we fight together for that person. Eventually, his relationship with Kaori blossomed into love. This is why I take this as a love story, a romantic comedy.” 

This reframing suggests the City Hunter film might surprise viewers expecting a non-stop action flick, and a departure from previous adaptations of the manga, including a loose Hong Kong action film featuring Jackie Chan, as well as a South Korean drama series and French movie that took the source material in slightly different directions. 

With this latest adaptation, Netflix aims to stay true to Tsukasa Hojo’s much-loved series. Unlike some of Netflix’s anime to live-action predecessors, which often struggled to balance the original material’s charm with the demands of a live-action format, City Hunter promises a more nuanced approach, focusing deeply on the relational dynamics that are as explosive as the action sequences. 

City Hunter

Translating that on-screen chemistry was paramount. Suzuki emphasised the importance of Ryo and Kaori’s relationship with actress Misato Morita, who plays Kaori in City Hunter

“What is really important about City Hunter is the relationship, how the relationship grows between them.”

Of course, City Hunter boasts a rich cast of characters beyond the central duo of Ryo and Kaori. Fans are likely curious about the absence of some familiar faces, particularly the Cat’s Eye trio, comprising three sisters – Hitomi, Rui, and Ai Kisugi. By day, they run a café, but by night, they steal artworks to uncover clues about their missing father, a renowned artist. These characters are from the Cat’s Eye series, also created by Tsukasa Hojo, and occasionally cross over into the City Hunter universe, enriching the narrative with their intriguing blend of daily life and secretive quests.

City Hunter

And what about Umibozu aka Hayato Ijuin aka fellow mercenary turned sweeper and Saeba’s friend, and co-owner of Cat’s Eye Cafe? While the soldier is not part of the action, he’s in the film, teases Suzuki.

“If you watch the film again, you might discover something new about Umibozu. If we’re lucky enough to make a sequel, definitely there will be Umibozu, and there definitely will be a cafe called Cat’s Eye.”

As for official talk about a sequel, there is no news to share although to no one’s surprise, Suzuki has his sights set on future instalments. “I hope the story sticks to the original manga. Hopefully, it will be about why he’s so strong, and what kind of childhood he spent and about his adoptive father, his trauma.” 

City Hunter

This narrative direction would offer fans a richer understanding of Ryo’s journey from a tragic childhood, from surviving a plane crash and later being raised in the harsh environs of Central America where he was trained as a guerrilla fighter, to becoming the formidable sweeper known across Tokyo. Such a backstory not only enriches the character’s depth but also enhances the audience’s connection to him by revealing the underlying causes of his pain and strength.

Yet, Suzuki’s enthusiasm is tempered with a dose of reality. 

“But it will only happen if the audience loves it,” Suzuki acknowledges. “So if you watch the show, and if you like it, tell everybody around you that you liked it, or maybe send some emails to Netflix. Let’s see the sequel. I want more.” 

City Hunter sweeps into Netflix on 25 April.