Gaming Editor Alex Green and Gaming Writer Kieren Platts debate whether Hideo Kojima and his studio could make a solid movie or be left stranded
Let’s consider for a moment what it is that Hideo Kojima actually does. It’s 1998. The first BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards have just been held. Rockstar Games was just formed. Resident Evil 2 expertly manoeuvred the horror genre into a new standard. StarCraft just breathed new competitive lift into the already thriving RTS genres, and Unreal did the same for the arena shooter. Later in the year, Fallout 2 would reinvent the RPG and games writing as a whole, Half-Life would revolutionise the FPS, and Ocarina of Time would standardise now only how 3D games work, but how computer games presented themselves from then on. The medium was growing up. The potential of gameplay, and narratives that could only exist through gameplay, were beginning to be realised. Games were introducing new genres of fun, and a brand-new form of artistic expression had entered the world. Kojima was one of the first to understand this.
Even in the rush of 1998, with revolutionary releases redefining the entire digital medium on a monthly basis, there’s one game that made a leap that nobody expected. Metal Gear Solid, directed by Hideo Kojima. Metal Gear wasn’t a new series, but with MGS being the effective reboot of the stealth franchise, it might as well have been. Kojima didn’t just direct and produce a conventionally fun game – he crafted a story that refocused the entire medium in a direction that used storytelling techniques that nobody had done before.’
Metal Gear Solid as a franchise has the reputation of featuring a goofy script, which is a lot of fun, and not particularly insightful by itself. When people talk about Kojima being a “bad” or “convoluted” storyteller, what they’re actually talking about is around 15% of the dialogue. Lines like Otacon’s “Japanese animes”, or Raiden weirdly calling E.E “cute” stand out as strange precisely because the rest of the script is serviceable. Not incredible, but the majority of dialogue is essentially fine. Which is intentional. Moments like these are an audio-verbal reflection of how gameplay works – the majority of the time, you’ll be diffusing bombs, sneaking past guards, hiding in dark corners. And yet, there will be moments, perhaps around the 15% mark, where your character will be running into a wall, or idly spinning around while you fiddle with the analogue stick, or screw up inputs. We don’t argue that these moments of jank make Red Dead Redemption any less grandiose.
So why does Kojima reflect this in dialogue, slipping in and out of tone? Because Metal Gear Solid’s internal stories are about war, and love, and deception. But artistically, Metal Gear Solid is about games as a medium in general. Just take all the moments everyone loves about the series – Psycho Mantis reading your memory card; swapping controller ports to beat his psychic abilities; having to find and call a phone number on the back of the game’s case; the useless and unique system of levelling up Raiden’s pull-up ability; incorporating saving the game into character arcs and narrative. Kojima pulls off metanarrative – admittedly, not perfectly – so that the player is constantly aware of the media they are interacting with. It fundamentally changes the relationship of player to content, where the game becomes something to test the limits of, uniquely employing as many aspects of the process of “playing a game” into the storyline. Just powering on the console becomes a narrative beat. That’s the power of Kojima’s storytelling. Meanwhile, the tonally confused lines of dialogue have become some of the most iconic sentences in the entire medium, precisely because they’re hilarious. Do you think Kojima was the only man on Earth who didn’t see that these lines were so bad they’re good?
From the very first reveal of Metal Gear Solid 2 at E3 2000, everyone had already fallen into Kojima’s narrative. The months of anticipation, the demo of Snake in Tanker, the previews and adverts that showed enhanced MGS stealth-action. Then the game released, and everyone was confused about why they were playing pretty-boy Raiden rather than Snake, why the total explorable area was so small and unappealing, and why so many story and gameplay beats were borderline copied from the first game. And then, during the final hours of the game, it clicks. Kojima wasn’t directing a sequel to Metal Gear Solid as such. He was playing with the concept of sequels in general. Teasing audience anticipation by forcing the player into a new character at the last possible second. Reusing major plot points to deliver on that “same but new” expectation of sequels. Intentionally convoluting and adding additional, unnecessary layers of plot, including “it was just a dream” to artificially raise the stakes and up the intensity. Players wanted the same story as before, but in disguise, whether they knew that or not. Kojima took that story, inserted its plot points into a brand-new tale, and then spends the last few hours of the game asking you if that’s really what you wanted in the first place.
That’s what Kojima does. He doesn’t make games that are inherently fun. He finds ways to exploit the medium to tell stories that can’t be done anywhere else. Metal Gear Solid is excellent pulp, but it’s also a transformative series of pieces that challenge and celebrate new modes of art. In other words, it’s mainstream avant-garde.
So, in a world where cinema is dominated by sequelitis, and the highest grossing films of all time are also the safest, Kojima could be precisely what the industry needs. Imagine a cinema experience where simply buying the ticket plays into the film’s narrative. Or picking which row you’re on. Or the adverts before the film. Tying his name to any project almost guarantees a hit in the mainstream, and it’s difficult to imagine a world where Kojima wouldn’t take full narratorial advantage of that, perhaps following in MGS2’s footsteps, or going in a completely new, bonkers direction. He might not be for everyone, but whether you’re into the story, or the meta-narrative, Kojima’s films would undoubtedly be ones to get you thinking about what it is you’re watching.
So, Hideo Kojima wants to make movies? One cannot be entirely surprised by the idea which has been floated by Kojima himself in a BBC documentary on Death Stranding. Sony themselves have dedicated resources to making their IPs into their own films, most likely to have control over the franchises that gamers have held dear for so long instead of outsourcing it to a Hollywood executive who wouldn’t know a shoryuken from a hadouken. There’s a big difference though between the global conglomerate of Sony with more resources and money than Scrooge McDuck, and one man with lofty ambitions. Hideo Kojima is a confident, enduring auteur in the videogame industry and make no mistake, he’d make an interesting film. That is a given. What isn’t a given is what the quality of a Kojima film would actually be and there are some serious stumbling blocks if Kojima Productions were to take their approach and slap it into a two-to-three-hour feature film.
First things first, filmmaking is an inherently different skill set than making a game with many pieces in the pipeline. Kojima productions, unless their films were unusually self-published and self-marketed, would have to set up a studio with the resources to achieve a respectable film. That level of effort and expense is the first issue to overcome and is a huge ask for any gaming studio to divert that amount of attention to. One thing that can ease the blow is that Kojima himself would have no issue tempting talented filmmakers. His resume can speak to that and he has shown with Death Stranding that he can tempt some of the biggest names in the industry. You don’t just get Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen to show up in your game. You have to have the savvy and the experience to show off. Whilst he certainly has that, would that talent be able to overcome a studio taking a first big swing at a film project? It’s a risk and a half for anyone to take.
However, the second stumbling block comes here and is honestly one of the biggest ones that could hurt any Kojima movie. His self-reliance and control over his projects are well known and this is fine. After all, you don’t want to restrict the ideas that have gone into all of his projects. Death Stranding would not have caused the discussion and been so enticing if it wasn’t for the brain of one of gaming’s most ingenious minds. In order to achieve this, he has been given the freedom and free reign to implant all of his ideas into his production. This approach is not unheard of in the film industry. Hollywood is full of directors who have sought to realise their own visions through their minds. The likes of Martin Scorsese, Edgar Wright and Denis Villeneuve are all examples of current directors who have incredibly unique filmographies with specific styles. There is no doubt Hideo Kojima would create unique entertainment, but even the best directors are open to collaboration. Scorsese for example has had the keen editing skills of Thelma Schoonmaker since Raging Bull in 1980. Film is a space that has to be open to improvisation and bursts of inspiration. Some of film’s greatest moments are born out of actors and actresses having the freedom to use their characters to the fullest. Robin Williams is exemplary at this. In order to create a film, Hideo Kojima would have to fight every impulse and allow the efforts of others to enter his creation. Whether Kojima is willing to overcome this is entirely up to him.
So whilst these issues tell us that even creating a Kojim-otion picture has a few barriers to overcome, these barriers are pretty typical for any artist entering the filmmaking world. Even then, we haven’t even considered what a film would actually look like. There is a lot that would certainly be intriguing. Kojima could tackle many genres as he has done across gaming. An espionage thriller or science fiction would exploit the most well-known of Kojima’s gaming projects and would certainly draw money from film-goers. Kojima is known for threading long cutscenes into his games. Metal Gear Solid 4 holds the Guinness World Record for the longest cutscene in gaming history at 71 minutes. Whilst this might give him the pedigree for filmmaking, some of the more delicate aspects of it are a huge struggle to come across. Kojima would have to fundamentally reconsider the pacing of his stories. Gaming has the privilege of gameplay to quicken things up. Even quick-time events have notched up the occasional cutscene. Film has no such luxury and thus, a film with irregular pacing can disrupt the flow of a narrative and can hurt the audience’s engagement.
It also has to be said that Hideo Kojima’s penchant for incredible ideas can sometimes feel random. The flaming whale in Metal Gear Solid V comes to mind. His games can sometimes be an exuberant collection of ideas akin to choosing random words out of a hat and making them fit. Whilst he tends to find a way to weave in these ideas in their immediate context, films are fundamentally made up by their entirety. Scenes are not just valid in what happened in the short term but in the long term. Simply put, Kojima needs to learn to take his most extreme ideas and reshape them into a more cohesive and packaged narrative. This may seem like telling him to tone down his ideas, but its not about that. Films need total harmony of substance and style. There’s no doubt that Kojima could get the style, but the substance is where it matters.
All these obstacles are not insurmountable. But there are enough to make you question if a Kojima Productions film would be akin to throwing paint onto the canvas and seeing what sticks.
Check out other debates and other articles from Kieren and Alex below: