Hi there! I’m Joe Cianciotto. Today, I’m excited to tell you about the role that San Francisco plays in the Marvel Universe. If you’re a resident of the Bay Area and you’ve watched the film Big Hero 6, you would instantly recognize many of the movie’s settings and locations. That’s right – Big Hero 6 is actually set in a fictional version of San Francisco.
As with all fictional universes, though, the creators have taken a lot of liberties with the way the city is presented. Instead of being known as San Francisco, the city is known as “San Fransokyo”, a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. In the Marvel alternative history, San Fransokyo was built by Japanese immigrants after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, which destroyed most of the city. At the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco was America’s Little Tokyo, with Japanese immigrants playing a huge role in shaping the city’s future. San Fransokyo was named in tribute to that historic legacy.
San Fransokyo itself is described as a version of Tokyo that was transplanted to the Bay Area. For example, the downtown section of the city looks and sounds very much like Chuo City or Shinjuku. However, the creators of the film also infused the city with a whole lot of San Francisco flavor. In one scene, the residential area looks very much like the Haight-Ashbury District, down to the townhouses that are affectionately called “Painted Ladies” by the district’s residents. The protagonist of the film, Hiro, lives above a café in one of the townhouses.
In creating the setting for San Fransokyo, Marvel used actual assessor data coming from the City. Marvel made the hills at least one and a half times higher. This resulted in a nearly accurate, yet exaggerated, version of San Francisco that can easily be identified by long-time residents. I actually took my dad, Joe Cianciotto, Sr., out to see the film, and he pointed out certain locations where he lived as a dock worker in Mare Island.
Other Big Hero 6 locations that derive inspiration from San Francisco include the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, which Hiro attends towards the end of the movie. The school, I believe, was inspired by the numerous academic and research institutions that call the Bay Area home, such as Stanford and UC Berkeley.
It’s no wonder that San Francisco’s odd and charming combination of old-school beauty and high-tech industries has captivated the imaginations of science fiction and superhero genre writers. With Marvel seeking to do a sequel, we might see more of San Fransokyo on the big screen very soon.