One major nag I have always had with film reviewers covering Japanese animation is how many just can’t seem to get Akira and Legend Of The Overfiend off their minds. Even after the international success of Hayao Miyazaki’s modern masterpieces, these two 80s juggernauts are still looked at as the benchmarks to reach – ridiculous, really. What sticks with film reviewers about anime that I have to agree with, however, is that a lot of what makes it to our shores makes very little sense. At all. Tekkonkinkreet is one of these films to support this theory – ocassionally stunning and affecting but very hard to follow.
Based on the manga by Taio Matsumoto, Tekkonkinkreet is set in an anonymously futuristic Japanese city which brothers Black and White consider their turf. When the Yakuza return, bringing corporate greed along with them, all bets are off to how the city will survive – and how the relationship between the two brothers will be affected.
Much like other anime adaptations of popular texts (hello, Tales From Earthsea), first-time director Michael Arias’ film seems dramatically over-stuffed; many moments seem like fanservice to those who hold the source material closest to their hearts. For example, a ridiculous “bad guy” subplot, hesitantly shoved in halfway through, is such an abrupt interruption of the film’s flow that it feels like you are watching a completely different film altogether. Also, there are parts of the film that dedicate themselves to dull exposition (something about a Minotaur) that, more than anything, reminds me of Chris Farley’s cameo in Wayne’s World – “You know, all that information seemed pretty irrelevant at the time…”
However, Tekkonkinkreet isn’t a bad film. Yes, it’s flawed and never really shows signs of breaking out of the anime ghetto, but it’s not bad at all. The visuals by Studio 4°C (Memories, The Animatrix) and art director Shinji Kimura are wonderful – while not exceptional in the polished style of a Studio Ghibli picture, the rough-hewn images, all sharp corners and odd movements, work wonderfully with the storyline we are given. (Well, what we can make out of the storyline.) The last forty minutes will likely confound both the casual viewer and anime veteran but are certainly a sensory experience – an orgy of beautiful, apocalyptic images that take the breath away and pull the emotional core of the story back into full view, making the film ultimately some kind of commentary on what being “a man” is really about.
A mature reflection on modern masculinity in mainstream anime? Who woulda thunk it?