Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tekkonkinkreet: yet another classic Japanese mindf**k anime

On July 1st, I went to see not one, but two movies. One was SiCKO, of which I will only say two words: SEE IT. (This does not apply to people who live in rational countries with single-payer health care.)

The other was Tekkonkinkreet. Based on the manga "Kuro to Shiro" (Black and White), the curious name of the movie is three Japanese words mashed together: in English, those words are IronConcreteMuscles. Perhaps not in that order.

Two feral children, Kuro, the older and fiercer of the two, and Shiro, the younger and more childlike/childish, live in the decay of Treasure City. Is the city in Japan, or somewhere else in the world? It is left very much up in the air, as you see verbiage in English, Thai and Hindi on buildings alongside the Japanese Kana and Kanji. There are some references that are very Japanese, however: the city is being carved up by rival Yakuza gangsters, some of which might actually be Yakuza from another planet. After the Yakuza chew through some of the lesser young toughs of the city, they find that dealing with Kuro and Shiro is much harder than it seemed it would.

The movie shifts between the world as it is, and the inner lives of the two feral boys. They are linked together telepathically, and you are not sure at times from whose point of view you are looking at the story. You wonder how much of the story is going on in real time, and how much of it is actually going on within their minds. This is not new: movies have been playing around with this for decades, and so have artists like Dali and Rene Magritte. At times things get so surreal and hard to follow it will probably take several viewings to untangle, and I have yet to only get the benefit of one. You get the feeling, however, that the effort is worth it.

This movie marks the first time an American working in the Japanese animation industry has directed an anime feature. Director Michael Arias was born in Southern California, and through a circuitous chain of events learned animation and computer programming at NYU, then returned to California to work in computer special effects at places like Digital Domain. He then went to Japan to work alongside the artists of Studio Ghibli as their digital effects programmer, beginning with Mononoke Hime. Before Tekkonkinkreet, Arias is best known for his involvement in The Animatrix, an assemblage of 9 Matrix-universe animated shorts which arguably is the best of the sequels to The Matrix.

It is in the best interest of the animation industries of both America and Japan to come together in these kind of hands-across-the-Pacific collaborative efforts. Considering the state of the industry in both countries (the US is almost dead, Japan is struggling) it is likely that collaboration will not make matters worse, and will likely help both to revitalize.

Tekkonkinkreet is going to be coming to theatres this weekend. It is likely to be released to DVD quite soon after this, but seeing the movie in a theatre with a huge screen and excellent sound is well worth it.

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