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Tekkon Kinkreet (Michael Arias 2006)


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Tekkonkinkreet
[Tekkon Kinkreet]

Genre: Yakuza-infused Orphan Youth Angst

review in one breath

In the last remaining vestige of an otherwise over-modernized metropolis, two orphaned children have learned to live both freely and violently amongst rival gang intrusion, yakuza activity, and the good-natured help from some similarly-minded, decade-weary citizens. This tale, seen through their own eyes, is wholly about the survival and destruction of these two orphaned youths, not only in terms of their physical safety but also their mental landscape. Childhood dreams and hopes struggle headlong with the reality of urban decay, vicious crime, and the crippling sense of loss.


intro

First off, I would just like to give High SaruDama Praise to director Michael Arias for tenaciously following through with his obstacle-riddled and culturally counter-intuitive vision of creating this animation. Simple cultural conflation (as in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner) or wholesale adoption of the Japanese milieu or technique has become quite commonplace in past years. But in my humble estimation Tekkon Kinkreet may have truly accomplished a sort of pioneering, historical precedent in terms of a Western-borne director wholly grappling with and fully accomplishing a Japanese anime.

I say all that because in one significant way Tekkon Kinkreet blurs the definition of "Japanese anime". It was produced in Japan, had its first release in Japan and is based on the Japanese manga of the same title (though the US manga version is entitled Black and White) by Matsumoto Taiyo whose prior manga works include Aoi Haru and Ping Pong. But the director and principal architect is Westerner Michael Arias who has lived in Japan for the past 16 years after moving there from Southern California.

Arias has worked on a number of successful, mainstream Western animation but first shows up on Japanese anime radar for his work with anime maestro Miyazaki Hayao on Princess Mononoke (1997). Initially specializing in special effects, Arias developed a software application that allowed new generation CG anime to retain a traditional cell-anime appearance. Miyazaki was the first to use the software in his production of Princess Mononoke and continued to use it in subsequent productions. This, of course, ushered Arias into the mainstream of Japanese anime.

Tekkon Kinkreet is Arias' directorial debut and as such sets the bar amazingly high for a new director. Audiences will undoubtedly recognized the traditional quaintness of cell anime while experiencing a very clear transcendence of its expected boundaries. Tekkon Kinkreet provides a lot of eye-candy in a traditional wrapper. That, alongside the very compelling characters and trajectory of Matsumoto Taiyo's original manga, I seriously doubt even hardened purists of Japanese anime will be disappointed here.

plot

In the age of over-modernized urban centers, Treasure City remains a near-forgotten alcove of simpler urban existence. There you will still find "Ma & Pa" business, neighbors who know each other, and a communal memory of who they were and are. There are still the old-school yakuza intent on displaying some modicum of their traditional principles and territorial youth-gang scuffles which still respect and abide by the basic rules of fisticuffs. This quaint urban island, seemingly hidden from the manipulation of high-powered developers is about to meet a daunting and formidable challenge.

Two amicable characters within Treasure City are "Black" and "White", homeless orphans who view the city as their own domain and frolic freely within it. Black is the older of the two, brooding and vehemently protective of White, whose childhood naivete and innocence seem as full-blown as the day he opened his eyes to the World. In one sense, they are brothers surviving amidst urban decay. In another way they are complements with Black quietly carrying the burden of their daily survival and White making their existence somehow meaningful. In yet another sense, these two are opposites, a true manifestation of "black" and "white", with violence, chaos, destruction on one end of the spectrum and absolute hope, peace and re-creation on the other.

Together, these two balance each other out as if predestined. But once Treasure City is finally encroached upon by greedy, malevolent forces, their peaceful balance is quickly upturned causing some bone-crunching, nigh-demonic spirals into existential madness and retribution.

Did I mention there's whole lotta kick-ass action in this film? heh.

verdict

Definitely check this out. Not only for the cool storyline but (perhaps more importantly) for the technical presentation of the anime. Arias is the guy who built the software which Miyazaki obviously loves, and you can rest assured that in this film, which Arias himself directs, that cutting-edge visual presentation is all that it should be. This aims from start to finish to present itself as a traditional cell animation, but you can't get past the credits without realizing this is something more.

In terms of the storyline, this really held traction. Sentiments run high and even audience sympathies for even the semi-Bad Guy are sure to come through. I'll confess though, certain moments of the childish behavior (and screaming) of the White character (specifically in the climactic separation scenes) had me cringing. Some form of subtlety or symbolism to replace sheer screaming was sorely missing here. I guess I mention that because I can't think of a parallel cringe scene in another major anime I've seen. Just a thought.

The vengeance/revenge theme is almost beautifully depicted here, particularly in terms of cause, execution and complexity. Let's just say this is far more sympathetic with the malaise of Joker than it is with Batman.

One final note on the maturity level of this film. There is a very strong degree of graphic (though non-gratuitous) violence throughout, including major harm done to child characters. It also ultimately centers on demonic/nihilistic descent into moral abyss. This is all accomplished thoughtfully and contemplatively, but easily exceeds the degree which you will want to show young children or your first date (unless your kid or date is already wearing black lipstick and heavy black eye mascara. Then I leave it totally to your discretion.)

Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (with English subtitles)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Anime technician and Director Michael Arias may have accomplished a true cross-over here! In terms of anime involving children, this one gets three red skulls. Plenty of fighting, face-busting (with steel rods), gun action and even a long steely knife through the torso of a lovable kid. Some depiction of vaudeville strip-tease. Nothing graphic and offered only as nostalgia for the pre-bustle "good ole days". Excellently rendered anime plumbing the depths of social and moral decrepitude. Plus a whole lotta action.

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