Starring Kazunari Ninomiya, Yu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya, Kankuro Kudo, Min Tanaka, Rokuro Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura, Mugihito, Masahiro Motoki
Directed by Michael Arias & Hiroaki Ando
There’s so much going on in this film that I scarcely know where to start. I guess I can start with the director. Michael Arias is obviously not Japanese, and his most notable credits are for producing The Animatrix, and helping design the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios. As you might expect from having such a seemingly out-of-place director, Tekkonkinkreet is odd. It’s difficult to even classify. At times it feels like an over-the-top action film. At times like a drama. And it always feels like a mindfuck.
Its style is very floaty, and it haphazardly ignores the laws of physics. Half the time the characters are leaping up or down buildings, often nearly flying. The character designs are kooky and not at all what you would expect of an anime. They look flat-out insane. Their contrast with the background art furthers the confusion. The characters are simple and cartoonish, while the backgrounds are detailed, vivid, and absolutely gorgeous. In retrospect, it should have been no surprise to find out that Studio Ghibli had a hand in the background design.
It’s not as much of a mindfuck as some other stuff I’ve seen. Perfect Blue and Utena mop the floor with Tekkonkinkreet in that regard. But it’s still really weird, and at the end it starts going into some seriously hallucinatory territory. It doesn’t go so far as to be incomprehensible, but still enough to make me think another watch might give new insight into the tale.
The second layer to the film is an old yakuza boss called the Rat. He’s been out of town for a while, but now he’s back to stir up trouble. He grew up in this town, and his reverent nostalgia in such an unscrupulous crime boss makes for a refreshing and surprisingly sympathetic character. Who else would mount such a loving defense of a decrepit strip club? He’s been hired by a huge corporation to scare off the street gangs, including Black and White, that are getting in the way of the company’s plan to build a theme park in the area, but Rat doesn’t much care for renovating his old stomping grounds.
Looking over what I’ve written so far, it sounds like a very emotionally complex drama, which it is. But now throw in some crazy super-powered assassins that chase Black and White all over the city. The kids duke it out across rooftops and on top of speeding trains. It’s not the most thrilling action in the world, but it does its job of being menacing and vicious.
All of this mixes seamlessly into a deep and affecting story. It wasn’t always enthralling, but at the end, I found the journey well worth the ride, and I have a hunch I might like it even more on a second trip through. This probably won’t be up everyone’s alley. The character designs can be a turnoff — for a long while I avoided this film for that very reason — and the surreal elements will throw off even more people. But once I got into it, I found it to be a refreshing breath of originality among a sea of generic mediocrity. Don’t dismiss this one as silly fluff. There’s a lot of great content under its scruffy exterior.