Sunday, September 30, 2007

Precious cover, blank book

This weekend's movie accompanying take-out-Chinese, turned out to be a teasingly unsatisfying meal. For all its hip-and-trendiness, Japanimations can be downright vacant. Lavish graphics, cartoon plot. The wonderfully detailed animated Japanese flick "Tekkonkinkreet" is a wonder to look at, even as its increasingly pretentious manga-inspired story line outstays its welcome.
It's set in a crumbling Bladerunner-esque metropolis called Treasure Town, where a childlike (I suppose because he is one) 11-year-old urchin named White and his slightly older friend Black fly through the air - and get caught up in a Yakuza boss' scheme to level the old city and replace it with an amusement park. Save for an avuncular prune, Gramps , the adults who pass through their lives, including a couple of kindly cops and some oddly dressed gang members (they look ready to rumble with droogs), generally pass through without much comment. They offer the children greetings though precious little else, which makes the loneliness that clings to Black and White — illustrated by the expressive use of negative space — all the more poignant and unacceptable.

Beautiful and a touch bewildering, “Tekkonkinkreet” kinks up a fairly familiar story of love and loyalty with a helping of underworld crime action, the usual juvenile agonies and fuzzy philosophy. And more exasperatingly, this well-worn record seems to be stuck on a never ending "replay". The first-time feature director Michael Arias, an American who lives and works in Japan, stuffs a lot of exposition and action into 100 baggy minutes. Amid all the sharp turns, the periodic slicing and dicing, the gangsters and the shifty deals, the old man in the bathhouse and the snake in its lair, it can be tough to pinpoint what precisely Black and White are up to, much less the filmmakers.
Even so, “Tekkonkinkreet” demands to be seen, if only for its beauty. The generally bright palette and overall soft look work a nice contrast to the dark theme, as if the world itself were on the children’s side. The character design of the boys is particularly lovely, almost loving, from the scar slashed across Black’s right eye like a warning to the hat shaped like a bear’s head that White wears, his mischievous, smiling face peeping through the animal’s open mouth. There’s a touch of Saint-Exupéry’s “Little Prince” in these two children, whose adventures and lessons seem plucked right from this book: “To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown-ups. ...” And that, as everyone knows, would be disastrous.

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