I finally got to sit down and watch Michael Aris’ ‘Tekkon Kinkreet’ on Blu-Ray this weekend. Coming to the movie completely cold – not having read Taiyō Matsumoto’s original manga, and knowing little about the production’s genesis, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I sat down to start writing this review and did a little bit of background research online that I discovered the fanboy shit-storm surrounding the film’s release.
Last week I posted my concerns about the forthcoming Watchmen adaptation, and particularly the worry that the original employed narrative techniques and devices that could work only in the medium of comics. So it was with some sympathy and understanding that I read fans criticising Aris’ film for exactly the same reason. The story is focused around two street orphans, simply known as Black and White, and their battle to defend their Tokyo neighbourhood and their very existence from misguided but well meaning police officers, washed up Yakuzza and sinister property developers. So far so good, typical animanga fare, you might say. But Black and White are not just two-dimensional pre-teen vigilantes; both spend the whole of the story struggling with apparent emotional and mental problems, the understandable result of a childhood on the street. These problems manifest themselves in a constant clashing of realities, over-powered imaginations, White’s bi-polar mood swings and Black’s self-destructive graphic violence. In the movie this is depicted in a stylised, surrealistic way, as the city around them visually morphs back and forwards between the boy’s candy-coloured, toy-filled playground and the stage for their dark, demon haunted nightmares. For every moment that the film is quirky, playful or touching it also disorientating, jarring and cold.
The fact that this contrast comes across at all through the film, and isn’t lost below it’s rich, ever changing visuals, must be seen as giving some credit to it’s creators. But, from what I can gather from looking around online, fans feel this has been done in a slightly ham-fisted, gimmicky way compared to the original print version. Maybe so, but I personally felt it largely worked; certainly I felt it was less confused and more emotional than the surreal and disorientating reality-clash of Satoshi Kon’s recent Paprika, which while again visually impressive, felt at times like its goal had been spectacle rather than empathy.
Plus Tekkon Kinkreet, as a movie, has a hell of a lot to offer. Visually it is near perfect, using subtle CGI techniques to contrast the cluttered, overdeveloped environments with the simple, hand drawn appearance of the characters. With much of the film being played out from Black & White’s rooftop perspective the animation employs subtle techniques, like horizons with exaggerated curvatures, to instil an effective feeling of dizzying vertigo. Freeze frame the movie at any time and you find yourself gazing at artwork of incredible beauty, detail and sophistication. It playfully makes visual reference to dozens of other films, both anime and live action, from Akira and Tokyo Godfathers to A Clockwork Orange and Bladerunner. It also has a fantastic soundtrack, courtesy of UK techno duo and legendary Warp Records artists Plaid, which I’m sure I’ll be tracking down on CD in the near future.
So, like I said at the top, I really enjoyed it. If you’re familiar with the manga then you could probably spend all day and night picking holes in it, but if you’re not you’ll probably be too impressed to care. Either way, I can’t recommend it enough. One thing’s for sure I’ll be picking up the manga for myself, and adding it to my ever-growing pile of unread books. And when I do get round to reading it, I’ll stick the movie on again and i’ll be back here to tell you if and how my opinion has changed…