Anime Film Review: Tekkonkinkreet

Tekkonkinkreet is based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, and it was directed by Michael Arias and Hiroaki Ando. This has the designation of being the first anime film directed by an American.

Tekkonkinkreet
Directed by: Michael Arias and Hiroaki Ando
Written by: Anthony Weintraub
Starring: Kazunari Ninomiya, Yû Aoi, and Yûsuke Iseya
Run Time: 110 minutes
Rated: R

The story takes place in a fictional location called Treasure Town, and the main characters that are focused on are two orphan boys named Black and White. Black is a streetwise and violent punk and considers Treasure Town to be “his town,” while White is out of touch with the world and often lives in a world of illusions. Together, they call themselves “The Cats” and take on “missions” to protect the town.

One day, Black beats up three Yakuza members who are hassling one of his street gangster friends. It turns out these Yakuza work for a man named Snake, who wants to tear down Treasure Town and build a theme park. Black decides it’s his mission to protect “his town” and to keep it from changing, so he tries to do what he can to keep Treasure Town from being torn down. When Black has interfered with his plan too much, Snake tries to have Black killed.

In addition to this storyline, there is also a storyline focusing on a man named Kimura who gets caught up with the Yakuza. He ends up working for Snake, and crosses paths with Black.

By the time I finished watching this film, I wasn’t very satisfied by the experience. While I could easily pick out that Snake is supposed to be the antagonist, I was never completely sure which of the remaining characters I was supposed to be rooting for. I was ultimately confused by the storytelling structure and the story; however, I’m not sure if this is due to being a problem with the original manga source material since I haven’t read the manga, or if these problems were introduced when Arias adapted the story for the film.

In some respects, it feels like an attempt was made with Tekkonkinkreet to utilize the blurring between fantasy and reality that Satoshi Kon liked utilizing in his work. However, I don’t think this was accomplished very well in this film. There was one section in particular where White has been inside his world of illusion and sees himself riding on an elephant. When we return to reality, White is shown still riding on the elephant, and the other people around him react in such a way that it appears that they see the elephant. If the return to reality was supposed to show that White was still in his imagination when the scene was taking place, this wasn’t accomplished very effectively. I found this to be more jarring and not believable than anything similar that Kon showed in his work.

When you watch Tekkonkinkreet, there are certain images that keep reappearing in the film. The ones I noticed were elephants, eyes and matches. I figured out that the matches were a foreshadowing for an event that takes place in the film, and that the eyes symbolize the idea of watching the world. When it comes to all the elephants, the only guess I can have is that they have something to do with the idiom “the elephant in the room,” which is about ignoring or not addressing an obvious truth; as I think back to what I saw in the film, this could very well be the symbolism of the elephants in the film.

However, I do have to give credit to Tekkonkinkreet for its animation. Even though the story of the film may not be the easiest one to follow, it’s still a nice film to look at. In one of the documentaries, one of the animators talks about how the production utilizes both traditional and CG animation, but that they chose to not overuse the CG. After watching the film, I agree that the production staff pretty much found the right balance between traditional and CG animation. This production is one of the better anime films that I have seen for utilizing CG animation.

When it comes to the actual DVD release, there are three bonus features included. First is an audio commentary for the film.

The second bonus feature is “A Conversation with Director Michael Arias and British Rock Duo Plaid,” which runs for about 11-and-a-half minutes. When watching this feature, it’s obvious it was originally intended for a Japanese audience; the audio is in English, with Japanese subtitles printed underneath. When this feature was put on the North American DVD, English subtitles were added at the top of the screen. On the one hand, I understand that it’s probably a translation of the Japanese subtitles, but on the other hand, it seems kind of silly to subtitle something for an English-speaking audience when the audio is already in English. What I saw in this feature is basically what I expected: they talk about how Plaid came to be involved with the project, what it was like doing the music for film, and what it was like for Plaid to work with Arias.

The third bonus feature is a “making of” documentary titled, “Michael Arias’ 300 Day Diary,” which runs for a little over 43 minutes. It has Japanese audio with English subtitles, and it covers the making of the film. For the most part, it’s pretty much what I would expect out of a “making of” documentary.

While I ended up not being as impressed by Tekkonkinkreet as I hoped I would, I’m still glad I was able to see this film. It’s not a bad film, but it’s just not quite as strong as it could have been; perhaps the film can be better appreciated by viewers who are already familiar with the manga source material. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in anime should watch this film at least once in order to appreciate the animation and the art.

While I wouldn’t rush out and buy a new copy Tekkonkinkreet in order to add it to my anime library, it’s a film I’d probably be willing to purchase a used copy of if I thought the price was right.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Tekkonkinkreet that I checked out through the King County Library System.

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