Friday, June 24, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Tekkonkinkreet

They are Dickensian street urchins, but the young boys named Black and White think they run Treasure Town. The old school cops and Yakuza do not necessarily disagree, but the new breed of young turk gangsters lack the proper respect. They will just have to learn the hard way. Unfortunately, the hard way will be hard on everyone in Michael Arias’s Tekkonkinkreet (trailer here), which celebrates its tenth anniversary with a special screening at the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

Tekkonkinkreet represents the first major Japanese anime feature helmed by a westerner. Happily, Arias is no mere footnote in animation history. He continues to be a force in the industry, having recently directed the top notch Project Itoh adaptation, Harmony. Transferring Taiyo Matsumoto’s three volume manga to the big-screen, Arias creates a richly detailed by hard-to-define urban fantasy world. In terms of its feel, it is somewhat akin to Streets of Fire, but it looks like 1950s Times Square given a now sagging Rococo facelift by a compulsive packrat.

Black and White soar above the clutter and bric-a-brac like Spiderman or Daredevil. Black is the older brother, who has a quick temper and a brooding dark side. However, he has devoted his life to protecting the innocent-to-the-point-of-delusional White. Recently paroled gangster Suzuki (a.k.a. Rat, but not because he did) understands Black and White’s place in the Treasure Town ecosystem, as well as the importance of its traditional landmarks. Unfortunately, the flamboyant Snake is willing to bulldoze them all for the sake of his development project.  That definitely includes Black and White.

Arias’s ornate cityscapes are quite striking and the mortal superhero action is appropriately rip roaring. The bond between Black and White is as poignant as anything you will see from Pixar. There are also a number of fully realized, psychologically complex supporting characters. Tekkonkinkreet’s only drawback is the whooshing and roiling inner turmoil anime climax that is almost impossible to follow, despite the quality of the art.

Ten years later, Tekkonkinkreet holds up like a champ. It is still a stylish and muscular action-driven anime milestone that is far more sophisticated than its youthful protagonists would suggest. Recommended for all animation fans, it screens this Sunday (6/26) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.