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Film Review: Tekkonkinkreet

With the last two year's buzz of cinematic diversity as a hot topic, I turn my gaze to the Far East. For the last decade, the west has seen increasing glimpses of the impressive animated landscape of Japanese cinema; the most notable being the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. Furthermore, an entrant to the Edinburgh film festival: Makoto Shinkai's 'Garden of Words' astounded audiences with its evocative structure and photo-realistic animation. Considering this, it is unsurprising that Western film fanatics have picked up on such a breathtaking part of cinema, most notably with Taiyo Matsumoto's 'Tekkonkinkreet', a series of Manga adapted by American filmmaker Michael Arias.

'Tekkonkinkreet' boasts a playful yet evocative dreamscape that goes beyond simple storytelling. A number of avenues can be explored in regards to context, symbolism, meaning; the message is pretty open ended. There is a tragic morality of crime, homelessness, and the balance of life. On the surface, above the beacons of treasure and troves of fantasy, it is a sad rendition of the Peter Pan story archetype, in which two street urchins get swept up in the chaotic vortex of the criminal underworld, in efforts to defend their territory.

While the themes of duality are prevalent, the narrative itself splits off into a horde of perspectives, so instead of this world being black and white, we see a spectrum that begins and ends with each of the two protagonists. With themes of spiritualism, reincarnation, yin and yang, celestial v. mortal and an endless cycle of life and death, this film brings us a refreshing glimpse into urban survival. These themes work to segué us into a sense of empathy toward the concrete jungle, and especially, those that fight to live through its trials every day. The viewer may find themselves dazzled by the whimsy and beauty that is brought about by the animation, possibly distracting from critical contemplation of the message. Perhaps this was the underlying point; our aesthetic nature can sometimes leave us wilfully ignorant to the issues we face today.

There are many examples of animation that represent the bridge between fine art and commercial cartoons, 'Tekkonkinkreet' is one of them. Going beyond a platform for entertainment, the film uses bright and playful colours to narrate various themes. The artistic design becomes woven into the framework, where the use of colour and shape becomes as integral as the dialogue and plot. There is a quirky sense of magic behind this tragic tale, a juxtaposition between fairytale delusions and grim reality. One can theorise that this is a fantasy born of one of the protagonists; in their childlike demeanour they see the world through rose-tinted glasses. The animation reflects the internal chaos and comfort zones we consistently find ourselves caught in, as well as our inclination to view reality in a more appealing context. Allowing the dangers of reality to infiltrate this fantasy world creates an imbalance, and tears apart the two main protagonists, perhaps a moral lesson on the dangers of escapism.

In 'Tekkonkinkreet' we see reflections of an artistic trend in Japanese animation; the tendency to create characters in a very minimalist style in comparison to the setting. The over-simplification of the characters' illustration represents the child-like nature of the protagonists, with the viewer perceiving the world of 'Tekkonkinkreet' through their eyes. There is a lack of importance given by them to human life or complexity, as their time is spent prowling their territory enamoured by their own whimsy. The whole concept of this animated masterpiece plays with human notions of balance, between sanity and becoming unhinged, between the gritty landscape of urban society and the world seen through the eyes of a child, and between life and death itself. For a dreamy and at times horrifying intrigue into Asian animated cinema, 'Tekkonkinkreet' is an excellent start.

Written by Jennifer Richards


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