Tekkon Kinkreet

It's easy enough on the Internet to find folks willing to argue about anything. It should be no surprise, then, that there's a running argument as to what anime is and if it's truly a genre in and of itself or if it's merely a form containing multiple genres. Into that discussion comes another question -- how many Americans does it take for an anime no longer to be anime?  If the artistic styles don't reflect modern Japanese tropes but instead look inspired by, say, the French, does it count?

Tekkon Kintreet makes us ask those questions, but for surprising reasons. The film's direction was provided by an American, as was the screenplay, though the film was animated by Studio 4C, most definitely a Japanese anime outfit. The film's characters look just one step away from French surrealism...and yet they look much the same as they did in the Japanese manga. Does any of this really matter?  It wouldn't if this were just some big-budget crossover attempt with lots of American input and dollars like Afro Samurai. But instead, Tekkon Kinkreet is a genre-busting exercise that mixes surrealism and yakuza, kids with ultraviolence, and more. It's a high-action art film. It might be overly long in stretches and even pretentious a time or two. But I have to tell you, this movie is often stunning.

Treasure Town...a metropolis that is a meld of modern technology and the seedy New York City of Taxi Driver. Inbetween the lively shops and crowds, gangs divide up their share of the pie that hasn't already been taken by the yakuza. In this crazy mix we find Black and White. Black is a young hellion with a wild side a mile wide, yet he takes good care of his friend White. White might be a couple of years younger physically, but his demeanor is like a child who might fall somewhere on the broad autism spectrum. But whereas Black might be a sociopath, White is softer, gentler...unless his friend is in trouble, and then White's dark side emerges.

As our story progresses, Black determines that he should be the gang leader in charge of the city, not the yakuza who are muscling in. In a vicious attack, Black puts the smackdown on a number of criminal types. This makes him a marked boy, and the yakuza aren't above hiring outside help to get this young scrapper out of the way for good. In the midst of all this, Black and White share life out on the streets. When events unfold that separate the two of them, it becomes clear that they need each other...not only for companionship, but to stay sane.

Tekkon Kinkreet (which roughly translates as "hardened concrete") is not just a made-for-tv affair but a genuine anime film. The backgrounds are lavishly rendered, and the rotoscoping effects used in several places are exquisite. While you might not like the character designs, which are off-putting, the models are perfect. It's got technical prowess written all over it. The soundtrack and visuals combine to make a truly awesome package. I watched the vast majority of the film in Japanese, which I think is the better choice. The voice acting in the dub is actually quite enjoyable, but there's a lot of filler dialogue not present in the Japanese version. Although the screenplay was originally written in English, the dialogue feels organic in the Japanese and too talky in the dub. My conjecture -- the screenplay was translated into Japanese and animated according to the Japanese dialogue, and then the English dialogue reworked to match the Japanese lip flap. Sad, but it fits what I saw.

You may love watching the visuals in Tekkon Kinkreet, but will you actually enjoy the entire experience?  That's debatable for some of my readership. I was sucked in to the plot and enjoyed the camaraderie between the two lead children, and I was thoroughly impressed with the B-story concerning a young yakuza whose growth of a moral conscience starts eating away at him after he learns his girlfriend is pregnant. However, the pacing is occaisonally off, meandering at times. There's also the issue of the film's surrealism. Certain characters essentially fly, or at least do Matrix-style leaps, without much of a question. The final fifth of the film gets downright trippy. It all makes sense and it ends well, but the movie veers way off the course it was mapping and goes down an unexpected path. Whether it simply jumps the rails or it jumps the shark (or nukes the fridge, or whatever phrase for a radical mistake in direction is in vogue these days) is only for the viewer to decide. It's weird to say, but there's probably too much action for the art film crowd and too much art film for the action crowd.

But despite some missteps, Tekkon Kinkreet knows that its soul resides within Black and White and makes them compelling characters.  We cannot understand either one of them completely, nor are we meant to. Unlike many character-driven dramas, these two are not provided back stories -- and we do not need them. They are the best and worst of all of us, children finding a place in a crazy world by becoming a little mad themselves. I loved how the film followed them through the seasons, matching their emotional states with the weather. They are not complex but deep; they are not normal, but altogether human. I was surprised by the end to find just how attached I was to these two hooligans.

Tekkon Kinkreet isn't a perfect film, but it is a special one. Bizarre at turns, banal at others, with brief moments of awe and brief moments of shocking violence, it can't be easily catagorized. It's not winsome, but it is engaging and intriguing, and the characters grew on me. I'm not going to argue for it as the next anime classic. But if you are a serious student of animation and like a challenging film now and again, you need to see this.

Tekkon Kinkreet -- violence, brief non-sexual nudity, brief sexuality -- A-