Anime films have typically been associated with cute characters and easy-to-follow stories, but be warned: Tekkonkinkreet isn't typical. Adapted from Taiyo Matsumoto's cult manga series, Michael Arias' directorial debut enhances the manga's already stunning illustrations while staying true to its raw spirit.
Set in a fictional metropolis called Treasure Town, the film follows the lives of two orphaned street kids, Black (voiced by Kazunari Ninomiya) and White (voiced by Yu Aoi). Despite their circumstances, the pair are happy – they live by their own terms, treating the colourful streets of Treasure Town as their personal playground. However, one day the Yakuza roll up, threatening to transform the quiet town into a massive amusement park. Unwilling to give up their way of life, Black and White become caught up in a violent battle to protect "their" city.
It's rare to see an anime film directed by someone who isn't Japanese, and indeed, Arias proves to be unconventional. Deviating from traditional anime conventions with its deliberately ugly character designs and surrealism, Tekkonkinkreet is unlike anything most anime fans are used to.
What makes this film really remarkable is Shinji Kimura's art direction. Cramming a load of intricate details into the colourful cityscape, Kimura leaves little room on the screen for blank space. The result is a breathtaking spectacle; each shot is composed of numerous layers and textures that authentically render the scenery of a derelict Tokyo. Coupled with creative camera angles and amazingly fluid animation, the film pulls the audience right into the action. Sometimes we jump from one building top to another, the streets under us turning into a hazy blur. We spy on our enemies through binoculars, our gaze darting from left to right, and then back again. Ultimately, we become part of the animated world, intrinsically attached to Treasure Town and its quirky inhabitants.
While my attention was mostly dominated by the visuals, the characters and the cast voicing them definitely deserve recognition too. Ninomiya encapsulates Black's aggressive, borderline insane personality perfectly, particularly in his animalistic war cries. Seasoned actress Aoi, on the other hand, manages to effectively bring out the childish innocence in White. Even the more prominent Yakuza guys won my sympathy eventually, and that says a lot about the voice actors' performances considering all of the characters resemble badly-drawn scribbles.
Tekkonkinkreet is an experimental art-house film marketed at a niche, mature audience. Emotionally charged and brutal, the film tells a moving story of brotherhood, greed, and the loss of innocence in a corrupted world. Although the ending is unsatisfying and the plot mediocre at best, there are many other elements that make up for these shortcomings. The film's fast pace ensures you'll never get bored, and the smooth animation makes for some extremely impressive fight scenes. Above all, Tekkonkinkreet is a visual masterpiece.