City Slicker

A 1940s Japanese comic gets the high-tech treatment in grand style

Kenichi, wha?: It takes anime to show real imagination in America's theaters.
Kenichi, wha?: It takes anime to show real imagination in America's theaters.

Anime director Rintaro (X) is out to dazzle us with this adaptation of a 1940s Japanese comic, and for the most part he succeeds. Blending eras as deftly as Baz Luhrmann in Moulin Rouge, he gives us a detail-heavy computer-animated city populated by hand-drawn characters who resemble old newspaper comics characters such as The Katzenjammer Kids. Basically, we're following a young boy named Kenichi and his uncle Shunsaku Ban in their search for a missing scientist named Dr. Laughton. To assist in their quest, they rent out a robot detective, amusingly decked out in classic film noir trenchcoat and fedora. The robot becomes a source of tension, as are all robots in a city where the workers are losing their jobs to machines. Even the most minor positions, like dog-walker and birthday clown, have robots for the job. Taking things to extremes are the Marduk party, a red-shirted fascist movement bent on militant action against all robots, and a less-organized gang of underground Marxist rebels, equally opposed to robots but placing the blame where it belongs, on the industrialists who hire them. Both, unwittingly, are pawns in the power struggle between President Boon and billionaire Duke Red, whose giant building promised in the beginning is actually a secret superweapon. Red is also having a robot daughter made for himself, one so advanced she won't know she isn't human and will be able to love. The plot sags a little toward the end, but the movie overall shows more imagination than anything else in theaters.

 
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