[TEKKON KINKREET made news both as the adaptation of a respected manga, AND the first Japanese anime film to be written and directed by Americans. It's currently on a very limited release in the US. Guest reviewer IVAN BRANDON (NYC Mech, 24seven) sent us this review.]
I’ve always said that there are artists out there whose work should probably never be adapted. In most of Vonnegut’s work, for example, the joy of the experience depends largely on his voice.
In the comic book world, if you asked me to make a list of works I’d think were inadaptable in that sense, I’d put Taiyo Matsumoto’s TEKKON KINKURITO (Black and White, in the American printing) high up in the rankings. The world Matsumoto creates in TK is so specific and odd… the subtlety and nuance of his characters is unlike the work of any other creator I’ve read in comics or film. (To me, it’s the holy grail of kid characterization, murderous violence aside.)
That said, the preview footage I’d seen was intriguing, and the other night I went to see the US debut of Japanese STUDIO 4°C’s hand-animated adaptation, called TEKKON KINKREET, and written and directed by first time American film-makers Michael Arias and Anthony Weintraub, respectively.
And to whatever degree the task might be difficult, they take a hell of a crack at it.
The art style is its own animal, but as faithful a recreation of Matsumoto’s art as I think one could want, beyond him drawing every piece himself. Like the book, the visual POV is all over the place, capturing the scope and depth of an enormous and intricate environment from ground and air. The characters retain Matsumoto’s unique visual flair, completely unlike the preconceptions I’ve heard of what manga or anime “look like”, blending European and American influences into something completely new.
The real test, though, for any fan of the source work, is how the characters express themselves beyond their visual construction. This is the area I was most dubious about, and the area in which I was most surprised. There’s no telling what Matsumoto’s characters sound like in his own head… and as in any adaptation, no film’s interpretation will match the version a reader builds while reading it. But 10 minutes in, watching TEKKON KINKREET, I was stunned by how close it was getting to mine.
The movie’s arc is different than the comic version as the demands on Matsumoto in a weekly serial are completely unlike the demands of a 2-hour film. Where the book moves quickly throughout, there are spots the movie drags ever so, although visually there’s never a dull moment. And while the film hold a lot of the comic’s strengths, so too does it hold it’s weaknesses, and while both are enormously entertaining, neither’s a flawless creation.
But all in all the experience of watching the film is spectacular… the world is both bombastic and intimate, the characters nearly as strange and amazing as the first time I encountered them.
I’ve always said that there are artists out there whose work should probably never be adapted. Sometimes I’m happily wrong.