Reviewed by Chris MaGee
“Tekkon Kinkreet” (2007) is the directorial debut of Michael Arias, a former special effects technician on big budget sci-fi films like “The Abyss” and “Total Recall”. Upon moving to Tokyo in 1991 Arias became interested in manga, specifically a manga called “Tekkon Kinkreet”, the title a play on words of “tekkin concrete”, the term used in Japan for reinforced concrete. Created by Taiyō Matsumoto, the man behind the manga “Ping Pong” and “Blue Spring” (which have been adapted to the screen by Fumihiko Sori and Toshiaki Toyoda respectively) it follows the story of two street urchins and their strange adventures in Takara Machi (Treasure Town). Arias became so obsessed with the manga that he used it as the basis for short demo films he made while perfecting CGI software that would end up being used in such anime classics as “Princess Mononoke”. It wasn’t until Arias produced the highly successful “Animatrix” and he became tight with the folks at the cutting edge animation studio 4°C that he finally got to fulfill his dream of bringing “Tekkon Kinkreet” to the big screen.
Treasure Town, a fictional district of an unspecified Japanese city, brings to mind (at least for me) the incredibly gawdy but gritty parts of Osaka like the Dotonbori or Amerika-mura: with the neon, billboards, and kitschy sculpture it looks as if a massive box of costume jewelery had spilled all over the moldering industrial architecture, truly an urban planners worst nightmare. When the yakuza want to muscle into Treasure Town they find they have a hard time. This part of the city is controlled by The Cats, a gang of acrobatic street children… well, actually only two children Kuro (Black) and Shiro (White), but this pair shouldn’t be underestimated. 13 year-old Kuro, the tough, street wise half of the team, thinks of Treasure Town as his and he’ll do anything, including bashing intruders with a length of pipe he carries, to keep it that way. Kuro’s brooding violence is leavened by Shiro, a simple-minded 11 year-old whose constant mantra is “Be happy! Be happy!” These two are inseperable (and possibly psychically linked), so much so that Shiro says that he has all the nuts and bolts that Kuro is missing, and vice versa. When the yakuza fail to take over Treasure Town Kuro and Shiro face a foe like they have never faced before: the mysterious Mr. Snake, a land developer with alien origins who has plans to turn Treasure Town into a massive theme park. The deep bond that the two boys will be tested and they stand to lose everything they hold dear; Treasure Town and even each other.
Once again, I’m not familiar with the original manga that “Tekkon Kinkreet” was based on, but I understand that Arias did take some liberties with Treasure Town which in Matsumoto’s manga was apparently much more stylized. Arias on the other hand brings a gritty reality to this imagined landscape. In fact every aspect of Treasure Town seems so real, each object being rendered with such attention to detail that Arias’ Treasure Town reminded me of the work of another comic book legend, French comic artist Moebius. Some of these remarkable details can be explained by Arias’ background in CGI. The majority of “Tekkon Kinkreet” was produced using CG, but you’d be hard pressed to tell by watching the film. Every shot has a hand drawn feel that stays loyal to the manga source material.
“Tekkon Kinkreet’s” strengths aren’t simply technical though. It has been a very long time since I’ve seen an anime film, or any film for that matter, that makes puts forth the principles of love and friendship so unapologetically. I found the bond between Kuro and Shiro extremely moving, but I never felt as if I was being emotionally manipulated. A short time ago I wrote a review for Makoto Shinkai’s “5 Centimetres per Second” and mentioned how his name has been bandied about as that of “the next Miyazaki”. While I don’t think Michael Arias in any way deserves that crown I do think that with such technically innovative and emotionally honest films like “Tekkon Kinkreet” and the amazing “Mind Game” that this next Miyazaki will sprout from the fertile ground anime studio 4°C. I almost guarantee it.