I am no anime or manga expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I recognize the artistic value, beauty, and potential for these art forms. They, or animation in general, can image the limitless possibilities of our imagination. Theology and film scholars are starting to catch on to the implications of great works like Hayao Miyazaki‘s Spirited Away. Unlike much mainstream animation, great anime often blends truly fantastic animation with deep storytelling. Flipping through some past BFI catalogues, I noticed that throughout the summer, they offered anime screenings from various filmmakers. I decided to take a chance on one that stood out with at least the most interesting title: Tekkonkinkreet (2006), directed by Michael Arias and based on the popular manga by Taiyo Matsumoto.
Tekkonkinkreet follows two close friends, White and Black, young orphans in Treasure City who fancy themselves the rulers of their town, even with much larger and older gangs making the same claim. When the yakuz begin to shake things up in the city, White and Black harass the gangsters and disrupt, to an extent, their cash flow. When the boss realizes that times are changing, he brings in a corporation to creat a children’s theme park in Treasure City. Both White and Black and some of the members of the yakuza are not pleased with this plan as it will disrupt traditions to which they have become accustomed. If White and Black do not like the local yakuza, they like the corporate intruder even less. The film largely follows, in fits and starts, White and Black’s battle with their gangster foes and their struggle to survive in this large, oppressive city.
The main characters represent several simplistic dualities as their names imply. White and Black could represent good and evil, yet they together are a force for good that opposes larger evils. On the other hand, they must steal and commit acts of violence to survive. As the film progresses, we see just how close these friends really are and can eventually even see them as two components of the same person. White is a care free, naive young child who finds pleasure in the simplest of things. He is the source of much joy in the film and a fountain of comic relief. Black, on the other hand, is wise, determined, powerful, and, above all, dangerous, protecting White with all of his abilities. He leads the attacks against their “enemies,” while White, despite his distractions, occasionally offers assistance as well. Towards the end of the film, Black becomes consumed with revenge against the henchmen who almost fatally wound White. Black goes missing in action as he takes down the “monster” henchmen and some of the new theme park in the process. White feels Black’s encompassing revenge just as Black felt White’s pain when he was attacked. White tells the police, “I have all the screws Black needs.” The implication here is that Black has all the screws White needs as well.
Though the entire film is visually stunning, the final scenes are especially breath-taking as Black fights the darkness within, symbolized by an evil minotaur. As it overtakes him, the minotaur teases him, trying to lure him further into the darkness. The minotaur lies, claiming that the darkness that envelops Black is truly the light…the destination that Black seeks. In the meantime, White is overcome with panic and screams, crying out to Black. As he does, flashes of light break through the darkness and temporarily stave off the minotaur. It reemerges, however, telling Black that this is all a deception, a hell to which he must not run. White (light) eventually breaks through to Black who dispells the darkness completely, though not without a lasting reminder of his battle. The visuals that accompany this concluding struggle are simply amazing, terrifying, and awe-inspiring all at once, as are the spiritual struggles in which we are constantly engaged.
Tekkonkinkreet (100 mins) is available on DVD and is rated R for language and violence.