Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Tekkonkinkreet Review

Tekkonkinkreet follows two street orphans, Black and White, living in Treasure Town, a crumbling district being fought over by scavenging mobsters and soulless developers. Black and White are aptly named, Black being violent and aggressive, while conversely White is innocent and peaceful. Black and White are urban Lost Boys in a town filled with pirates, fighting ever increasing odds to achieve their dreams. To summarise the film much more would ruin the experience, as this films narrative story is a relatively small part of the overall experience. Although featuring a relatively involved plot, the film focusses on the character stories that surround the larger narrative. We see how plot elements affect the characters, rather than how the characters affect the plot.

All films, if not all stories, should be led by character and in films without obvious characters, such as more visual works, the character can be an abstract such as a location or a feeling. For example, 'Koyaanisqatsi’s' lead characters are the world and humanity as a whole. 

The thing is, I can appreciate nice characterisation but if I can’t believe that the character has been characterised from living in that world then the story fundamentally fails and once a story has crossed that failure line there is narratively speaking, no going back. You don’t necessarily need a fascinating world for your characters to inhabit but you do need one that it is basically believable for your particular characters to exist within. You need a world built from a basic level of structure that makes sense. 

Art and craft are intrinsically linked and both should complement each other. Craft seems to generally be separated and receive the raw end of the deal, being viewed as the necessary evil that allows the artistic vision to come alive. The issue is that a well-crafted story is in itself an art, having good ideas and characters well elevate it massively but the structure alone can be beautiful, much like with an empty honeycomb. Character however, requires some degree of truth to function, a good character can elevate a bad narrative but it can’t even exist in a non-believable one.

Now the above rant was for a reason, it was inspired by Tekkonkinkreet. Tekkonkinkreet breaks almost every rule it can. The characters exist in a basically real world, one that follows the same scientific and mathematical rules as ours. That being said characters constantly break these rules, doing ridiculous things such as jumping hundreds of feet into the air and surviving the fall afterwards. The thing is that these rules are arbitrary, some characters can do impossible things and some cannot without any apparent reason given. This unbelievable world becomes completely believable however, when filled with the characters that inhabit it. The world is a mixture of unbelievable and believable, because the characters are themselves both insane and sane. The narrative form works with the character function and they work very well together indeed.

The story is about very abstract concepts, such as the universal balance of good and evil and these elements are worked into a symbolic story of brotherhood. The strengths of the characters seemingly exist in one reality while their weaknesses exist in our own, creating a subjective reality that we are presented with, to interpret as we wish.

The basic heart of the story is the relationship between the two orphans, the older raising the younger and the problems they encounter. The fact that their story remains emotionally strong and real, despite the problems they encounter including aliens and demons, is a real testament to how well the characters are handled. This is primarily because the entire story is focussed on this brotherhood dynamic and even when it is not focussing on Black and White, it focuses on the brotherhood of two Yakusa and the partnership of two detectives. This helps the story of Black and White as it allows other facets of their nature to be explored without changing their characters to do so.

Tekkonkinkreet is a very tonal film and it deals with a lot of interesting concepts. Black and White are completely different in personality but are unable to function without the other, Black is yin to White’s Yang. In addition it is heavily implied that Black and White are suffering from mental problems that make them so distinctly polar in nature. White describes himself as being “made broken”. The fact that they have both been abandoned alone at the threshold of society, along with the venerable elderly is a powerful message.

In addition to this, there is also a strong environmental focus to the film. Black is almost like a spirit of nature, wanting to stop the extensive redevelopment of what he calls “my town” and keep it the way it is. White dreams of moving out of the city entirely and living at the beach. Both of them are trying to grow an apple tree within the city and are upset at how it won’t grow.

Primarily the film tells of what it is to be human. Tekkonkinkreet questions what we have lost as a species by losing our connection to nature and to the mystic, to gain ‘progress’.

The animation is primarily what people reference when talking about the film and it is very stylised and impressive. The animation is very fluid, mixing seamlessly between moments of calm and hyper kinetic action sequences. The camera shakes as the action sequences build, like a drink that is about to explode before following the characters as if they had been filmed live action. That being said you can see where the budget of this film has been spent, the action sequences run at a far higher frame rate to those of the slower and although it creates a tonal shift it would have been nice to see some of these more thoughtful sequences looking a bit more visually realistic.

The designs of the characters are also very effective with each characters design aesthetic being based on their personality, down to the shape of their faces. The city is also very expressive, being a character in its own right. The detail put into the city, considering its size is incredible. It looks like a moving art book.

Tekkonkinkreet is a very interesting film. It asks a lot of questions and leaves it up to the audience to answer them. It is a beautiful film but one that is both visually and tonally, not for everyone. The balance between reality and the impossible is generally handled very well but towards the end does become fairly firmly rooted in the impossible at the expense of some of the emotional realism the film has portrayed up to that point. That being said the film is easy to recommend. Tekkonkinkreet made me think and feel more than any film has in a long time. Films about ideas are fairly common but good films about ideas don’t come along that often.

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