nurtured, a ferocious young beast-child is entirely the product of his
environment—a desperate feudal Kyoto where many resort to cannibalism to
survive. Frankly, the boy has hardly
known any other food, tearing through the countryside like taboo-shattering Pac
Man. However, there are those who are
able to reach his scarred soul in Keichii Sato’s Asura (trailer
screens as part of the Anime from Hell sidebar
of the 2012 Japan Cuts, co-presented with the 2012 New York Asian FilmFestival.
into a world not of his making, it is minor miracle Asura lived through his
first day. Somehow he was not eaten by
the rabid wolves or his hunger-deranged mother.
Those first hours will set the tone for his young life. The juvenile berserker will inspire the wrath
of the local lord when he kills and subsequently chomps down on the only
heir. However, a wandering monk tames
Asura’s wild spirit with a mantra the boy cannot even understand—at least
will be hard pressed to find a more hardcore Buddhist than Asura’s occasional companion,
but he is a decidedly ambiguous figure, apparently more content to watch the
world descend into flames than to actively engage with it. It is the kindly village girl Wakasa who has
a more lasting and profound influence on Asura.
Yet, Asura remains a dangerous figure, despite or perhaps because of his
growing emotional attachment to the innocent beauty.
on George Akiyama’s controversial manga, Asura
is absolutely not for children, under any circumstances (unless parents
feel like this is a good time to have the old eating-human-flesh-is-wrong talk). Beyond the cannibalism and violence, it
paints an unremittingly brutal portrait of human nature. Indeed, the film clearly implies the line separating
humanity and overt savagery is rather tenuous at best.
soaked in blood, the animation of Asura has
a lush, painterly look. It also features
some top anime voice talent, including Madame Masako Nozawa, the seventy-five year
old Dragonball veteran, viscerally expressing
the title character’s existential anguish.
Yet, it is commanding tone of Kinya Kitaohgi as the monk that really
packs a punch.
is completely inappropriate for young viewers. A lot of adults will have trouble with it
too, but for those looking to plum the depth of humanity through animation, it
is rather bracing, in an uncompromisingly naturalistic way. Recommended for patrons of extreme anime, Asura screens this Thursday (7/12) at
the Japan Society, as a joint presentation of the 2012 Japan Cuts and New York
Asian film festivals.
Labels: Animated films, Anime, Buddhism on film, Japan Cuts '12, Japanese Cinema, Manga-based films, NYAFF '12