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Arts & Culture

Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White

I will confess upfront to a love for Japanese anime -- mainly because in Japan animation is treated not as a kids' genre but rather as a stylistic choice. I enjoy far more anime than I do American animation, but that's also because there's just so much more to choose from in anime. This year, there were a couple of good American animated films,

Ratatouille and

Surf's Up , but the rest was the usual mix of impressive state-of-the-art technology with lame storytelling aimed primarily at kids. But even the best of this year's American animation,

Ratatouille nor

Surf's Up , come close to the wonder and scale of

Tekkon Kinkreet . In fact, not even this year's Japanese anime feature

Paprika surpasses it. Although the two films do share some similarities in how they depict the modern world and blur the lines between reality and the subconscious mind.

Black looks over his city (Aniplex/Sony Pictures)

Tekkon Kinkreet offers Black and White as two young children, possibly brothers or more likely they have adopted each other as the only family each has. Their turf is a place known as Treasure Town, and they have cast themselves as superheroes protecting it from invasion by any one else or any other gangs. White is tough in a street scrape yet this eleven-year-old still needs help getting dressed. Black is slightly older, definitely more savvy and looks to White with great paternal care. But a local yakuza leader named Suzuki also sees Trasure Town as his town and plans to return to the city to take over. But posing an even greater threat is Mr. Snake, whos acting on behalf of property developers who want to level Treasure Town to make way for a huge amusement park. The story takes on metaphysical and metaphorical dimensions, but at its heart are these two young children: White who seems able to remain innocent despite all around him and Black who must struggle with inner demons and an inner conflict tearing at him.

The story deals with issues of change, growing maturity, a person's connection to place and conflict. Although Black and White are the central focus, all the characters have depth and each is given an intriguing back story so that we are pulled into all the various subplots. The film taps into sci-fi, yakuza action drama, and even some of the trippy, acid-induced imagery from the end of 2001 .

Treasure Town in Tekkon Kinkreet (Aniplex/Sony Pictures)

Arias (who has been residing in Japan for years) and Weintraub do an excellent job of adapting the manga to the screen. They remain amazingly accurate to the look and feel as they attempt to streamline and make fluid the more episodic nature of the serialized story. But whatever minor flaws arise from this transition from manga to screen are easy to forgive in light of all that the film does well. The documentary bonus feature accompanying the movie provides insights into the elaborate and long creative process of bringing Matsumoto's manga to the screen.

One of the chief pleasures and accomplishments of the film is the way the original drawings of the manga are carefully brought to the screen with a clever and subtle blend of hand drawn illustrations and computer generated images. The opening scene, as well as some tracking shots through the city, involve hundreds upon hundreds of hand drawn illustrations texture mapped onto CGI wireframes in order for the filmmakers to use fluid and sophisticated camera movement without losing any of the charm, beauty or magic of hand drawn animation. This mix of old and new techniques reflects the city itself. It also allows for a mix of sometimes almost childish animation and sophisticated visual construction, reality and the subconscious mind.

To create the look of Treasure Town, the filmmakers collected images of Asian cities and Arias took dozens of location photos in order to have a real basis in which to set his strangely surreal tale. Art director Kimura spent two years creating Treasure Town and its surroundings. The DVD documentary shows how hundreds of people were employed to create the tens of thousands of cels and CGI work to complete the film and their hard work pays off in a visually breathtaking animated work.

Japanese manga to American book form (Weekly Big Comic Spirits/Viz Graphics)

I also urge anyone who enjoys the film or who is just intrigued by the story to check out Matsumoto's manga, which has recently received an American release thanks to Viz Graphics. The serialized stories are collected on one beautifully published volume. But if you happen to see the film and read the American version of the manga, you may notice that Black's scar across one eye changes from one side to the other. This is because when a manga is reproduced for American readers, it is changed so that it can be read from left to right instead of from right to left, so the artwork gets flipped. If you go back to the original Japanese art, you will find that the scar is on the same side as it is in the film. Again that just goes to show how much work can go into just translating the manga to American book form. Making the movie is even more complex.

Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White (rated R for violence, language and brief sexual content) is an enthralling anime and easily the best-animated film you will see this year. It mixes stunning visuals with a heartfelt story that should touch even the hardest heart. This is not an anime for young children (as the R rating implies), but it has enough action and humor to entertain mature kids who want something more challenging than the Bee Movie. Tekkon Kinkreet also shows how Japanese films (including Steamboy and the recent Hayao Miyazaki films) are doing an amazing job of blending hand drawn and CGI work to spectacular effect. Even though you won't find Tekkon Kinkreet in a movie theater, it was something that was just so good that I had to share it with you.

Companion viewing: Paprika, Salaam Bombay, Steamboy, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, A Chinese Ghost Story: The Animation