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de-VICE the 3rd

michael arias on TEKKON KINKREET

home on da range: 2007
the rambunctious de-VICE philosophy spiel
de-VICE back issues
a quickie with PLAID
a quickie with MR. SCRUFF
HAPPY FEET movie review
michael arias on TEKKON KINKREET
DJ KENTARO enters the picture
MAD PROFESSOR huffs and puffs
the de-VICE answer to Tarantino's DEATH PROOF
ZUZUSHI 2 melbourne vs. tokyo
KID CALMDOWN and SLEEPY ROBOT: sydney's coolest djs?
ISNOD is good
J-MACHISMO: top men in Japanese anime cinema
DJ NEO: acid meister
photographic exhibition KEITAI KOUTURE
IF? Records gets all shameless & impudent
movie review: PAPRIKA
SON OF ZEV: who's your dad?
GENIUS PARTY: new anime from Studio 4C
RYOJI ARAI: the best kids' book ever made into animation?
does DIGITAL PRIMATE have a siege mentality?
just how sweet is KANDYMAN?
jonathan more on COLDCUT
much ado about BASEMENT JAXX
JEFF MILLS: one man spaceship
from the back of the fridge: SI BEGG
from the back of the fridge: GAIJIN BABY
e-us if u really have'ta

By Andrez Bergen


2006 was a competitive year for Japanese animation, with Gonzo's Brave Story, Studio Ghibli's Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea) and Madhouse's double treats Paprika and Toki o Kakeru Shojo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time).

But a little-heralded Japanese feature by an unknown foreign director achieved the height of the year's viewing pleasure when it screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October.


The tale revolves around the antics of two street kids named Kuro (black) and Shiro (white), one ultraviolent and haunted; the other angelic and bordering on autistic - as well as the emotive connection between them.

Jostling on the periphery is an ensemble cast of surreal characters, including crazed alien assassins.

But on a more elemental level, the movie chronicles a world-weary yakuza gangster known as Nezumi (rat), who's developed a heart yet is resistant to change, and his subordinate Kimura, who relinquishes early violent ambitions and instead dreams of escape.

Kuro and Shiro are pitched in mortal combat against not only Nezumi's henchmen but also, in the words of the film's director, "an extraterrestrial real estate mogul who plans to turn the town into an amusement park, and ultimately dominate the world." They face significant inner conflicts as well.


That director is American expatriate Michael Arias, and he has unleashed a visual treatise that defies the anime norm - this is certainly no Pokemon adventure for kids - yet he's quick to give his vote of approval for the current state of animation in his adoptive country.

"I think the industry should keep on going exactly as it is," he said in a recent interview with de-VICE.

He should know. He's been involved in Japanese anime for well over 15 years. He first came to Japan in the early 1990s and worked for Imagica, a Japanese image-related company.

"The great thing about traditional animation here is its uniqueness, and the variety of individual artists' visions on display," he went on. "I'd love an American-sized budget to play with, but I'd hate to see a cottage industry like this turned into a factory for cranking out products for the masses."

As it stands, Tekkon Kinkreet is quite a departure from type.

Aside from the theme song (by Asian Kung-Fu Generation) played at the end roll, its soundtrack gloriously debunks the practice of using a J-pop band, Joe Hisaishi, or a rising Japanese teenage chanteuse, to score the whole caboodle.

Tekkon Kinkreet instead boasts an experimental sound track composed by eclectic British duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner - aka Plaid, a one-time backup band for Bjrk - who also this year released the innovative (and quirky) album Greedy Baby, through Warp Records. "I am a huge fan of Plaid," admitted Arias.

"I started listening to their music years ago, and they've always been part of Tekkon in my mind," he continued. "They've done an incredible job - something really cinematic. I think the soundtrack is their best work to date."


michael arias

Like Plaid, Tekkon Kinkreet is certainly inventive in tone and style; Arias also is unfamiliar, and his lack of notoriety is surprising - given the fact that this film is a hugely innovative anime putsch produced by Studio 4C, the junta behind Memories (1995) a collaborative movie by Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto and Satoshi Kon; Morimoto's Eikyu Kazoku (Eternal Family, 1997/98) and Otomo's Steamboy (2004).

Yet while Tekkon Kinkreet is Arias' feature movie directorial debut, he's hardly a novice.

Having started out in the film industry back home in 1987, Arias has tweaked the special effects and computer graphics, and been a software technical consultant, on American movies as varied as James Cameron's The Abyss, David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly, and the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy.

He also helped develop the Back To The Future ride at Universal Studios with special effects whiz Douglas Trumbull (Blade Runner).

But Japanese anime held its own attraction.

"I'd been a longtime fan of Studio 4C's work, particularly Otomo-san's and Morimoto-san's projects," Arias acknowledged. "Morimoto-san and I made a short film together, based on Tekkon, back in 1999 - and it was through him that I got to know Eiko Tanaka, the president of Studio 4C. It's a great place - a bit of a mom-and-pop grocery store, with a make-it-up-as-you-go-along atmosphere. It's very artist-friendly."

By all reports, it's been a bit of a career roller coaster for Arias ever since.

He produced, helped supervise, and tweaked the CGI for "Beyond," the best segment of the Matrix animation offshoot The Animatrix, as well as on another of the segments, "Second Renaissance," back in 2003.

Three years later, international focus is only just now coming to grips with the feature-length, groundbreaking visual entity that is his first movie.

"It was a great deal of work," Arias admitted. "I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to muster that kind of energy again! At the same time, I had an incredibly talented and supportive crew working with me."

That talented crew included Masahiko Kubo and Chie Uratani, the joint animation directors here, who previously worked on Trigun and Hayao Miyazaki movies, respectively. Art director Shinji Kimura cut his teeth on '80s anime classics like Otomo's Akira and Mamoru Oshii's Tenshi no Tamago (Angel's Egg).

Behind the scenes there's been another pivotal "crew member": the guiding influence, support and inspiration of Studio 4C's resident enfant terrible, Koji Morimoto.

koji morimoto

He also happens to be Arias' favorite Japanese animator.

"His vision, his style, his use of music," Arias gushed somewhat reverentially during the course of the interview. "I could go on for a while. He's been a fantastic friend, a wonderful mentor and teacher, and a great big brother to me. He also helped me out of some tight spots on this movie as well."

As it turns out, despite its innovative artistic bent, Tekkon Kinkreet - like most Japanese anime - comes from that most traditional of animation source materials: a comic book.

In this case, it's based on the manga created back in 1994 by Taiyo Matsumoto, the man also responsible for Ping Pong.

"I've been enamored since I first read it, about 10 years ago; it really speaks to me in so many ways," Arias said of the manga.

Arias is also an internationalist when it comes to his favorite animation movies. He not only digs Otomo's Akira and Miyazaki's Kaze no Tani no Naushika (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), but also waxes lyrical about Walt Disney's Dumbo and the French-Czech animation classic La Planete Sauvage (The Fantastic Planet), directed by Rene Laloux.

He says he would like his own film to be perceived on a multitude of levels, each one as vital as the other, yet returns to the relationship between Kuro and Shiro as the tale's central focus.

"But I'd like people to make their own judgment about its themes," he mused. "I think it appeals on a universal level, but I really don't think I've ever seen any other movie quite like it - animated or not."

(Dec. 23, 2006)

plaid interview (2006)

paprika review

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