Nerve Centre: Fanomenon – Leeds International Film Festival – Part One: Asura, Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning

Asura Fanomenon leeds international film festival 2

Fanomenon Anime day at the 26th Leeds International Film Festival provides one of those all-too-rare opportunities to catch anime on the big screen. Anime is still perceived as a niche market, and even arthouse cinemas seem reticent to promote it properly. Unfortunately, Sunday’s event probably didn’t help our case, as barely fifty aficionados turned up and rattled round a space designed to hold many times that number. A little foresight from the organisers might have helped, as the square fronting the Town Hall – admittedly a fabulous venue, well-suited to anime’s singular charm, was simultaneously host to the city’s Remembrance Day parades.

Fanomenon leeds international film festival

I overheard one couple saying a number of people they knew had been put off by potential disruption to the public transport. Perhaps the organisers felt the difficulties travelling and finding a safe car park that would remain open until late, wouldn’t put off die-hard fans, but it clearly did. It certainly contributed to curtailing my stay, and I was only able to see three of the five films on offer. Help and advice on the festival website regarding these issues would have been welcomed but was sadly missing. This was a shame, because not only were all five films enjoying their English premier, but anime itself is, frankly, built for the big screen. It was seeing Spirited Away at Liverpool’s FACT that turned me into a fan in the first place.

Spirited away sen under water

The five films on offer were Asura, Wolf Children, Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning, and the first two films of the new Berserk: The Golden Age trilogy. What follows (over the course of this 2 part article) are reviews of Asura, Tiger & Bunny and Wolf Children.

Asura

Asura Fanomenon leeds international film festival

Asura and Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning, are directed by Keiichi Satou. They couldn’t be more different. Asura is a tragic horror story based on George Akiyama’s Manga of the same name. Its focus is the turning point in the life of a vicious cannibal child. Illiterate, devoid of language and conscience, he haunts a world tormented by floods and famine and severe winters, peopled by starving peasant farmers and governed by a corrupt squire. The opening scenes leave us in no doubt of the path of Asura’s life, or so we believe: having survived a murder attempt by his starving mother, he develops into a wizened joke of an eight-year-old, with a sunken, somnambulistic gaze and a wicked set of teeth, well-suited to biting off chunks of human flesh.

A travelling Buddhist monk, and the narrator of this sorry tale, meets and partially tames this little beast-child. Naming him Asura, the monk teaches him a sutra in return for food. So begins a slow process towards self-awareness and rehabilitation. Later, the virtuous young Wakasa hides Asura after his initial brush with the vicious squire, and he learns to articulate his desires and feelings through his love for her.

Asura is a name given to one of the four unhappy births in Buddhism. It symbolises a human beset by monstrous, violent urges. The partially-enlightened Asura becomes a mouthpiece for the valley’s pain, as well as his own. At one point, he wails to the monk that he wishes he’d never existed, that having a conscience is too much of a burden in such a harsh landscape. It’s a visceral and heart-breaking moment among many, beautifully written and drawn, and reflects the human condition in extremis. The cruel twists of fate that pepper the film feel inevitable and horribly ironic. But there are also moments – however fleeting – of real beauty, and it’s these moments, often presented in the face of the characters’ worst, even fatal mistakes, that fuse with the bloody dealings to produce something wholly poignant.

Asura is an immensely rewarding film that deserves attention.

5/5 Nerds

 nerd like you nerds 5

Below is the official synopsis and trailer:

Mid-15th century Japan. Flood, drought and famine have transformed the landscape of the capital of Kyoto into a barren wasteland. More than 80,000 have perished in the three years between 1459 and 1461. This desolate state served as the backdrop to the beginning of the country’s greatest civil war. The victims of this dark period in Japan’s history were too great in number to include in the pages of history. Orphaned as an infant after his mother tries to eat him alive, Asura is forced to learn the means to survive in the wild.

 

Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning

Tiger and Bunny Fanomenon Leeds International Film Festival

By contrast, Satou’s other film, Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning, is a slice of brash, brightly-coloured fluff, played for laughs and little else. Japan’s animation industry is famed for producing a superior grade of fluff (K-On, FLCL and Baccano are three fabulous examples), but I’m afraid that Tiger & Bunny is not in this league. It’s not even close.

The animation is fine, ditto the quality of drawing. The beefcakes are amusingly stupid (main character Wild Tiger’s inept attempt at changing into his superhero costume while driving raised a smile), the heroines are ironic and busty, and the cute-girl characters are undeniably cute. The action is frenetic. The backgrounds shine with many coloured lights. And yet the whole thing lacks zip and panache. The characters are burdened with lazy back stories or no back stories at all, and clichés abound: the mincing drag queen playing for laughs, the earnest yet clumsy hero trying to live up to his dead wife’s ideals, the brooding young man wishing to avenge his parent’s brutal deaths…

It’s about as engaging as an episode of Burst Angel. I don’t mind an episodic structure, but the episodes bare no relation to each other and fail to give the characters any room to manoeuvre. I kept thinking, what’s the point of this? Such is the nature of prequels. Perhaps a fan of the series might find some relevance, but I’m afraid I struggled.

2/5 Nerds
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Below is the official synopsis and trailer:

In an alternate New York, the hugely popular ‘Hero TV’ broadcasts the daring feats of the city’s most famous superheroes, rating their achievements and awarding points until an annual King of Heroes is crowned. Known for careless property damage in the line of duty, unpopular veteran Wild Tiger is assigned a new partner by his corporate sponsors. The twenty-five-year-old ‘Super Rookie’ and they instantly clash over their conflicting opinions on how a superhero should behave, until a super-powered homicidal vigilante presents them with a far more serious problem.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this Fanomenon madness… (it will be published tomorrow).

Image source: Leeds Town HallSpirited Away, Asura, Asura 2, Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning

Luke Oldale

Luke is a writer, artist and musician who is very nerdy about anime.

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