Director: Michael Arias
Starring: Kazunari Ninomiya, Yû Aoi, Yûsuke Iseya, Kankurô Kudô, Min Tanaka, Rokurô Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura
Words – Joe H.
Tekkonkinkreet is based on the popular original Japanese manga series ‘Black & White‘, written by Taiyo Matsumoto. The title Tekkonkinkreet is a play on the Japanese words for ‘concrete’, ‘iron’ and ‘muscle’, referring here to the steel and concrete landscape in which this animated tale takes place.
The story follows two street orphans, ‘Black’ and ‘White’, who watch over Treasure Town – a decaying metropolis where life can be both gentle and brutal. The street-smart youngsters roam their territory like superpowered vigilante stray cats – the district is their playground – doing their best to defend it from different villains and factions vying for control to impose their own intentions on the district; from local gangs, to old-world Yakuza wanting to see a return to a time there once was, real-estate developers intent on raizing the district to the ground, and other-worldly assassins set loose to take the pair out of the equation, all threatening to destroy the very soul of the city.
As events unfold, we see an exploration of relationships with our two protagonists as well as in the opposing criminal mob, and how people can be inexplicably tied to a time and place. Stories intersect, as a metaphysical conclusion draws near in this tale of survival, deciding the fate of a city hanging on the brink of disaster.
At times this is a dark, bleak and brutally bloody tale, but delivers moments of tenderness as it explores the relationships between its characters and reveals something compelling. This is in no small part in turn to a key component of this film – its soundtrack.
Produced by British electronic music duo Plaid – who find their home on Warp Records among other long-standing artists such as Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin – the score serves the deeper themes of the film while driving the larger elements of the story. As the story begins, the music has an analogue, old-world feel, as we are introduced to Treasure Town and its inhabitants’ way of life in the opening scenes. As events develop, instrumentation gives way to a more modern sound of synths and breaks with futuristic electronica adding weight and momentum to action, while a more melancholy tone serves to carry the various internal and physical conflicts. As a metaphysical turn brings different elements of the story to a conclusion, a combining of the old and new forms take over, delivering a soothing and harmonious end.
The beauty of the visual landscape in this animation is only matched by its music – a soundtrack which elevates the events of the story, and exists with a life of its own beyond the confines of the film.
The debut directorial feature from Michael Arias – previously a co-producer of the Wachowskis’ animated anthology The Animatrix, along with previous credits including work as a visual effects artist on feature films such as The Abyss, and Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke – drawing on his background in animation and VFX to deliver a faultless blend of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.
A standout tale of conflict, relationships and resolution – touching upon faults in present-day society – presenting engaging child characters and a multifaceted action plot in a poetic and evocative story.