Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Tsukahara creates an immersive and vivid world both in the present and the past." | Photo: Shigeyoshi Tsukahara/Twin Engine Inc.

There’s never a dull moment in this animation from Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, which mixes a detective story with an exuberant tale of a city’s mysterious underbelly all presented with steampunk verve. Imagination is at play to such an extent that Tsukahara struggles to contain all of the various moving parts, which also feature flashbacks, within an hour-long running time but the end result is never less than enjoyable even if it is unruly.

The story centres on a detective named Sotaro (Hakuzan Kanda). Business is slow for him and money tight, even though he has just located a missing parrot, because the client who hired him has disappeared, meaning he can’t pay his young informant Saki. When a journalist tells Sotaro about a mysterious string of tram disappearances, he enlists the help of Saki (Yū Serizawa) to go into the subterranean maze of railway tunnels beneath the city to look for clues known as “the Dark”.

All of this is just the beginning of the intricately woven tale which Tsukahara develops that will see Sotaro soon enter the Dark, where he will find himself not only hunting Saki but also embroiled in a turf war with a gang known as the Laughing Masks, an enigmatic police unit and a demonic train - there’s even a kudo fox spirit animal or two thrown in for good measure.

The narrative arrives in large chunks of spoken exposition and includes a complicated subplot concerning Sotar’s childhood, but even as that begins to feel increasingly hurried and overwhelming the animation is never less than beautiful. Tsukahara creates an immersive and vivid world both in the present and the past. His trains, many of which run about on legs, are ageworn and sturdy and his explosions spectacularly cinematic but he also spends time on the small atmospheric details, such as a can rolling away or chopsticks picking up sushi. Meanwhile, in the childhood flashbacks, there’s a noirish melancholy as the characters appear almost, but not quite, like shadow puppets.

Kurayukaba, which showed at Fantasia, feels like the tip of the iceberg of Tsukahara’s talents. He raised much of the money for this film from crowdfunding and it’s plain to see that with a bigger budget that would offer a bigger canvas to more fully and gradually explore his ideas, he is likely to become an animation force to be reckoned with.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2023
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A detective heads into a city's maze-like underbelly on a case.

Director: Shigeyoshi Tsukahara

Writer: Shigeyoshi Tsukahara

Starring: Hakuzan Kanda, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Raikou Sakamoto

Year: 2023

Runtime: 62 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2023

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