Two boys, brothers named Black and White, live in Treasure Town, a district of an anonymous Asian megalopolis. When gangsters move in as part of the plans of a man known only as Snake, they try to stop him.

It seems a simple situation, but it's enough to hang a tale upon, and Tekkonkinkreet does this and more. This is a dazzling, visually stunning film, a joy to watch, at once allegory, future noir, gleeful fantasy, a tale of childhood and of good and evil, of morality and compromise, of fraternal bonds of all degrees and subtler natures.

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Tekkonkinkreet is based on Taiyo Matsumoto's manga, adapted by Anthony Weintraub and a directorial debut for Michael Arias, previously a special effects worker whose credits include Princess Mononoke and the Back to the Future ride.

Everything on film has ostensibly been placed with the consent of the director, but nowhere is this more true than animation. The scenes presented in Tekkonkinkreet are stunning, photo-realistic if not more so in places, in others vividly impressionistic, yet others like propaganda posters. Characters are drawn with enough detail for subtle characterisation, yet no more, simply drawn in a way that belies their sophistication. The backgrounds are deep, and convincing, with hidden treats in every frame.

The subtitling continues this trend of careful placement, seeming misspellings convey senses of slang and character that tone in foreign languages will struggle with. It's exacting, deliberate, but has the impression of accident and coincidence that informs the things seen with one's own eyes.

The city is drawn so stunningly that it's a pleasure to see it again behind the credits. Among these backgrounds, the characters and the 'camera' soar and bounce and wander, always convincing, always fascinating. Black's darker rival, the Minotaur, White's childish watercolours of imagination and the way they intrude into reality, Mister Snake's minions, Rat the Yakuza, Choco and his Apache droogs, ancillary characters, background detail, all produce a physicality, a sense of place and space that are so well drawn they seem more real even than reality.

These are not the only brilliant touches; the way the secret language of Snake's assassins is subtitled is perfect, and the profusion of cats and elephants around Treasure Town creates a sense of Asia without a specificity that would threaten the place drawn here with actual geography.

The soundtrack by English electro outfit Plaid is well fitted, at once futuristic and timeless, otherworldly and used well enough that it seems integral to our sense of Treasure Town, of Black and White's adventures.

The film isn't perfect - its final conflict is a little overlong, its resolution a tad overexplained, and no matter how perfect the subtitling and how many films have been ruined by dubbing the fact that it's in Japanese will put some off.

Tekkonkinkreet is beautiful, and ably uses its visual appeal in service of an exciting fable. Its characterisation is strong and moving, and while what it has to say about growing up and good and evil and friendship and brotherhood isn't anything terribly new, it does so so prettily, so inventively, that it cannot be faulted for trying.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2007
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Two young boys try to stop gangsters taking over their city.
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Director: Michael Arias

Writer: Anthony Weintraub, based on the comic by Taiyo Matsumoto.

Starring: Yû Aoi, Alex Fernandez, Yusuke Iseya, Kankurô Kudô, Sanchu Mori, Masahiro Motoki

Year: 2006

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: Japan

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