009 RE:Cyborg Cinema Review 2
Date: 2013 June 3rd Monday [14:58] | Posted By: Eeeper
We're not going to give you one, but two different takes on the latest anime cinema screening of 009 RE:Cyborg. We also have an interview with the film's director Kenji Kamiyama. Here's Eeeper's take on the title.
Working off the notion that all good remakes don't try and make sense of their origins, RE: Cyborg 009 is a fresh and funky look at a classic manga and anime. If you've ever read or watched Shotaro Ishinomori's original tale then you are missing out on a great thing. Despite having a cute exterior with cartoonish designs, Ishinomori's ideas in the background tackle things like racism, war, poverty and the brutal nature of the, then, growing military industrial complex that arose after the Second World War. Kenji Kamiyama's version takes all of these aspects and posits an interesting question? If after we stop fighting nations, ideologies and groups who is left to fight? Ourselves would be the main answer but what if it's not another person but our own values, beliefs and morals? While there is a definable enemy that the main heroes fight, the best way to describe them are antagonists who are created by the situation not by themselves.
For those who don't know anything about the original story, the main characters are a group of cyborgs created by the Skull and his Black Ghost organization to foster hatred and strife around the world. They all have different abilities (strength, shape changing, speed etc.) and are gathered (mostly against their will) from around the globe. After being surgically changed and having all these abilities, their names are erased and they are codenamed from the number 001 to 008.The team have just gotten their ninth member, Joe Shimamura who is literally thrown in after his surgery into the teams final testing period. At the last moment before they are deployed, one of the scientific team who built them, Dr. Gilmore, betrays Black Ghost and helps the team escape. Together they defeat Skull and his army along with some other foes along the way. Then the world turned, the Cold War ended and the team broke up into different groups and went their separate ways. Some stayed with Dr. Gilmore (or Professor in some translations) and some struck out on their own. Kamiyama's story takes place in the new millenium as if the events of the first series are canon and the reboot series never happened. In some ways, this is a smart move by keeping only the core story intact. But for newcomers to 009, this means some of the references fall flat. Having said that, who else other than Ishinomori's fans would be watching this?
Quite a lot, I have to say. Kamiyama wisely uses 3D CG rather than 2D animation for this movie and this gives 009 an edge over Japanese anime because it can be shown to younger fans and not be rejected as "urgh, old stuff". The animation is fluid and sharp and finally allows us to see how some of the cyborg's powers really work. The introduction of Joe (009) and his powers is amazing to watch as we see how Joe with his super speed views the world when he's going that fast and his fight with an opponent has him moving super slowly around while to the rest of the world, he's running around at blinding speed. In addition, the updated animation removes some of the cultural artifacts from Ishinomori's original piece. These elements have to do with the depiction of characters of African origin such as Pyunma (008) and Geronimo (005) which were drawn in a different and less sensitive time (for the record, Ishinomori always believed that people the world over were the same and held no racist ideology that we know of). Here they are changed to reflect a more open worldview. Kamiyama makes use of these updated designs by showing us the characters are more than building blocks to fashion a plot to but are as relevant as Joe or any other character is. The same goes for the rest of the team and I found myself seeing references to the older stories while learning new things about the characters. In terms of plot development, I would say this is as dense and compacted a story as a Tom Clancy political thriller novel with the tension being wound and unwound at the correct intervals. Also, Kamiyama introduces a fantastic element into it with the idea of indoctrinated suicide bombers. This is a really sensitive issue these days but the constant idea is that a person (unknown to authorities) is telling people to do things; bomb buildings, hijack planes and murder random people. Always the person in question will have no knowledge of having carried out these acts but will swear blind that He told them to do it. Joe is the member of the team who fall prey to this despite being a cyborg but after having this control over him, spends the rest of the film trying to understand what was the purpose of doing so. The notion of "He" is a major plot point and also, maddeningly, a major McGuffin. Who is He and what does He want? Interestingly the plot itself shows no idea of what He looks like, what is He's intentions (outside of bringing about the destruction of civilization) or even if He is good or bad. At the end of the film, I am still no closer to knowing who He is or was or even if He was an actual character. Kamiyama dually promotes the idea that He might be a construct of people's frustrations and an outlet for their desires while at the same time he makes us nervous to dismiss He as a construct and tackle the very real fear that the character is real and if that's the case, brings the battle the team wages to a whole other level.
I want to write now about the ending. The ending is one of the most interesting parts of the film. Suffice to say, Joe and the team have to stop a nuclear device from going off and killing millions of people and are in a race against time. But it's the very end of that part of the conflict and the epilogue afterwards that is so open to interpretation. Someone intervenes directly with Joe's life on the line. Or at least that is who Joe is speaking to when the intervention comes We are not told if this person or creature is there or but we know that this person may or may not be He. And it gives rise to an amazing conundrum: did the world get saved by people or by a higher power? Was the higher power a force charged with the moral force we identify as Good or by a power that actively plots our downfall? If it's the former then why did it put us to the test throughout the film only to save us? Also this interpretation means that we have have been judging the actions of terrorism and strife throughout the film as evil when in fact they could be viewed as necessary. If it's the latter then why did it save us? Françoise (003) tells Joe at the end of the film that it doesn't matter who saves or saved the world, just the fact that it gets saved is enough. In that, I understand what she was trying to explain to Joe. If you buy into the idea of it being us, as in the human race, then the notion here we are very capable of destroying or saving our world, we just have to choose to or not to. If it's a higher power then it can, if it wants to, treat us with the same manipulation or indifference that we extend to our fellow humans. I don't know which is the scarier thought. Does the ending bother me? No, not as much as I initially thought coming out of the cinema. Is the ending going to go down well with rational people? No but nor should it. I am a big believer in not explaining a story's motives with the audience so long as you respect them enough to give them all the data and let them decide for themselves. In that, RE: Cyborg 009 does a good job and should be commended for respecting the audience enough to confuse them but leave them to make up their own minds about it. I know films should and are supposed to treat audiences like that but it happens so rarely these days that 009 shouldn't be punished for being the token film of the year doing this.
Finally I wanted to write about how much I liked the interactions between the characters on the team. As I said before the lesser shown squad members are treated with respect and flourish under Kamiyama's pen. But the rivalry between Joe (009) and Jet Link (002) is a wonderful thing to watch. Initially it's treated as a macho testosterone thing with Jet leaving the team because he perceives Joe as getting the most attention. But as the film goes on, we find that ideologically Joe and Jet are cut from the same cloth but that Jet had to go his own way to find this out. Their resolution was interesting and adult. And I have to say that the level of maturity with the relationship between Joe and Françoise was a blast to watch. It is nice to see Kamiyama continuing to depict strong female characters with their own sense of self and sexuality that shows them as equals to male characters and not just keep the home fires burning in their execution. I always thought there was something going on between Joe and Françoise but this film didn't strip away the ambiguity around them, rather deepened and strengthened it. So much is not said between them and yet is expressed by them. People who don't know anything about the characters will see two mature people as they try and make sense of the crisis while catching up with each other and where their relationship lies. Fans will see the evolution of two people who started out in a black and white graphic novel being depicted as super hero sweethearts with 60's innocence and are now two grownups in full colour who know how the other feels and don't need to send guess the others feelings. Was it accidental that I saw where they started and where they are now as of this film and thought that?
This film is not going to go down well with everyone but then again, I wouldn't want it to. It's a remake that actually understands the point of remakes which is to make the best bits of the original the most important elements of a new story while showing the things that are relevant then are still relevant now. The ending will divide but won't cause people to doubt the sanity of someone an opposing view. I can't wait to own this on blu ray when it comes out this year.