Tag Archives: Haruko movie reviewer

“Redline” — Speed Racer on steroids and the slow, sad death of an amazing art form

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“Redline” is one of the most technically amazing and wildest films I’ve ever seen. It is also a mostly unknown film outside of Japan.

Redline took an amazing seven years to make. Why did it take so long? Because it contains more than 100,000 individually hand-drawn cells. That’s 100,000 different paintings done … by hand.

Redline 1That right there explains why hand-drawn animation is a dying art form; Pixar and DreamWorks using computer power can crank out two or three feature films a year. Pixar movies are cute and there’s no questioning the quality of the work done on these computer-animated films. But it’s still kind of sad to see hand-drawn animation slowly fading. It’s nearly gone in the U.S. Even a lot of the animation you see on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon is actually computer animation made to look hand-drawn.Redline 11

Hand-drawn animation is simply hard, grueling, time- and labour-intensive compared to what you can do with computers. Where hand-drawn animation is staying alive is in Japan (and even in Japan computer animation is slowly taking over.).

Which brings us to “Redline.” The work on “Redline” began way back in 2003. The movie was delayed several times and was not released until 2010. (I’ve tried to find out how well it did in Japan, but information about it is limited.). It saw a limited release in the U.S., but has gained a cult following through people renting or buying the DVDs or watching it online.

Redline24It was the first full-length feature film made by Takeshi Koike (the only other thing of his I’ve seen is the opening animation to Samurai Champloo and a segment of “Animatrix” called “World Record.” When I first saw “Redline,” I was immediately reminded of that chapter from Animatrix and figured it had to be the same animator. His style is quite unique and unlike anything else you see in anime.).Redline 12

It is an absolutely visual feast and one the strangest and most unique anime you’ll ever see. Very much like a Hiyao Miyazaki movie, you can watch the film a couple of dozen times and see things you didn’t catch before. An anime technique, which was originally done to save money but became a staple of the anime ethos, is the use of still-frame. Long, still close-ups of characters with little or no movement was done to cut costs to begin with, but it became a source of dramatic tension the anime world.Redline 22

There’s none of that in “Redline.” In virtually every frame, there is a ton of movement, not only from the main characters, but in the background. Constant, non-stop movement both in the forefront and the background is the staple of this film. It’s simply mind-blowing to watch this 105-minute film (and that’s short by Japanese standards) and to think, “my goodness, this is ALL hand-drawn?” It just doesn’t seem possible.Redline 21

“Redline” takes place in an alien world in which racers compete in tricked-out vehicles in no-holds-barred races without rules or boundaries. There are few traditional anime-appearing characters. Most of the characters are odd-looking aliens. The main character, J.P., looks like a rockabilly reject from the 1950s and doesn’t look like anything you would see in most anime (I’ve been told he somewhat resembles a character called Space Dandy, but I’ve never seen that old anime.).Redline 18

The closest any character comes to appearing like a traditional anime is a woman driver named Shonosee McClaren. (Big eyes and of course amply bosomed — there is the almost obligatory nude fanservice scene with Shonosee. You see so much of this is Japanese anime, you just kind of become numb to the inherent sexism there, like why is she the only character we get to see nude. It’s simply part of the ingrained culture of anime and I don’t try to defend it. It’s from Japan and it is what it is.)Redline 15

The film borrows heavily from a number of other anime and even some non-anime films. There are scenes which will make you think of “Speed Racer,” though it’s a massively bulked up version of that ancient anime. Shonosee even drives a car that looks a little bit like the Mach 5 from “Speed Racer.”

The races also reminded me of the pod races from Star Wars I; there’s scenes that harken to the “Road Warrior.” The character of “Funky Boy” a giant, grotesque biological weapon, reminded me of both the mutant Tetsuo in “Akira” and the Giant Warrior of “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” The mutant monster that Col. Volton becomes reminded me of the gluttonous No Face from “Spirited Away.”

Redline 7Another character, Old Man Mole reminded me of the six-armed character Kamaji from “Spirited Away” (At this point, I was expected the soot balls from “Spirited Away” to show up.) The floating laser cannons reminded me of the diamond star gates of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” There’s a battle scene that reminded me of the big opening battle scene from Star Wars III.

I don’t think all of these reminders were by accident. One could accuse “Redline” of being derivative, but I love homages and “Redline” throws so many homages out there that it doesn’t feel like it’s simply ripping off older films. It just feels like part of the over-the-top, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe to the whole film.

Redline 2“Redline” is not an especially deep or ponderous movie. In the end, it’s simply a silly, weirded-out space race movie, and it’s bloody fun to watch. The fact that this film took seven years to make doesn’t bode well I think for the continuation of hand-drawn animation. The future has arrived and films like “Redline” will become more and more a rarity.

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Redline has been pulled from YouTube for copyright infringement. Here are some AMVs:

Happy Easter — Jesus Christ Superstar (angels with white afros and go go boots!)

Happy Easter — Jesus Christ Superstar, an amazing and controversial rock opera made by an agnostic Canadian (that everyone thinks is Jewish but isn’t)

40 years ago, an amazing film was made deep in the Israeli desert a few months before the Yom Kippur War. I’m blown away at the ties between this opera and Deep Purple, hockey, Walt Disney, Evita Peron and Murray Head!

Jesus Christ Superstar was made by an amazing and underrated Canadian director, Norman Jewison. He has a Jewish sounding name, but he’s actually Episcopalian and has claimed that isn’t a very devout person. In fact, in his large body of films, only one or two really deal with spirituality in any sense.

His body of work is spectacular and deal with everything from racism to corruption to the glorification of violence. Here is a short list of films that he made — The Cincinnati Kid, Heat of the Night, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, … And Justice for All, Agnes of God, Moostruck and Other People’s Money. Probably his most famous film came after Jesus Christ Superstar, an extremely controversial indictment of hockey and corporations. It’s not Slap Shot. Can you guess what it is?

Jesus Christ Superstar, based on the stage play, was filmed entirely in the deserts of Israel in Negev, Avdat and the Dead Sea, a few miles from the Egyptian border (though Israel at the time controlled the entire Sinai).

Norman Jewison was an extremely hot director who had hit after hit. His last film had been Fiddler on the Roof, about Jews in Ukraine (further deepening everyone’s conviction Jewison was actually Jewish).

He was not a religious man, but people involved with Fiddler on the Roof asked Jewison to make a film version of Jesus Christ Superstar. Jewison at first was reluctant, but after listening to the album, agreed to do it.

Jesus Christ Superstar was the third musical penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Their first play was something no one’s ever heard of (written when Webber was only 17), but their second musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, likewise based on the Bible, was a big hit, and is still in production today. Amazingly, Webber was only 22 when he wrote the music for Jesus Christ Superstar. Rice was only 25 when he wrote the lyrics.

Of course, everyone knows Webber went on to write Evita!, Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for Evita!, later wrote the lyrics for Chess (with Murray Head) and then wrote the lyrics for several stage productions based on Disney cartoons (The Lion King, The Beauty and the Beast).

Jesus Christ Superstar was a perfect storm of talent. An astonishingly young and athletic cast and playwrights, being put in the hands of an established Hollywood director at the height of his powers. I don’t know why, I’ve never liked Godspell, but I love this opera. Jewison’s production has some weird quirks in it that are fun — Chromed helmets for the Romans, tanks, tinted glasses for King Herod, and of course, white afro wigs and go go boots for angels.

Stealing the film is the very athletic Carl Anderson, a fantastic singer who had some minor hits in the 70s. However, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar was his biggest role. He returned to the role many times over well into the the early 2000s. Unfortunately, he died of leukemia in 2004.

The play and film are controversial for many reasons, but the biggest reason is its sympathetic treatment of Judas. Judas is portrayed as Christ’s muse, his inner conscience, attempting to steer Christ in the right direction and deeply distraught over the growing cult surrounding him. “You’ve begun to matter more than the words you say,” Judas implores Christ in the opening song, “Heaven on Their Minds.” The cult of Jesus becomes more alarming a few numbers later in “Simon Zealotes” (where the term Zealot comes from), where Simon urges Jesus to lead his followers into war against Rome.

Judas was also controversial because Carl Anderson is black. Why was a black man cast as one of the most evil men in the Bible. Either Tim Rice or Webber supposedly said, “because he gave the best audition.”
Ian Gillan played Christ on stage, and Jewison wanted him for the film. But, Gillan was also the lead singer of Deep Purple and they were in the middle of a worldwide tour, so instead, they turned to Gillan’s understudy, Ted Neeley. Like Anderson, Neeley essentially made his career on Jesus Christ Superstar, returning to the role many times in several revivals.

You might recognize two of the songs from the musical. The overture “Jesus Christ Superstar” is very familiar, and was even used on a TV show for a while about athletes competing in silly games for prize money. The song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was a minor pop hit in the early 70s, and while the context was about loving Christ, it could also be interpreted as someone not knowing how to love in a relationship.

My favourite numbers are Heaven on Their Minds, Simon Zealotes, Jesus Christ Superstar, Damned for All Time, The Temple and Lepers and Gethsemane (Ted Neeley hits some serious high notes here, for a guy who was supposedly an understudy.), where Jesus expresses his doubt and frustration with God.

Jesus Christ Superstar was very successful. It was the eighth-largest grossing movie of 1973 (in today’s dollars and ticket prices, would have made well over $100 million). Jewison made an even more successful movie in 1975. He was disgusted with the violence of hockey (and if you think hockey today is violent, it was really bad in the 70s and 80s), and wrote a science fiction screenplay about a corporate-run orgy of violence, called “Rollerball.” I’ve always thought it was funny that Jewison went from making a movie about Jews in Ukraine to Jesus Christ, to one of the most violent movies ever made at the time, but that’s how incredibly versatile he was.

So, Jesus Christ Superstar.

You don’t have to believe. Just listen to the performances and watch the amazing choreography.

[Poop, I discovered that several weeks ago, several of these videos had been removed from YouTube. They were HQ videos and had been posted by the same person. Perhaps there were some copyright issues. I was able to cobble together videos from most of the various numbers, but the quality varies from video to video now. Oh, well.]