Dir: Shinji Aramaki. Japan. 2013. 115mins
An exciting and epic 3D motion-capture animation, the Japanese film Harlock: Space Pirate is a lavish and thrilling feast for anime fan-boys who won’t be put off by the massively complex and overly cheesy dialogue but simply embrace the spectacular effects, super snug leather outfits and culty space adventure with a Green message.
The fantasy action is very well handled, and while it could do with a few more moments of humour as a tale of fighting for freedom and a commentary on how Earth has been ruined but can be regenerated the film offers a good deal of frantic sci-fi entertainment.
Directed by a whole lot of style by Shinji Aramaki (who made hit anime Appleseed), this 3D tale is an updating of Leiji Matsumoto’s 1977 manga-turned-television series Harlock, and while it will be a must for manga and anime fans whether it could cross over into the mainstream is another matter.
In terms of fights, space-battles, dynamic heroes and sinister villains it has it all…what weighs it down (especially in terms of reaching a non fan-boy youth audience) is the complex core story about dark matter (much mentioned in Star Trek, but equally as undecipherable) and the films proclivity for lines such as ‘activate the Jovian accelerator’, ‘prepare to enter the IN-skip’ and the like…the technical jargon simply over-eggs an already busy sci-fi pudding.
The Japanese language version is being screened at film festivals – such as Venice and Abu Dhabi, with an English language version for international markets understood to be being readied.
Opening on-screen text explains the background to this universe. As Earth’s resources ran dry the human race left looking for new planets to colonise, but a movement to head back to the homeworld sets in motion the Homecoming War. The ruling Gaia Coalition declares Earth off-limits, but their rule is challenged by immortal pirate Captain Harlock (voiced by Shun Oguri), who defies authority for generations.
Gaia military leader Ezra (Toshiyuki Morikawa) send his brother Logan (Haruma Miura) to infiltrate the Harlock’s legendary pirate ship the Arcadia (a massive craft with a phallic death’s head prow and belching black smoke in its wake) and kill the Captain. But as he comes to understand Harlock’s plans to regenerate Earth he comes to realise the Coalition is not what it appears to be.
Side characters include feisty female warrior Kei (Miyuki Sawashiro), who takes a shine to Logan (and also features in sexy and completely superfluous shower scene); ethereal willowy alien Mimay (Yu Aoi), who floats about offering Harlock advice, and a long-necked bird creature named Tori, who in clichéd pirate fashion sits on Harlock’s shoulder (one should add Harlock also sports an eye patch, facial scars and wields a cutlass).
The fantasy action is very well handled, and while it could do with a few more moments of humour as a tale of fighting for freedom and a commentary on how Earth has been ruined but can be regenerated the film offers a good deal of frantic sci-fi entertainment. Granted the plot is a bit too labyrinthine and overly tech-heavy, but it looks great and in my book any films with Space Pirates should really be celebrated.
Production companies: Toei Co., Toei Animation, Marza Animation Planet production
International sales: GFM Films, www.gfmfilms.co.uk
Producers: Yoshi Ikezawa, Rei Kudo, Joseph Chou
Executive producers, Katsuhiro Takagi, Keishi Nakayama, Kozo Morishita, Shinji Shimizu, Hisao Oguchi, Hiromi Kitazaki, Koichi Fukazawa.
Screenplay: Harutoshi Fukui, Kiyoto Takeuchi, based on a story by Fukui, and based on characters and stories created by Leiji Matsumoto
Editor: Ryuji Miyamura
Production designers: Shinji Usui, Nobuhito Sue, Shinji Aramaki, Daisuke Matsuda, Hiroaki Kusano, Hideyuki Matsumoto
Music: Tetsuya Takahashi
Main cast: (voices) Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura, Yu Aoi, Arata Furuta, Ayano Fukuda, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Maaya Sakamoto, Miyuki Sawashiro, Chikao Ohtsuka.