Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fist of the North Star: The Movie (1986)

Fist of the North Star: The Movie (1986)

May 12th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Fist of the North Star has achieved something of a legendary status among the first wave of more adult themed Japanese animation that hit the United States in the 1980’s and perhaps more so in the UK where the feature film was among one of the first anime videos commercially sold. It has a strange, psychedelic and ultra-violent aesthetic. Through television series, manga, original video animations and a feature film, the franchise continues to grow. Beginning in 1983, the manga created the basic story and tone all other installments would come to follow. In the year 199X nuclear war destroys most of humanity, among the survivors is a man called Kenshiro, the heir to an unbeatable martial art that can explode the insides of its victims with the slightest touch.

This film is more or less a retelling of the first story arc of the manga and anime. Kenshiro is betrayed and maimed by a former friend. Left for dead, he survives and goes on a quest to get his kidnapped girlfriend back. The mostly silent protagonist hooks up with two children who live troubled lives and come to rely on him. But knowing the premise is nothing towards understanding what makes Fist of the North Star tick.

One answer to this is that it takes a lot of cues from the 152 episode anime. Because of budgetary constraints, the anime had to resort to some unusual means in creating its visual effects. These included filming through a fish tank and slamming ink violently between two sheets of paper among many others. Before long it had acquired an incredibly distinctive look. Perspectives were also frequently played around with. Characters could go from normal to giant in comparison to other characters’, frequently mirroring power relationships such as events seen from the eyes of the children were darker and more monstrous. The film also acquired an environmentalist message that is sometimes lost in its narrative insanity.

Outside of Japan, Fist of the North Star has always attracted attention including American and South Korean live action versions. But it is the cathartic simplicity of a world of madness where might is the only right and events take on a dream like quality that brings viewers back again and again.

Japan, Director Toyoo Ashida, Cast Akira Kamiya, Yuriko Yamamoto, Mie Suzuki, Kenji Utsumi and Toshio Furukawa, 110 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles

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