Screenplay : Asami Watanbe, Nanase Ohkawa, Rintaro
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2000
Like many Japanese anime films, Rintaro's "X" is a visually extravagant, exhilarating explosion of animation that makes absolutely no sense. The storyline is secondary to the visuals, and if the visuals weren't so impressive, that might be a detriment. However, "X" is inventive enough in its visual pyrotechnics that it remains fascinating throughout, even when you don't have the vaguest notion of what is happening on-screen.
The film takes place in Tokyo in 1999, which has been declared "The Year of Destiny," the year in which the final battle to determine the fate of the world is to begin. This fate rests on the shoulders of young Tomokazu Seki (Kamui Shirô), who must decide the future of the human race. Essentially, he must choose between two battling armies: the Dragons of the Heavens, who want to preserve humankind at all costs, and the Dragons of Earth, who want to obliterate the human race to create a better universe in which nature can prosper. Intertwined within this conflict are two sisters, Hinoto and Kanoe, who can predict the future. Each sister has predicted a different future, and therefore attempts to manipulate events in order to guarantee that her particular vision is realized.
"X" was actually made and released in Japan back in 1996, and is only now finding its way to the United States. Based on a manga (Japanese comic) of the same name, "X" is somewhat unique because, in a typically male-dominated arena, it is one of the few anime films to initially created by an all-female team. The story was conceived and designed by Clamp, four women animators who run an all-female animation studio in Japan. Whether one can discern from the final product that it was produced mostly by women is debatable; I suppose someone with a great deal of experience in anime might notice subtle differences, especially the more pronounced female roles within the narrative. The film is certainly marked by a slower pace than most anime films, and some have even gone so far as to compare it to European art films.
However, much of "X" is like traditional anime. Unlike animation in the U.S., Japanese animation is freer to tackle mature subject matter and complex themes. "X," like many anime films, is obsessed with the end of the world, and is replete with images of apocalyptic doom. It is also peppered with bizarre-yet-fascinating dream sequences; parts of which are surreal to the point of incoherence (hence the comparison to European art films). As a matter of fact, the film opens in the middle of a dream dripping in symbolism, in which Kamui imagines his mother pulling a bloody sword from her naked abdomen. The film abounds with striking images, many of which are the result of impressive computer animation.
The film was directed by Rintaro, an anime director with 30 years of experience. "X" was his first feature-length film since 1985's "The Dagger of Kamui," but there is little evidence to suggest that he has lost his touch. "X" is a particularly detailed film, especially in the futuristic conception of Tokyo, which is credited to art director Shuh-ichi Hirata ("Ghost in the Shell").
While I have never been keen on the anime style of depicting human faces--I have always thought that the unnaturally large eyes, pointy chins, and tiny mouths were more bizarre than entrancing--I do recognize that one of anime's primary strengths is atmosphere, especially its ability to project realistic futures that feel as tangible as anything I have seen on-screen. Like the vibrant neo-Tokyo in "Akira" (1988)--which is widely considered one of the best anime films ever made, both stylistically and thematically--the futuristic vision of Tokyo in "X" is a living entity that gives the otherwise amorphous narrative a firm grounding.
Overall, "X" is a notable addition to the ever-expanding anime film canon. It doesn't offer anything particularly new, but what it does, it does very well. With its astounding visual style and hyper-saturated narrative, "X" should please anime aficionados while also functioning as a good starting place for anyone who has never experienced a full-length anime film.
Copyright © 2000 James Kendrick