Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The Version is the 126 minute one in English. A much shorter one was released
in American theaters.
I, perhaps too often, complain about the unpleasing - to my eye - aesthetics
of American animation of the past 10-15 years. The Disney product in particular.
I hate the look of it – it is cookie cutter computer generated hack work.
When you read the reviews of them it is all about the story, characters and
dialogue (which can all be quite good) but rarely a mention of the actual
animation. This lack of artistic aesthetics is probably due to simple commercial
concerns – one of the prime segments of the audience are children who could
care less and the company wants to churn out a few of these a year because
they make gobs of money. This is in comparison to other animation from around
the world – such as the remarkable Loving Vincent or the subversive Tehran
Taboo or enchanting The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. All beautifully drawn
animation using various creative styles. For adults.
Steamboy is a remarkably ambitious animation that is at times dazzling in
its imaginative flights of fancy. It was ten years in the making from the
man who created Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo, with over 180,000 drawings. It is
really astonishing to think about. And it is all there to be seen on the
screen with panels filled with detail, so much movement at the same time
and a beautiful recreation of Victoria England. Yes, it may seem an odd choice
for a Japanese animator to place his story in England during the 1800’s but
that along with the technical aspects of the film places it into the Steampunk
genre of science fiction – literature or film.
The film does admittedly go on for too long and its frantic and frenetic
action is almost too much to take in but it is in its way an epic animation.
The first 30-minutes are breathtaking as we are introduced to the setting
– Manchester, England – during the Industrial Revolution brought about by
the invention and usage of steam power. It changed everything. It brought
along with it enormous wealth for some; dire poverty for many more; extreme
capitalism, a division between the rich and poor, a migration from rural
life to urban living, radical politics and ideas, the fate of nations, faster
transportation and other inventions that followed that rapidly changed the
way we live. Many historians consider the Industrial Revolution a landmark
and divide in the human race. Technology began to dominate everything over
time. And still does.
The year is 1851 with the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London to soon take
place. This was organized by Price Albert (husband to Queen Victoria and
father to all her many offspring who were to rule Europe) to bring all the
most recent technical advances from all over the world in one place for people
and nations to learn from one another. He was an idealist. Back in Manchester
Ray Steam receives a package from his grandfather who he has not seen in
many year as both he and Ray’s father have been off in search for an element
that can increase steam power dramatically. Inside the package is the Steam
Ball that can do this.
But the evil O’Hara Corporation wants it too in order to create a new age
of weapons and from that point on it is a grand series of Ray escaping from
them, being kidnapped by them, being reunited with his father who has gone
to the dark side, escaping again and so on with a constant barrage of steam
powered devices that allow one to fly, trains that can traverse without tracks,
submarines, steam troopers (very similar to storm troopers) and an instrument
of terror that can freeze a city. All very cool. The film is grounded though
in the generational conflict – the grandfather who sees the terrible side
of this technology, his son who has gone mad with ambition and thinks of
science as a God and the young boy who has love and loyalty to both but has
to choose where to stand.