Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The eyes of an entire galaxy seem to be on Redline, a superturbocharged racing event featuring a disparate array of contenders. Notable among them is 25000-to-1 long-shot Sweet JP, a racer who had lost a qualifying event when his car exploded inches from the finish line. Like JP, whose youthful dreams of racing glory have been largely quashed by the criminal entanglements that have ensnared him, all of the Redline's competitors bring colorful and dangerous backstories to the event. And all of their dreams may end prematurely when Redline's unwilling host, the ruler of the militarized Roboworld, hires a psychotic colonel to annilihate all competitors.

Showing simultaneously in San Francisco with its Japanese premiere, Takeshi Koike's anime racing film is seamless, energizing, absurd, thoroughly entertaining, and completely uplifting. For all the insane details that are jammed into the film, its narrative line is surprisingly clean, hitting the beats well-established by other sports movies. Koike delivers a striking ensemble of colorful, driven characters (any of whom could hold the center of their own film), introducing each one and establishing their respective personalities, goals, and ambitions with efficiency and verve, giving each one focus and fleshing out a number of fantastic and bizarre subplots.

After the qualifying Yellowline event sets a high bar for action, Koike and his collaborators push the story and design of the film to more and more extreme and absurd realms. But the ongoing propulsive action never becomes numbing - it's so engaging that something in you seems to accelerate to accommodate the unique pulse of the unfolding spectacle. And yet the balance of the film's brief oases of quiet creates a powerful emotional stake in the action, and when the film finally reveals its romantic side, you're grabbed by the heart as strongly as the eyes.

So much contemporary cinema seems flaccid, sexless, joyless next to REDLINE. The film never flags, never cops out, and always has something batshit crazy and wonderful coming right up. The seven years the film spent in development were well spent, and yet it feels like it's inventing itself and exploding fresh before your very eyes.

ETA: From Anime News Network comes the welcome news that Manga Entertainment, clearly aware that they've got something special on their hands, are releasing the thing subtitled across the U.S. next year.

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