Steamboy, the long-awaited follow-up from the Director of Akira, features stunning animation and exciting action, but fails to surprise.

SteamboyIt occurred to me sometime during Steamboy, that we in the West have a lot to answer for. Japanese culture seems mired in one event – the use of nuclear weapons against them in 1945 – and so much of their cultural expression is focused on energy, its use, and the ethics surrounding that. I wonder if Japan will ever recover from the psychic blow inflicted upon it? It is only 60 years, but it seems almost all of their artistic endeavours are still taken up with this one theme. This may well be an outsiders view only, and I hope I’m wrong, as it seems an awful shame to have a nation’s very soul in such ongoing pain.

Given that Steamboy follows the well-worn Japanese path of exploring the issues surrounding power – who controls it, who should it benefit, how should it be used, and what does it mean? – is it different or interesting in its own right? Yes, and no. The drama, played out within the Steam family, Grandfather, son and grandson, is at times interesting, but also at times a little unbelievable. There is no real sense of the family bond, and this sometimes feels artificial.

What does work is the animation – it is earth-shatteringly good. The Triplets of Belleville featured a certain style, with deliberately muted colours, but gorgeous backgrounds, and Steamboy is similar in many ways. The colours are dark and foreboding, but the settings, the skies particularly, are absolutely incredible. It is almost impossible to accept they are animations, they are so beautiful.

There are moments of humour, a few real laughs, but also a darkness and menace. The depictions of the arms race, and the clamouring generals of the worlds armies is spot on.

Steamboy is very enjoyable, if a little repetitive, with the philosophical points being really drummed in, but certainly worth seeing, if only for the skies.

Rating: 3 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 1st January 1970
Hoopla Factor: 3 stars

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