20 July 2002 | erebus53
Great production values... pity about the plot.
Spriggan is an animé action film of extreme proportion. With production supervised by Katsuhiro Ôtomo (director of Akira), this is not surprising. Our main character is Yu Ominae, a 17 year old special operative, code named Spriggan. The story is one of warring covert government factions as they race to take possession of "Noah's Ark", an ancient artifact with immense power.
All this seems simple enough. Yu is the stereotypical action hero; he catches swords with his bare hands, dispatches "bad guys" without flinching, sustains near mortal injuries and still manages to hurl abuse at his oppressors, and yet, still swerves to avoid hitting innocent pedestrians. Our bad guys include a big guy with body armour and replacement cybernetics with a very, very large gun, a small guy who is fast and also cybernetically enhanced, and a mysterious, small boy.
Spriggan is based on a comic that ran in Shonen Magazine in Japan between 1989 and 1996. As such it has a following in Japan, but in the west (where it was known by the title "Striker") it has very few fans, as distribution of Japanese manga and animé is only now beginning to pick up.
As far as production values are concerned, Spriggan is a showcase of modern cinematic animé. Huge rotoscoped panoramas form gorgeous backdrops for scenes such as a car chase through the streets of Turkey and you feel a true sense of immersion in flurries of mountaintop snow. What little CG there is, is integrated fluidly and adds to the film, unlike in many other productions where it may distract the viewer. The score is brilliant and the 5.1 surround mix caught me off guard. A couple of times I caught myself turning to see if there was someone behind me.
I am generally a fan of subtitled animé, so I watched it in this form first. It is interesting to note that in most animé the character animation is done before the voices are added. However, in this production (as it was a cinema release), the voices for the Japanese tracks were recorded first and then the animation was made around those tracks, much in the same way Disney movies are made. Now this may bode poorly for the English dub, as the mouths instead of flapping open and closed are actually forming the shapes of words, yet great care and attention has been put into the English dub. In places the English track is a lot more plausible than the Japanese... it makes more sense that folks at the Pentagon sound like Americans. Had I my way I would change languages tracks part way through so that the English stuff is in English and the scenes set in Japan were in Japanese (more like in Blood: The Last Vampire) but that is just me being finicky. (If you get a chance to see the DVD you may want to check out the ADR team's commentary.)
I feel that Spriggan is a film that has used mythology from other cultures and Christianity (in much the same way as Neon Genesis: Evangelion) to make the plot seem more interesting and arcane to a Japanese audience. The word Spriggan describes a faerie from Cornish mythology, with an ugly visage, large head and small body, and a penchant for stealing babies and replacing them. This draws some symbolic similarities to the main character as he is a character of power in a small body who was "adopted" by his organisation at a young age. I don't know how readily Americans will receive this film, as it portrays the American government in a bad light and says blatantly that the Christian Bible is wrong.
Spriggan has a running time of 90 minutes. The first 60 of those play pretty much as a stereotypical action/adventure flick, but at about 60 minutes it starts getting weird. All of a sudden the plot moves from high action to metaphysical stuff and that may leave the viewer behind or feeling a little disjointed. During this section are some pretty cool visuals but to my mind the plot falls flat on its face. It seems that the film has fallen into the old animé trap of freaky villains and blood-spattered heroes yelling at each other for a bit, having their final confrontation, barely tying up the loose ends of the plot and then the bad guy threatens that there will be a sequel.
In overview, I'd say that this is a technical film enthusiast's dream, not for kids, a good film for action buffs and a poor one for people who like good drama. So, to quote Douglas Adams: "Ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking".