17 December 2004 | colettesplace
An extraordinarily inventive depiction of an alternative 'steampunk' Victorian era, but plotwise, it's as vapid as anything produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
The latest film from the director of Akira, Katsuhiro Ôtomo, is a pacy thriller anime set in an alternate 1850s London, in the middle of the industrial age. Rai Steam is the third in a line of engineer inventors who dreams of going to the first ever Great Exhibition when his grandfather unexpectedly returns from the United States with an new invention, the steamball. About the size of a bowling ball, the steamball is a source of immense, self-renewing power and the people who funded the invention want it back at any price. Rai escapes on his steam-powered unicycle, and the race is on. On the way, he encounters a steam-powered cyborg, a giant steam-powered "Death Star" and a feisty, economic rationalist sidekick, the Gone With The Wind-inspired Miss Scarlett (Manami Konishi).
While the plot is nothing new and very much in the Hollywood thriller style, the inventiveness of the world Steamboy is set in is exhilarating. Imagine steam-powered individual submarines, flying machines and more, all drawn in painstaking detail with thousands of cogs and wheels all impacting on each other. Although some CGI is used, most of the film's made in the traditional anime style around 180 000 individual pictures were used to make Steamboy, and it shows.
Steamboy's a rip-roaring 'steampunk' piece of entertainment, complete with an insane despot who plans to take over the world. Although it's strange to see a film set in London where all the (Anglo) characters are speaking Japanese, it's best not to take Steamboy too seriously. Comic relief is provided by Miss Scarlett and Rai's grandfather, Loyd Steam (Katsuo Nakamura). Loyd Steam also speaks for the natural order, something that's often found in Japanese anime and was inspired by both the animist former national religion, Shinto, and the WWII atomic bombings. Unlike Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, however, it's barely touched on here. Steamboy succeeds because of the fantastic imagination behind the animation, not for its philosophy. ***½/***** stars.