"Fuck this! They're just too fast."
-The baddies of Roboworld wowed by the extreme speed of the RedLine racers-
You may not actually see the name Yoshiaki Kawajiri in the sleeve credits of the electrifying uber-race film RedLine (2009) by director Takeshi Koike, but his stamp or influence is all over this film.
Jumping ahead a bit on our analysis of all things Kawajiri it's worth noting that motorheads who love the energy of a stellar, out-of-this-world (literally) race film would be wise to take note of RedLine.
Rule breaker Kawajiri has made a career of taking us to the edge and over the cliff with amplified sex and ultra violence in big heaps of graphic visual detail, but he always had a story to tell too. It's true that Kawajiri was a key animator on RedLine (as he was on 2001's Metropolis for Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo) and thereby had a direct influence on the film stylistically, but it's also clear that Koike, a young upstart certainly took a few cues from the great director and emulates the look of many of Kawajiri's hyper-stylized, hyper-violent, but beautiful visuals to hostile, gritty but often picturesque worlds.
Kawajiri was the auteur behind such classic films as Wicked City (1987), Demon City Shinjuku (1988), Ninja Scroll (1993) here, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) as well as the sci-fi cyberpunk thriller OVA Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990). Kawajiri also contributed The Running Man to short film anthology Neo Tokyo (1987) here not to mention a segment for The Animatrix (2003) collection produced by the then Wachowski brothers (Larry turned Lana is no longer a brother).
Still, this is very much Koike's film and he carries the Kawajiri torch when it comes to painstaking, extreme quality. Every Jack Kirby-esque frame is a gem and never disappoints. Koike too brings his own intense graphic style to this otherworldly place that so often enticed us to the works of Kawajiri. Like Kawajiri there is a machismo and tough guy testosterone coursing through the film's veins. His work is at once jarring and beautifully heroic.
Born in 1950, Kawajiri's profile work as a key animator and storyboardist is indeed long. His master contributions include the likes of personal favorite Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974), Harmageddon (1983), The Dagger Of Kamui, Memories and Metropolis. It's much longer than his work as a screenwriter and director, but what work Kawajiri did direct certainly ranks and places him among the masters and indeed one of those artists that would influence the likes of Koike. This reality is very much in evidence and on display here for the magnificent thrill ride that is RedLine.
It would appear in recent years, perhaps as a result of aging (it happens), Kawajiri has stepped back from the director's chair to work rather behind the scenes, once again, as an animator and storyboard artist. His last notable effort as director was likely Highlander: The Search For Vengeance (2007). But it is without question that Kawajiri's impact and legacy lives on whether through his direct contributions to film as with RedLine or through the works of rising stars who clearly were raised and reared on Kawajiri like Takeshi Koike.
We can only hope Kawajiri has one more big film left in the gas tank (pun intended here). But let's not race to the finish line (oh stop) of this post just yet as we take a closer look at the science fiction world of the phenomenal RedLine by Koike. Koike's historical rearing in anime, too, will put things in perspective.
Koike was indeed a protégée of Kawajiri. He was born in 1968 (hardly a spring chicken) and entered the world of animation beginning with Studio Madhouse straight out of high school.
Koike's influences ranged from, as noted, Kawajiri, but also the likes of Frank Miller (Daredevil, Batman, Sin City) and Mike Mignola (Hellboy). Those truths are self-evident in his animation particularly Mignola. The look and feel of Mignol's work as well as comic legend Jack Kirby is somehow meticulously infused in this live action comic art. There is much influence on the animation and design work by the greats in comic books. It is indeed a fusion of these influences from Kawajiri, Kirby and Mignola that really light up the raceways of RedLine.
Koike got his start as a kind of apprentice to Kawajiri as an in-between animator or key animator on works as early as Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku, Cyber City Oedo 808, Ninja Scroll, Memories and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust all with Kawajiri. He has indeed shadowed the master. Koike also contributed to the first digital animation in Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) for Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Robot Carnival, Roujin Z), Samurai Champloo (2004) by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) and even Dead Leaves (2004) by Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann) as well as the third Patlabor film, Patlabor WXIII (2002). So Koike was indeed a busy boy in establishing his worthy credentials working on some of the best with the best which finally led to something as truly ambitious as RedLine. Also worth noting, before RedLine, Koike had directed the World Record segment in The Animatrix (2003). So you can see what a tangled web of influences we weave here.
About the film, RedLine relied entirely upon hand-drawn cel animation with no CG technology. In fact, the film used over 100,000 drawings, an ambitious effort in the vein of something like Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (1988) which, by comparison, utilized 160,000 drawings. With an abundance of original characters designed by Katsuhito Ishi, it took seven years to complete the production.
"In the far distant future, when cars are giving up their wheels in the changeover to air-cars, there still exist fools who carry on a vanishing spirit of racing...." Oh the promise of that opening rings sweet indeed.
And with those opening words that's about all the dialogue you really need to know because RedLine is a filthy, full-on visual eruption, an anime orgasm of racing, mecha, space race fun. This growling beastly thing makes Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Race (1968-1969) or Yogi's Space Race (1978) look like quaint little walk-in-the-park excursions and I enjoyed the latter works very much as a kid. But RedLine captures the spirit of these previously animated, massive, racing competitions, and does so with energy and gusto in extraordinary fashion. It's animation not for the faint of heart. This a thrilling race orgy of unconventionally fresh visuals. This is how a hot rod-styled race should be. It's Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace pod race on steroids, but with ideas and concepts only dreamt of in anime. Industrial Light and Magic could only wish to be this creative.
The film is filled to the hilt with alien creatures, original space ship designs, race car mecha, and basically the kind of science fiction porn a fanatic like myself should be all about. It's a nitrogen-fueled action rush for those who love images that just blow up and pop with originality and zip.
The race is often backed by a throbbing techno-heavy soundtrack by James Shinoji. Shimoji's selections appropriately amp up the festivities. The close out number, RedLine Day is particularly beautiful as pop songs go.
The race itself centers on a handful of varied, unique racing characters certainly with entrants from many different worlds. And like that, RedLine is primed with fascinating character after character and mech design after design. It's a visual treat and something to behold. I can say this may be one of the few instances whereby I was so mesmerized by the manic energy of the race sequences and the animation that the character depth or lack thereof really mattered little to me. Though, in truth, the trailers really didn't do that aspect of this film justice, because it actually does take time to introduce us to the many intergalactic rogues and personalities and does so rather effectively. There are plot elements that present a good deal of planetary and interplanetary conflict. Thus the dramatic components swirling about the pompadour-adorned lead JP are really just right including a love story that works wildly under the radar.
Still, while the characters are fleshed out to good effect with distinctive designs and while there is a good deal of interesting science fiction meat beyond the action, it is the racing sequences and the animation of those sequences that truly rule and run the day. The fluid movement of all of the participants and the rich details make the whole thing a sheer joy ride. I was completely wowed by the level of excellence crafted for RedLine and it's easy to see why this was intended for the cinema. Seeing it on the big screen would have been a popcorn treat of epic salt and butter proportions.
Remember a redline is described as the maximum engine speed at which an internal combustion engine is designed to operate without causing damage to the components themselves or other parts of the engine and likely with this film to the operators themselves and those around them. It didn't end well in Kawajiri's The Running Man and RedLine pushes the envelope here too.
I honestly for the life of me cannot understand the appeal of The Fast And The Furious. The franchise just doesn't appeal to me, but then I'm not strictly a motor head. But RedLine makes a case for giving such films a shot.
This anime fan has always adored the blue G-2 of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and maybe even a little Speed Racer (a.k.a. Mach GoGoGo) even Mad Max or Death Race (2008), but this may be the best pure racing film I've ever seen.
Offering a sci-fi component to RedLine never hurt either. The races take place on fantastical worlds and the racers take us on their journeys with them.
Interestingly, RedLine never lured me to its cinematic world until I read a little more about its content and discovered Kawajiri's connection to the film. I had no idea what I was missing.
If The Running Man by Kawajiri was a short film that took the racing subgenre of action to high octane levels, RedLine raises the bar to insane heights. RedLine is one hundred minutes of adrenaline pumping excitement with hot babes, race drivers pushing themselves to the limit set in a completely sci-fi landscape. The fact you have an alien dog race driver should tell you everything you need to know. Yes, we are experiencing anime on drugs! It's the only kind I'll do. It is a painterly, eye-popping, explosively vivid affair and for science fiction fans a left-of-center piece of anime crack candy.
The level of animating detail is nothing short of stunning and Madhouse and Koike use the old school animation techniques to spectacular effect. It's remarkable to think there were no CG renderings, but it shows on that screen.
The first twelve minutes, a race dubbed the YellowLine (here), is off the charts. If it was a short film on a short story anthology compilation it would be a must own in and of itself. In the spirit of short film anthologies like Short Peace (2013), the YellowLine would hold its own. The YellowLine is the table setter for the film and what an introduction it is. The story hypes the race to take the viewer to an unfettered thirty minute finale in the RedLine, a race to end all races.
Most impressive is lead character JP's tricked out Trans Am. There's nothing like a race film with a healthy respect for the automotive past and RedLine puts its love of cars front and center. With all of the tricked out space vehicles there is something extraordinary about JP's classic car that sets him apart and makes it shine against the competition for its audacious simplicity and design beauty. It does for RedLine what the black 1973 Ford XB Falcon Pursuit Special did for Mad Max (1979).
Relatively speaking, the narrative framework of the film is conventional, but the film itself is unexpected and exhilarating. It's a rush as much for fans of epic action cinema as it is for race car aficionados and fans of mecha and space anime. It just bursts off the screen. This thing is positively alien in its approach to everything that it becomes sort of surreal but mind-blowing. RedLine is one massive rule break. The film is so out there it is an epic auto overload.
By film's end my son looked at me and submitted, "that took every ounce of energy I had remaining."
It is an exhaustive experience but in a good way. There are pure moments of crazy ass bat shit insane wackiness. It is a frantic, breathlessly-paced special kind of thrill film. RedLine pushes the limits, pushes the envelope and overwhelmingly delivers an anime that culminates in an Akira-fueled, outrageously amped Funky Boy, over-the-top race overload. It's the race to end all races and boasts nothing but wicked cool. This is pure escapist fun of the highest order. If you're like me, you won't want it to end. So put the pedal to the medal and RedLine it baby!