Asura (2012) [NYAFF 2012]

Directed by animator Keiichi Sato (The Big O, Giant Robo) and based on the banned manga by George Akiyama, Asura tells of a Medieval Japan ravaged by war, drought and famine.  An eight-year-old boy named Asura by a monk whom he meets was abandoned by his mother as an infant and became a cannibal to survive.  Virtually an animal, the monk begins to teach Asura about humanity and his need to overcome the evil inside of him.

After provoking the wrath of a local Lord, Asura, who is now on the run, is discovered by a young woman named Wakasa.  Wakasa shows the wild boy kindness after feeding him and giving him a place to hide.  Asura comes to need Wakasa as a mother figure.  As the chaos of the times begins to spiral out of control in the village and food continues to be scarce, Wakasa is now in danger of starvation.  Her father tells the Lord of Asura’s whereabouts and the entire village is commanded to find and kill the young boy.  However Asura has put himself in danger to try and save Wakasa.  He is chased away by the young woman and persued relentlessly by the villagers.  Is there any hope for the young savage boy?

What starts out as a story of pure horror encompassing the depths to which humans will sink out of desperation, slowly evolves into a story of compassion and the good in people, no matter their circumstances.  The monk saw the humanity in Asura and refused to believe that the cannibal child was a lost cause.  Wasaka showed the savage boy kindness, which he ultimately attempted to return, even after the girl seemed to turn on him in the end.  Asura is a story of compassion and the good that exists in us all.  It is disturbing, nihilistic, and heartbreaking at the same time.

From a technical standpoint, Asura is a beautifully animated movie, done in a combination of 2D and 3D style that adds a fantastic depth to the visuals.  The films colors are a watercolor technique that gives a muted quality and stresses the desperation of the times.  It is somber and at times macabre, but overall an amazing movie to watch.  There were moments in which I gasped at what played out on the screen before me and it did bring to mind the destruction and desperation of the modern Japanese following the destructive earthquake and tsunami that ravaged parts of the country last year.  Asura was a breathtaking experience for me and I highly recommend it.

Containing the voice talents of Megumi Hayashibara (Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion), Masako Nozawa (Dragonball, Dragonball Z), and Yoshihiro Ike (Blood: The Last Vampire, Ergo Proxy), Asura has an approximate runtime of 75 minutes and is being presented by the Japan Society as part of Japan Cuts and in partnership with NYAFF 2012 on Thursday, July 12.  This film is strictly for viewers 18+ due to its graphic violence.