In mid-19th-century London, Ray Steam (voice of Anne Suzuki) is a teenage factory worker who has inherited his mechanical genius from his father and grandfather, both away in far-off America. One day Ray receives a package from his grandfather containing a newly invented "steam ball". Soon he is embroiled in an adventure that takes him to London on behalf of the O'Hara Foundation, the multinational organisation which has been financing his father and grandfather to work on the "Steam Tower", an invention with the potential to transform the world.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its extraordinary detailed representations of Victorian Britain, Steamboy is an invigorating sci-fi adventure from Japanese anime master Katsuhiro Ôtomo, about a young inventor who weighs up the responsibility that the power of science brings. It's been sixteen years since Otomo's groundbreaking Akira, and Steamboy is sure to satisfy not only the fans, but introduce a whole new audience to the world of dense animation.
Released in a special 2-disc DVD presentation, there's a compelling mix of features, including interviews with Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart who talk about the revoicing of the film, and an interview with writer director Katsuhiro Otomo, who talks about the 10 year journey of the film. Originally shown as a three-screen presentation, the multi-screen landscape study shows real-life footage at the same time as the animation. There are production drawings, plus five scenes which are shown in various developmental stages from rough animation to the final version seen in the film.
The blending of two and three dimensional graphics and computer technology is seamless, while the complexity and detail of the visuals astonishing. This is the most expensive Japanese anime ever, taking ten years to make and using 180,000 frames for its 126 minute running time. The result is a unique and darkly entertaining film that works on a visual level as well as through its storytelling, with its themes exploring of the principles behind innovation and discovery. Music glues the images together as we buckle up with our young protagonist, who is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. How should knowledge be used? And at what price comes progress? These are the key questions asked, and while the action sequences are spectacular, they never outweigh the narrative. What I found especially incongruous, is the notion of a Japanese filmmaker meticulously recreating the Tudor-style houses and rolling hills of Manchester and London's celebrated landmarks, while the characters converse in Japanese dialogue.
Set during the industrial revolution when Britain was considered to be a leading force, scientific innovation was considered to be the key to achieving industrial, military and economic superiority. Steam played a major role.
Ray is a perfect hero - he is not only a gifted inventor, but a plucky lad with a good sense of what is right and wrong. When he clutches onto the all-important steamball and soars high into the skies, we are right behind him in every sense. We understand his confusion as he is torn between the conflicting beliefs of his father and grandfather. 'An invention with no philosophy behind it is a curse,' says Lloyd, 'Science should reveal human principles, not endorse follies.' A fine voice cast depicts the characters - from Ray's obsessed mad-scientist father, his Moses-like grandfather and the pragmatic, strong-willed Scarlett who owns a Chihuahua called Columbus.
This is one film that doesn't run out of steam, and there are a myriad of imagery to savour. I especially like the way water is depicted and how reflections of characters are seen in fragments of shattered glass. Although the film may be set in the 19th century, there is nothing old fashioned about the style and design of the machinesanimators have let their imaginations run wild in their design of gee-whizz machines. Steamboy is sophisticated animation offering plenty to keep young and old enthralled.
Published July 14, 2005
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STEAMBOY: DVD (PG)
VOICES: Anne Suzuki, Manami Konishi, Kiyoshi Kodama, Katsuo Nakamura, Masane Tsukayama, Ikki Sawamura, Satoru Saito, Susumu Terajima
PRODUCER: Shinji Komori, Hideyuki Tomioka
DIRECTOR: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
SCRIPT: Sadayuki Murai, Katsuhiro Ôtomo
EDITOR: Takeshi Seyama
MUSIC: Steve Jablonsky
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art Direction: Shinji Kimura
OTHER: Animation Director: Shinji Takagi
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane: October 21, 2004
SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One - feature; Disc Two - featurettes: The voyage of Steamboy; Revoicing Steamboy, interview with Katsuhiro Otomo, Multi-screen landscape study, adventure continues (end credits without text)