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Neo-Tokyo/ Silent Mobius

NEO-TOKYO:

LABYRINTH

Directed by Rin Taro. Screenplay, Taro; character design, Atsuko Fukushima; art direction, Yamako Ishikawa.

RUNNING MAN

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Screenplay, Kawajiri; art direction, Katsushi Aoki; backgrounds, Yuji Ikehata.

THE ORDER TO STOP

CONSTRUCTION

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Screenplay, Otomo; art director, Takamuro Mukuo.

SILENT MOBIUS

Produced by Haruki Kadokawa. Directed by Michitaka Kikuchi. Screenplay, Kei Shigema, Kikuchi; music, Kaoru Wada; art direction, Norihiro Hiraki; character design, Kikuchi.

Voices (English version): Robert Axelrod (Sugioka), Jeff Winkless (Robot 444- 1), Michael McConnohie (reporter Bob Stone), Cheryl Chase (Sachi), Tom Wyner (Boss), Iona Morris (Katsumi), Alexandra Kenworthy (Miyuka), Joyce Kurtz (Kiddy) , Jeff Winkless (Lucifer Hawke), Wendy Lee (Nami), Malora Harte (Rally), Barbara Goodson (Lebia), Julie Donald (Yuki).

Streamline Pictures is billing this as a “spectacular double bill of contemporary Japanese animation,” but it’s really afeaturette and three shorts combined into two separately titled films. Pix will acquire must-see status among aficionados of Japanese “anime,” while more mainstream sci-fi/horror/fantasy genre fans may continue to wonder what all the fuss is about.

“Neo-Tokyo” consists of three films, none of which really have anything to do with Tokyo. Rin Taro’s “Labyrinth” and Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s “Running Man” are heavy on style and short on character and plot.

In the former, a young girl and a cat are pulled through a mirror into a ghostly world, while in the latter a champion race driver literally races to death. (An edited version of “Running Man” has appeared on MTV’s “Liquid TV” series.)

While stylish, the problem is that viewers are simply asked to appreciate effects, since there is no point to either film.

“The Order to Stop Construction” (written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who did the feature-length “Akira”) is the standout. A low-level executive for a Japanese firm is sent to a South American country, where the revolutionary government has just canceled the company’s contract. His orders are simple: End the project.

The problem is that the project is to build a city with an entirely robot crew, and the robot foreman refuses to let anything interfere with the completion of the job, including human management. The visuals are dramatic and the story is sharply ironic.

Michitaka Kikuchi’s “Silent Mobius” also has a narrative, but its problems are connected to its being based on a popular Japanese comic book largely unknown to Western audiences. As a result, the film — which covers the origins of a young woman joining the Abnormal Mystery Police — fails to achieve the resonance it obviously intends.

The story focuses on Katsumi, who, in the year 2024, learns that she has inherited magical powers from her mother and must battle a demon named Lucifer Hawke. While the effects are suitably apocalyptic, audiences without the foreknowledge they bring to, say, the “Superman” or “Batman” films, may find themselves at sea.

They may also be confused by a magical sign that is, in fact, a six-pointed Star of David. No explanation is offered for the changing of the traditional pentagram to the Jewish symbol.

Japanimation tends to sell itself on its look, and the visuals in all four offerings are impressive. But if “anime” is to achieve a Western audience beyond the cultists, “The Order to Stop Construction” shows that it is a tight, coherent story that will get audiences to pay attention.

The American versions were released in 1993, although the Japanese films carry 1986 copyright for “Neo-Tokyo” and 1991 for “Silent Mobius.”

Neo-Tokyo/ Silent Mobius

Production: A Streamline Pictures release. Executive producer, Haruki Kadokawa. English version produced, directed by Carl Macek. ADR script, Ardwight Chamberlain ("Neo-Tokyo"), Tom Wyner ("Silent Mobius"); post-production, Tom Merchant, Scott Narrie.

Crew: Music, Mickey Yoshino ("Neo-Tokyo"). Reviewed at Coolidge Corner Theatre , Brookline, Mass. (In SF/19: Annual 24-Hour Sci-Fi Movie Marathon, Feb. 20-21, 1994.) Running time: 103 MIN.

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