You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Space Pirate Captain Harlock’

Topnotch technique has been brought to bear on a portentously nerdy script in this treat for anime fans.


Voices: Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura, Yu Aoi, Arata Furuta, Ayano Fukuda, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Maaya Sakamoto, Miyuki Sawashiro, Chikao Ohtsuka.

“Unleash the dark matter!” “Activate the Jovian accelerator!” “Prepare to enter the IN-skip!” The dialogue in Japanese animated epic “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” is an absolute riot of geeky imperatives, very fitting for a film that’s all about urgency, pseudo-science and speed. Helmed by Shinji Aramaki (“Appleseed”), this is a glorious marshaling of state-of-the-art technical expertise that boasts topnotch stereoscopy, but the portentous script is too nerdy to cross over to the mainstream. Fans of the original 1970s manga-turned-cartoon “Harlock” and younger anime buffs, however, will wolf this down at home and in a number of key offshore markets.

While the pic revives the situation and main characters from the manga by Leiji Matsumoto, which inspired Toei Animation’s TV series (known as “Albator” in Francophone territories, where it was a huge cult hit), the emphasis of this update is much more on post-millennial gloom and environmental anxieties, rather than the original’s mix of sci-fi swashbuckling and anti-Fascist subtext. Taking a leaf out of the “Star Trek” franchise’s playbook (the two shows are not dissimilar in setup), helmer Aramaki and screenwriters Harutoshi Fukui and Kiyoto Takeuchi have cannily rebooted the basic concept to suit the 2013 zeitgeist. Still, the film doesn’t seem likely to break out beyond the franchise’s core audience of fanboys drawn to tech talk, attenuated-yet-busty femme characters and videogame aesthetics, the latter referenced directly at several points by shoot-’em-up-style p.o.v. shots that herald the inevitable tie-in games.

Having it both ways for reasons made clear toward the end, the opening crawl situates the action either “far, far in the future or perhaps in the distant past,” some time after humans from a resource-exhausted Earth have scattered 500 billion members of their species across the universe in search of new homelands. The whole colonization project didn’t work out so well, and when humans tried to return to Earth, a huge conflict called the Homecoming War broke out some hundred years before the plot proper starts. In the end, no one was allowed back and Earth became a kind of planetary wildlife preserve, worshipped as a symbol by its scattered, doomed descendants throughout the galaxy, while a repressive state called the Gaia Coalition governs all.

And that’s just the backstory. The main premise is that Capt. Harlock (voiced in the Japanese version by Shun Oguri), the eponymous immortal space pirate of the title, is in perpetual rebellion against the Coalition, and flies about the universe in his super-cool-looking if suspiciously phallic intergalactic man-of-war, the Arcadia, both ship and man running on “dark matter.” (If someone connected to the production had bothered to read up on contempo cosmological theory, they might have learned that “dark energy,” the most abundant but enigmatic stuff in the universe, would have made a much better techno-MacGuffin.)

The plot’s main engine of conflict is that high-ranking Coalition leader Ezra (Toshiyuki Morikawa), who looks like a futuristic wheelchair-bound Sgt. Pepper, has sent his kid brother Logan (Haruma Miura) to infiltrate and spy on Harlock and his crew. Naturally, the kid, who looks uncannily similar to Harlock or at least goes to the same barber, starts to sympathize with pirates, especially when he learns of bitter secrets kept by the Coalition, like plans to reform special-needs funding in the education system … no, wait, that’s the coalition government in the U.K. My mistake.

Either way, the dark matter ends up getting unleashed, the Jovian accelerator is activated, and then all hell breaks loose when they enter IN-Skip, all good fun as the very fate of the universe hangs in the balance. The important thing is that it should all look awesome, and with the huge amount of coin clearly spent on rendering, motion capture and incredibly detailed background work, it duly does.

The odd thing is that, especially for Western audiences used to more expressiveness in animated character design, the faces here seem to have all been injected with cartoon Botox, given how static they are in relation to the rest of teeming visual world Aramaki and Co. have created. One can only presume this is a cultural or aesthetic decision, so that everyone should appear congruent with the limited-movement look of the original series. Indeed, a lot of Japanese animation, especially more laddish fare like this, shows the same disconnect between statue-like characters and hyper-detailed surroundings.

The pace feels really draggy by the time pic crawls to its apocalyptic end, but it’s hard to see how anything could have been cut without making the story even more incomprehensible.

Venice Film Review: 'Space Pirate Captain Harlock'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 3, 2013. Running time: 115 MIN. Original title: "Harlock: Space Pirate"


(Animated — Japan) A Toei Co. release of a Toei Co., Toei Animation, Marza Animation Planet production. (International sales: GFM Films, London.) Produced by Yoshi Ikezawa, Rei Kudo, Joseph Chou. Chief executive producers, Katsuhiro Takagi, Keishi Nakayama. Creative executive producers, Kozo Morishita, Shinji Shimizu, Hisao Oguchi. Executive producers, Hiromi Kitazaki, Koichi Fukazawa.


Directed by Shinji Aramaki. Screenplay, Harutoshi Fukui, Kiyoto Takeuchi; story, Fukui, based on characters and stories created by Leiji Matsumoto. (Color, widescreen, HD); editor, Ryuji Miyamura; music, Tetsuya Takahashi; production designers, Shinji Usui, Nobuhito Sue, Shinji Aramaki, Daisuke Matsuda, Hiroaki Kusano, Hideyuki Matsumoto; art director, Hiroaki Ueno; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Koji Kasamatsu; stereoscopic 3D supervisors, Kunihiko Mita, Yumiko Abe; concept mechanical design, Atsushi Takeuchi; concept character designer, Yutaka Minowa; CG supervisor, Kengo Takeuchi; head of technology, Naotaka Horiguchi; character supervisor, Keisuke Takahashi; rigging and simulation supervisor, Tatsuya Akagi; animation supervisor, Tsuyoshi Tanaka; motion capture technical supervisor, Tomokazu Sakamoto; FX supervisor, Daisuke Satoyoshi; sets and props supervisor, Tsubasa Nakai, sequence supervisor, Yoshihito Ikuta; conceptual consultant, sci-fi concept design, Shinya Ogura; motion capture producer and director, Shinji Takehara; visual effects, Mozoo, AZworks, CJ Powercast, Flapper3, Kanwa Nagafuji Design, Dynamo Pictures, Digital Environment Creations, Ignis Imageworks, NHK Media Technology, Zinou Pharmaceutics, Studio Bokan, Imagica, Faceware Technologies, Counter Punch Studios; assistant director, Aluminum Yano; casting, Satoshi Notomi, Takumi Kohama, Nami Kawamura.


Voices: Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura, Yu Aoi, Arata Furuta, Ayano Fukuda, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Maaya Sakamoto, Miyuki Sawashiro, Chikao Ohtsuka.

More Film

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content