×
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.

With:

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"

Production:

(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.

Crew:

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.

With:

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

More Film

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content