Stop the presses! After an excruciatingly long period of waiting, Redline finally found its way onto the TV sets of those who can read English subtitles. Takeshi Koike's long awaited project took almost seven years to complete, but he made sure every second of that long wait counted. The result is a staggering demonstration of the power of animation, wrapped in colorful pop art and injected with a mean streak of creative madness. And boy did I like it.
In 2004 Japan was experiencing one of its top animation production years, with films like Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, Howl's Moving Castle, Mind Game and Steamboy all being released that year. But Production I.G and director Imaishi had another surprise lined up. When Dead Leaves was released, it took the alternative anime world by storm and smashed it with a force that nobody could have predicted. Never before had there been such a raw, crude and rude film, executed with so much passion, attention to detail and technical brilliance.
Not that Imaishi invented a whole new niche by and for himself, people like Koike had been doing similar things before (the opening sequence of Party 7, the Animatrix World Record short and last but not least, Trava Fist Planet), just never with such intensity, conviction and power. Dead Leaves raised the bar for its small niche, sadly it raised it a little too high for the competition and for 6 or 7 years nobody even came close to the madness of Imaishi's first film. Not even Imaishi himself. Enter Koike's Redline, the first film to actively challenge the title of most crazy animation film ever.
Redline first appeared some 5 or 6 ago in the form of a short teaser. Koike was teaming up with Katsuhito Ishii once again, following the same road they travelled with Trava Fist Planet. The duo had more luck this time around (Trava got cancelled before it could turn into a real series) and found in Madhouse the perfect home for Redline. There they were allowed the budget and time to expand the initial concept into a true feature-length film.
The result is something that shares many influences and connections to other films, but tops that with bucket loads of its own creativity. The race element bears resemblance to Speed Racer (the live action film) and Running Man (a short from the Neo-Tokyo anthology), the Redline universe itself seems like an extension of the Trava world (hence the Trava cameo). And that's not even counting the zillion other small references that seem to be taken from various parts of the wide manga/anime universe. The good thing is that it never feels as if Redline shamelessly borrows these elements, it just pays quick respect and goes on to bury them in it own creativity.
Koike's visual style has earned him much praise before. While it still exists within the realm of Japanese animation, it's hard to compare it to other Japanese artists out there. More than just praise, it also earned him some director credits simply because his style is so defining for a project that the director cannot take all the credit for himself. With Redline, Koike was allowed to take his style to another level. He not only functioned as director, but also took upon himself the role of animation director. The result is a rare mix of a crazy art-style with exuberant levels of animated detail.
Koike's style is colorful and detailed, with much attention being paid to motion and speed, playing around with funky perspectives to enhance the dynamics of a particular scene. Most of the secondary animation work was outsourced to Gainax, an animation studio which had plenty of prior experience bringing such a task to successful completion (think FLCL, or the work they did on Dead Leaves). As for the outlandish character designs, those are actually the work of Katsuhito Ishii, Koike's madman in crime.
The music is probably the only weak(er) point of Redline. While it features a pumping soundtrack similar to Dead Leaves, it's still a little too poppy for my liking. The score features some nice kicks and adrenaline-boosting tracks, but it never goes full-out like the animation does. It still surprises me that in this post-Pi era there hasn't been one single film to challenge that film's electronic score. And it's not that the Redline score is particularly bad, it just could've been a lot better.
As for the voice acting, Madhouse really left nothing to chance. They hired some of the biggest acting talents in Japan, most notably Tadanobu Asano (the man still has a nose for unusual projects) and Yu Aoi. The voice of main man JP was handled by Takuya Kimura, another old-timer with enough experience to get the job done with the proper gusto. Many of the dialogues feature improvised lines, so having the proper talent on boards really works to the film's advantage.
If you want anything more than simple visceral fun, you're probably looking at the wrong film. The plot is simple, characters are pretty one-dimensional and there is little in the way of morale or deeper meaning. Redline is a film tailored to pleasure and fun. Every little titbit is added to increase the joy and amusement of its audience, layer upon layer of grotesque action and flat-out weirdness is added just to turn this 100 minutes into one of the most entertaining cinematic moments of your life. And if you're fine with that, it comes pretty close to accomplishing just that.
Comparing it one last time with Dead Leaves, it falls just a little short of Imaishi's masterpiece. The 100-minute running time forces Redline to slow down once in a while, relieving the tension and adrenaline just a little before going full out again in the next couple of scenes. Many people might welcome these short breathers, but I actually preferred the continuous pressure of Dead Leaves. It's hardly Koike's fault, you can't expect the man to put in another 7 years just to make it even more chaotic and with its 100-minute running time Redline is still completely unique, but these real-world limitations are not really the worries of a film's audience.
Redline is a film that could only have been made in Japan. And not just because of its technical and/or creative elements, but mostly because the project is absolutely commercially unrealistic. Koike, a first-time director, was allowed the time and budget to spend 7 years and 100.000 hand-drawn drawing to complete a film that would most likely only speak to a small niche of animation fans. There is no way such a risky project could have been made anywhere else in the world, which is exactly why Japan is such a special creative breeding ground.
People not liking ADD animation, purely visceral cinema or semi-random pop chaos, do stay away from this film. But when looking for 100 minutes flat-out entertainment, tailored to be as goofy, crazy and mad as possible, and backed by an amazing technical accomplishment, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better film than Redline. Even after 7 years of building up expectations, the film still delivers and even manages to go beyond some of my initial expectations. It's a unique project, one that will probably not be matched or even approximated in the years to come. So cherish it and make sure you don't let it slip by. It really is that good.