The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Neo Tokyo

Title: Neo Tokyo
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: Movie; 50 minutes.
Date: 25 Sept 1987

Synopsis: Three stories are presented in this anthology film. In “Labyrinth Labyrinthos”, a young girl and her cat stumble into a bizarre world through a grandfather clock. “The Running Man” follows Zach Hugh, the undefeated champion of the Death Circus racing circuit, who has a particular technique that has ensured victory for a decade. Finally, in “Construction Cancellation Order”, a put-upon salaryman journeys to the jungles of South America in a fruitless effort to stop a group of robots whose automated construction work is costing a company millions.

The Highlights:
Animation: Excellent, holds up well 25 years later.
“Labyrinth Labyrinthos”: Solid short that plays to director Rintaro’s strengths.
“The Running Man”: Flashy, entertaining watch, but not much beyond that.
“Construction Cancellation Order”: Quite funny, but ends a bit abruptly.

The anime boom of the 1980s produced many of the most notable films in the history of Japanese animation. The best of the best were gorgeously animated, imaginatively conceived and had stories that probed the edges of possibility. Neo Tokyo (along with Robot Carnival) was one of two notable anime anthology films that had some of the best directors in Japanese animation creating shorts for it. The result is a lusciously animated film that falls short in a couple of areas but is undeniably a must-see for any animation fan.

“Labyrinth Labyrinthos” is the first short, directed by Rintaro, whose career is somewhat of a mixed bag (he directed the awful X/1999 movie and the solid Metropolis movie, among others). But he is often an excellent source of visual creativity, and the premise of this short plays exactly to his strengths. All he has to is here is present a suitably bizarre, surreal world – he accomplishes that in spades. The world is like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland crossed with German Expressionism, all viewed through the unique lens that defines Rintaro’s style. There is very little story to be had in this short, but as a piece of animation, “Labyrinth Labyrinthos” is remarkable.

“The Running Man” is, in my mind, the weakest short of the three, but still interesting. Directed by Kawajiri Yoshiaki (who went on to direct Ninja Scroll and Vampire D: Bloodlust), this short is a cool mix of cyberpunk and action thriller. The story is a simple character study of obsession and competition with a science-fiction twist. Like the first short, though, the visuals are the main draw. Where Rintaro’s short is impressive in its dreaminess, Kawajiri’s short has intensity seeping from its every pore. It’s an exhilarating animated experience, but unfortunately, the skeletal story holds it back slightly. Unlike Rintaro’s short – where the story doesn’t much matter – there’s the nagging sense that more could have been done with this scenario.

“Construction Cancellation Order” ends the movie on a solid note. Director Otomo Katsuhiro is one of anime’s foremost satirists (as he proves with his segments in Robot Carnival and in the Roujin Z OVA), and that side of him is on full display in this short. The robots’ refusal to abandon their orders under any circumstance until their job is complete is an amusing take on narrow-minded workaholics who have tunnel vision for their duties even in the face of common sense. The robot foreman in particular is possibly the most iconic character in Neo Tokyo, the ultimate go-getter who is willing to go far to accomplish his work. The only flaw in this short is that it has an abrupt end that works as an ironic twist but isn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been in execution.

But in the grand scheme of things, the fact that Neo Tokyo (at a scant 50 minutes) could stand to be longer is not such a bad flaw to have. That says there is enough in the movie for audiences to desire more. As it stands, though, Neo Tokyo is one of the classic anime movies – one that must be seen to appreciate the development of the medium. And, of course, because it is an entertaining watch.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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