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Anime Friday: Kite

In last week's edition of Anime Friday, I mentioned that I needed a break from the cute, family-friendly stuff. I asked that my pool of Japanophiles recommend me a film from the opposite end of the spectrum. The result was an ill-informed decision to eat dinner while watching Yasuomi Umetsu's 1998 experiment in extremes, Kite. Few animes have been cut or outright banned as frequently as Kite. In China and Norway it's just plain illegal, and Germany is the only country outside Japan where you can get a legitimate uncensored copy. All the same, Kite isn't just a series of intense, unrelated scenes of sex and violence. It's close to that, but there still is a plot. The story (thin as it is) revolves around Sawa, a young girl who has been turned into a relentless assassin by a vigilante police detective named Akai and his sick friend Kanye who works as a coroner. To say that Akai and Kanye are corrupt is putting it lightly. It's revealed fairly early on that Akai killed Sawa's family, though for unknown reasons. Young Sawa doesn't know this, so she believes Akai when he promises to track down her parents' murderer in exchange for her services as an assassin and as his own personal sex slave. Let it be said that there is only one moment of subtlety in the entire sixty minutes of Kite and if I described it here I would ruin the ending. The rest of the film is little more than gratuitousness for its own sake. All the violence in Kite is ultra-violence. All the sex is rape. The question I had through most of the film is whether Umetsu is a dirty, tactless hack or some kind of giggling, post-modern agitator. I believe I got my answer in the single most spectacular, over-the-top scene in the movie. Following a particularly ridiculous fight sequence in a men's room, we find Sawa and one of her target's bodyguards tumbling to earth from a high floor in a skyscraper. The requisite mid-air gunplay ensues. Then, with aching deliberateness, Sawa positions her opponent in such a way as to cushion her own landing. That landing occurs on top of a car stuck in traffic on a highway bridge. The force of the collision causes Sawa, the bodyguard, and indeed the entire car to bust through the concrete bridge, landing on a truck. At this point most directors would end the scene, or at least change the pacing. Even in a cartoon the audience has a limit on suspension of disbelief. Maybe that's exactly why Umetsu keeps things going in the most ridiculous fashion possible. The truck, just like the car before it, falls through the street and into a subway station where the wreck promptly explodes as if the whole thing had been wired with C4. The blast sends Sawa careening through the window of a far-off department store where she lands on, of all things, a nicely made bed. If there was any doubt that Umetsu made Kite for any reason other than his own feverish glee, that scene would banish it. All the graphic rape scenes, all the bodies riddled with exploding bullets, all the punks kicking old ladies in elevators; they're all just Yasuomi Umetsu's idea of a prank on anime and those who watch it. The film is so focused on setting up sickening money shots that everything else, from logic to the physical continuity of a scene, take a back seat. It doesn't matter that a public bathroom in Kite temporarily stretches to warehouse-like proportions, just as long as it makes the extended jump-kick more pronounced. Comprehension: 10/10- There's nothing to be confused about here. Kite is as blunt as blunt can be. There are no cultural references a Westerner wouldn't immediately grasp, no symbols, and only one off-screen inference. The whole point of this movie is to make the viewer look at all of this ugliness head-on. Enjoyment: 3/10- Kite is not meant to be enjoyed by the vast majority of people alive today. For a sick subset of un-shockable individuals, this film is Casablanca. For the rest of us, the nauseating offenses of nearly every frame can only be appreciated in the academic sense. The only reason this is getting higher than a 1 is because of the car/truck/collapsing roadway scene. I liked the nod from Umetsu and the obvious Hollywood caricature. Improvement of Understanding: 9/10- In a strange turn of events, Kite helped me grasp anime as an art more than any other film I've watched so far. There are plenty of instances where it seems to be making fun of the less obvious conventions of anime. Even though they're killers, the movie's love interests are accompanied by plinky, sentimental piano. When Sawa falls, she screams loud and long. I suppose it just took an anime director who has a certain contempt for the style to get me to understand that anime is like any popular art. It is wrought with conventions, strict forms and predictable approaches. Next Week: Paranoia Agent