[A]sura directed by Keiichi Sato befitted the opening of 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival which has centered itself on the theme of Freedom of Speech and Expression. The film is based on a controversial manga (Japanese comic book) from the 70s which was banned in Japan for its excessive depiction of violence. Though the disconcerting combination of animation and violence is a regular fare in Japanese anime; it is far from being vulgar or banal in Asura. It, in fact, tells a poignant story of a cannibalistic boy, making a comment about humanity at large.
The story is set in 15th century Kyoto ravaged by drought and famine. The film begins with visuals of death and destruction, setting the mood for what is to follow. A famished mother gives birth to a boy and imagines eating his flesh in a desperate moment of hunger. The boy is abandoned and learns to eat human flesh in a bid to survive. He resembles a deadly beast: he crawls on his four limbs, snarls and preys at small kids for food. He is named Asura by a monk who makes an attempt to tame the boy. It is hard to imagine in the beginning of the film as to how will one develop sympathy for the scary protagonist who is a far cry from the cute heroes of animation films, both in appearance and character.
But gradually Asura reveals his human side. He seems to mellow down under the love and care of a young woman called Wakasa; whose relationship with him gives rise to some of the most evocative and emotional moments of the film. But as the bestial child makes an attempt to develop human characteristics (all of us have a beast within, but what makes us human is the heart: the monk tells him); humans made desperate by hunger trade off their feelings for a bag of rice. There unfolds the central message of the film: that death is necessary for life. For somebody to live, someone else has to die.
It is said that the director Keiichi Sato decided to make this film to pass on a message to those who had lost the will to live after the natural disasters that hit Japan in 2011. The film is dark and gruesome at times; and particularly disturbing at the moments when one realizes how far humans can be pushed by desperation and hunger. But the film also shows one the brighter side through the goodness inherent in each one of us; and the vitality of death.
Asura is a hybrid animation film that makes use of watercolor technique which gives it a subdued effect in sync with the mood of the film. The technically superior film is also rich in emotions which leave one with one with much to meditate on.
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