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  Boy Who Saw the Wind, The Free as the breeze
Year: 2000
Director: Kazuki Omori
Stars: Yumi Adachi, Aki Maeda, Daijiro Harada, Hiro Tsunoda, Keiko Toda, Mari Natsuki, Takashi Naito, Tarô Ishida
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: At a street festival, two pigeons watch a group of children struggling to fly their hang-gliders. “Fools. Humans can’t fly”, says one pigeon. His older friend counters that once upon a time, men could fly and that they are perched on a statue of one such special boy. Our feathered storyteller recounts the tale of young Amon (voiced by Yumi Adachi) who, besides being able to talk to animals, can heal the sick and injured and conjure an all-powerful energy force known as “light-play.” Although Amon’s father is chief scientist for the Golden Snake Empire, he does not want his son’s powers used for destructive ends. So he torches his research laboratory and flees with his family. But crazed military man Branick (Takashi Naito) murders Amon’s parents and entrusts the boy to Miss Lucia (Keiko Toda), his chief minister of science who was once a close friend of the family. However, the Golden Eagle (Tarô Ishida) teaches Amon how to fly, by merging with the “golden breeze of the ancient Wind Folk.”

After escaping, Amon arrives on Heart Island where a wise old bear named Urs helps him hone his mystical powers and tells the story of how the breakaway Golden Snake tribe slaughtered the Wind Folk. While practicing his flying skills, Amon ends up at Dolphin Point, a fishing village whose simple folk survive by hunting the enormous Zabi fish. Amusingly the flying boy suffers seasickness, but thanks to plucky little Maria (Aki Maeda) Amon learns to love their way of life. When the Golden Snake Empire unleash their military might, Maria’s mother (Mari Natsuki) dies defending the village. The children escape to a town called Nabaan where they join a brave band of resistance fighters hoping to overthrow the empire.

Whereas in Hollywood it is usually the other way around, Japan has a long tradition of live action filmmakers dabbling in animation: Seijun Suzuki and Kihachi Okamoto are two notable examples. Medical student turned filmmaker Kazuki Omori made his name with an award-winning documentary about first-year residents then parlayed his winnings into a horror anthology. This got him a gig at Toho studios where he wrote and directed two excellent kaiju eiga (“monster movies”): Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and scripted the more uneven Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for the Earth (1992) and Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995). For his first foray into animation, Omori delivers a steampunk science fiction fantasy that seemingly apes Hayao Miyazaki, but actually adapts a children’s novel by Welsh author C.W. Nicol, whose writing is said to have part-inspired Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986).

The film features classic storytelling in the Studio Ghibli mould with vivid characters and affecting themes including, what its author maintains, is “a plea for good people to stand up and say “no” to fascism and dictatorship.” Omori shares Miyazaki’s penchant for aerial action sequences and messianic young heroes who espouse socialist ideals. The sprawling story has a lot of engaging ideas, but lacks Miyazaki’s ability to merge old-fashioned morals with progressive ideals. It has a faint Luddite mentality, implying we would all be happier rejecting technology to embrace a simple life. Nevertheless, The Boy Who Saw the Wind shows a winning commitment to mature drama, including lovable but unsentimentalised animal characters, sympathetic people being shot or tortured, and some surprisingly twisted mind games between Lucia (a complex character who winds up going completely bonkers) and the innocent Amon. When some members of the resistance refuse to trust Amon because his father created Branick’s super-weapons, the poor, traumatized land starts believing himself responsible for all that has happened. Fortunately, Amon’s old friend, the fox-like Myryu lifts his spirits. The climax is surprisingly bittersweet even though the hero gains a deeper understanding of the universe.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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