Official Selection, Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2012
Official Selection, New York Asian Film Festival 2012
It is a time of devastation for feudal Japan, wracked by drought and famine. All but a handful of aristocrats are starving and the countryside is beset by lawlessness, despair — and cannibalism. A demon child stalks this land, a mighty axe in his tiny clutches. Suckled at the breast of mother whom hunger had driven to the unspeakable, he has known nothing but pain, rage and desperation in his young life. He hides, stalks, strikes and slays with the speed and ferocity of an animal — and feeds as an animal would, yet on his own kind. Can even a faint flicker of the gentle flame of humanity possibly glow in the heart of such a monster?
Shock and controversy attended the comic-book debut of “Asura”, in the August 1970 issue of the essential Japanese manga publication Shonen Magazine. The issue was banned in several areas of Japan and the serialized tale’s creator, mangaka George Akiyama, achieved instant notoriety for his challenging and unflinching portrayals of human wretchedness in extremis. He cemented that reputation the following year with the debut of “Kokuhaku” (“Confessions”), disturbingly ambiguous first-person recountings of, among other things, murder. The passage of the years has seen Akiyama win major awards, adapt the Bible to manga form (several years before R. Crumb!) and establish the lighthearted, long-lived series “Haguregumo” (38 years and counting!). Akiyama’s knack for transgression remains, though — 2005’s “An Introduction to China: A Study of Our Bothersome Neighbors” attempted to debunk the Rape of Nanking!
Over forty years since it came into being, Akiyama’s “Ashura” remains a raw and affecting action-horror-tragedy, its protagonist both hateful and heartbreaking, and its potency is only further amplified in this new anime. Keiichi Satou, director of TIGER & BUNNY and KARAS, oversees a masterful blend of digital animation and handcrafted artwork spiked with startling fights and chases and flashes of fearsome beauty. Vivid and intense, ASURA is a journey through hell not soon forgotten.
© George Akiyama / ASURA Film Partners
— Rupert Bottenberg