This review first appeared in a slightly different form at Film Forager.
DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Koike
FEATURING: Takuya Kamura, Yû Aoi, Tadanobu Asano
PLOT: Set in a distant future and moving between multiple planets, this is a fairly simple tale of
a major road race taking place on a militaristic planet that doesn’t want it there. Racers “Sweet” JP, the big-haired underdog, and Sonoshee, a single-minded gearhead, are the main focus of the story.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Armed with an eclectic cast of alien characters and a host of over-the-top shenanigans, Redline might come off as “weird” to someone unfamiliar with anime, but I’d say the stranger humor and visuals fit in pretty squarely with other properties of the genre. It’s an imaginative and enormously entertaining film, just not especially Weird.
COMMENTS: The future laid out in Redline is certainly an intriguing one, if completely ludicrous. Hot shot reckless racer JP makes it to the titular big interstellar race, held on a militaristic planet that hasn’t consented to be the host. He cozies up to Sonoshee, a cute green-haired lady who is one of the most serious and intimidating drivers there, and together the two attempt to navigate a strange obstacle course against alien competitors (some with inexplicable magic powers) and large-scale weaponry. Squeezing in ESPN-like profiles of various racers—from an experienced cyborg who’s fused himself with his machine to a pair of scantily clad pop stars hailing from a magical princess planet—there’s some room for satire, too.
This movie is essentially all spectacle and adrenaline, with very little comprehensible or meaningful plot holding it together, but it’s not like the filmmakers are operating under any pretense of depth. They’ve created a gorgeously animated, pumped-up sci-fi thriller, and that’s all that’s needed! The characters are slick, and the vehicle designs slicker, with plenty of exaggerated personalities and colorful attachments for an engaging race line-up. Sure, there’s a silly romantic/secret-past subplot thrown in there, but it’s never taken very seriously. Various secondary stories are introduced, such as the military planet’s worker resistance and JP’s involvement in race-fixing, but the race itself remains the focus and it’s easy to forget that anything else is going on (the script certainly seems to by the end). The set-up can be confusing at times due to an influx of minor characters and limited explanation of the obviously complex political and environmental structures.
The strengths of Redline lie almost completely in its visuals and fast pacing. The dark shading and bright color schemes, the over-the-top hair styles and imaginative alien creatures, the quick-cut-editing and crazy landscapes: it’s all fantastically sweet eye-candy, set to an ecstatic musical score. It’s violent but fun, and there’s probably political commentary thrown in there somewhere. The script is cheesy at points, but vaguely self-aware. It’s just a very cool movie all around, rarely letting up for a moment in its quest to assault the senses with psychedelic imagery and revving engines.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“One of the most visually spectacular toons in recent years, pic is a thumping ride for fanboys, but the script’s underdeveloped central romance and the fizzling out of intriguing plot threads will impede wider acceptance… [Plays] like a twisted combo of “Death Race 2000,” “Speed Racer” and a ’50s hot-rod movie on steroids…”–Variety (contemporaneous)