DIRECTED BY: Hiroyuki Imaishi
FEATURING: Amanda Winn Lee (voice), Jason Lee (voice)
PLOT: A man with a television for a head and a woman with mismatched eyes wake up with amnesia, are imprisoned on what’s left of the moon, lead a revolt, have a baby, and kill lots and lots of people.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Dead Leaves moves so fast and makes so little sense that it’s almost the equivalent of putting an ultraviolent manga in a high-speed blender and trying to read it while the pieces swirl around. The plot is nearly incomprehensible, but somehow involves mutant clones and a psychedelic caterpillar. Weird? Hell yes. Recommended? Well, definitely not to epileptics. Even for older folks with a healthy neurobiology, the breakneck pacing is as likely to induce a headache as an adrenaline rush. It’s definitely one-of-a-kind, though, and as an experiment in compressing as much berserk and illogical anime flavor as possible into as short a running time as possible, it’s worth a look, and maybe even an eventual spot on the List.
COMMENTS: Dead Leaves really is something to behold. It seems to have been conceived, and composed, under the influence of an entirely new drug: amphetashrooms. The film is essentially one fifty-minute long chase fight/scene, with a very few timeouts to catch your breath. The female pink-eyed Pandy and TV-headed male Retro wake up, rob a bank, are imprisoned, break out, fire thousands of rounds of ammunition from weapons that conveniently appear when needed, and fight an ever-mutating horde of bad guys; Retro loses his head both literally and figuratively during the journey. The violence and gore are extreme, but so ridiculous—with characters spontaneously transforming into human arsenals and showers of spent yellow bullet casings flying so thick that they sometimes obscure the carnage—that it becomes almost non-representational. Animation styles change every few seconds (and sometimes even several times within a second), as the artists involved employ a variety of abstractions, split screens, shaky pans, replicate comic book panels complete with text, etc. The artwork is so full of slanted planes taking off at all different angles that it looks like something dreamed up by a comic book Pablo Picasso armed with a primary color palette. Dead Leaves must have looked fantastic as concept art; ironically, no single shot is held long enough onscreen for the eye to soak up all the detail the artists sweated to put in each frame. The same level of detail was not spent on the storyline, although it can be as mentally confusing as the canvas is visually confounding. Plot strands regarding the two main character’s amnesiac secret identities, experimentation on imprisoned moon clones as a form of genetic warfare, and a confusing caterpillar metaphor (which seems to relate to the title “leaves“) never come together. The writers give plenty of hints that these omissions weren’t accidental. At one point, as a minor character is delivering some much needed backstory, Pandy’s mind starts wandering, and her internal monologue regarding another, irrelevant, memory drowns out his explanation of the couple’s origins; her ruminations magically and nonsensically lead us to the next plot point. During the final showdown and it’s aftermath, it’s dim Retro who summarizes the audience’s reactions to the plot shennanigans: “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” “I’m not sure I get it,” “This is insane!” and, finally, “Does it really make any difference?” Retro himself is a screechy shoot-first reprobate that only a teenage male could identify with; Pandy is preternaturally cool and sultry, for contrast’s sake. There are frequent wang and poop jokes. The entire enterprise seems like an experiment in conceding to the sad postmodern condition: information overload delivered at fiber optic speed, amorality and vulgarity as a natural background, adult craftsmanship unabashedly placed in service of juvenilia. The movie almost works as a parody of the pop anime genre; all of its illogical excesses are magnified, and at the same time they’re concentrated and stuffed into a short attention span format. There’s 90 minutes of material here, but, like a Keystone Cops slapstick sequence, the film’s been sped up 33%. As an experiment in excess, Dead Leaves is worth watching, but if you’re over 30 you’re likely to find it wearying, as well as empty.
At the time of this writing Dead Leaves is available to watch for free on YouTube (it’s also on Netflix’s streaming service). The DVD edition adds numerous extras, including subtitled director’s commentary, scenes from the film’s theatrical premiere, a Q&A session with the director and voice actors, interviews, and footage of the producers and animators getting sloshed playing a drinking game.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…’over the top’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. More like ‘over the edge and into the never ending abyss.’ ‘Dead Leaves’ is faster, louder and crazier than just about anything I’ve ever seen.”–Gopal, Beyond Hollywood.com
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “NGBoo,” who accurately characterized it as “fast, loud, wicked & filled with ultimate animated weirdos.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)