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TADFF 2011: Redline Review

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 - Redline

What makes animation so galvanizing is how, for so many of its creations, one weaker or void aspect can still be lifted to great heights by the others. Ghibili films usually have no trouble finding fascinating and inspiring tales, and Akira’s density is made up for by rich atmosphere. But animated films can be about nothing and everything, because of the message in their beauty. And, some films can be about nothing and nothing, but deliver everything. Redline isn’t about nothing, but it isn’t about much. Nothing stops Redline from hitting goals. Nothing stops Redline from victory. Redline is so ferocious and unwieldy that it’s too dangerous to be bound in your hands, it’s too fast for the qualms of plot or logic. It can’t slow down. The wonderful thing about animation is that it’s a world from scratch, created only by the pen instead of constructs of likelihood. Redline is its own universe, and it rockets through it so fast you’ll miss planets if you blink.

“Sweet” JP is a racer, and while in this fantastical, lawless future race vehicles can be made to look like mecha beetles and sexy superheroes, JP is an odd traditionalist who prefers to blast through the finish line in a monstrous Camaro. JP earned the nickname “Sweet” due to his resistance to using weaponry, though his slate’s been scarred from a history of game fixing; a mob reeking debt that haunts him and his collected partner, Frisbee, to this day. The good news is, while losing the qualifying race, a popularity vote propels JP into the main event, the Redline, the end-all be-all of intergalactic races. The bad news is the reason space became available is due to other racers getting cold feet over the controversial location: Roboworld, a totalitarian planet of cyborgs who use their self-given title of peacekeepers as an excuse to secretly develop planet-busting weaponry, and a government that despises the Redline and the media presence it would bring. Now JP has just one defining race to hold off the competition, the militia of Roboworld, his mob woes and, worst of all, an infatuation with his rival: “Cherry Boy Hunter” Sonoshee McLaren, who drives an amphibious crab.

Seven years in the making and written by Katsuhito Ishii, who made Funky Forest (though Redline is nowhere near as surreal), Redline glows with radioactive colours and alien beings who seem like cut-outs from foreign magazines and comics that define the term “culture shock.” Even with a subject so machine heavy, the cars are organic beings, that pulse and thump and flip out when provoked and stretch when pushed past logically capable speeds. Redline is seven years of detail. While the film is two races with a slower, “off time” chapter in between, the pace is kept up with visions of livid living creatures.

Then there are the races, which are both comparable to the redeeming, euphoric final bout of 2008’s Speed Racer. Antes are constantly upped to degrees that would make Dragon Ball Z feel dizzy, with new speed boosters and disastrous weaponry rabidly spewing one-upmanship. Nitro capsules, claustrophobic cockpits with switches and gears crammed in around leather seats, and mad calamity, especially during the Roboworld siege. Everything and the nuclear kitchen sink is thrown at the competitors, and the competitors throwing everything back.

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The minor cast and their tropes aren’t as gimmicky as the Wacky Races posse, aside from perhaps an over-sexualized pair from fantasy land and a duo of spandex-costumed bounty hunters, but there’s no Dick Dastardly among them switching the signs to throw rivals on cruel detours. Perhaps to make these racers feel believable, even in an unbelievable world, they aren’t out for each other’s blood, they’re a communal, sporting bunch. Missiles are thrown, but only in the name of sabotage. Even the grand champion, a blocky monolithic car-hybrid with an ego known as Machinehead, anticipates the idea of being bettered, and would rather out-do his foes than kill them. The same can not be said for Roboworld, their armadas, generals and freakishly grotesque top secret bio-weapon, Funky Boy, who looks like Tetsuo’s booger.

There is no great storytelling ambition for Redline, it’s guts-and-glory underdog story doesn’t quake the same heartstrings as other anime greats. Those with with a Grave of the Fireflies shrine won’t so much as shrug, but it does get the blood pumping, as jet stream missiles launch ad nausuem and screaming becomes the new dictation standard. Few gestures are done twice, and every bit of architecture and machinery will bust new valves and gaskets to function or go faster. JP’s destructive devotion tears down his car, his safety and your face. But his pompadour is invincible.

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