Joe Carol Brane attempts to hire Dr. Black Jack on a breed of superhumans that have the strength, intellectual, athletic, and artistic skills with great excel in different fields, only to later find out that they start deteriorating after some period of time and causing an untimely death. Joe needs Dr. Black Jack's help on finding a cure.
I've been spending a lot of time with Dr. Black Jack lately, so it is impossible for me to review this movie of its own merits and not compare it ruthlessly to the other adaptations that have been made. There is something I have always loved about Black Jack--he is such a well-developed character that he has the depth of simplicity, and yet, is genuinely far more complicated than he seems. This is a huge oxymoron, but it makes sense if you think about it. There is nothing *contrived* about him, and for such a dynamic, dark character, that is an accomplishment worthy of mention.
Thankfully, Black Jack says true to Tezuka-sensei's character insofar as conception is concerned.
The art style and overall aesthetic of the movie is *strongly* reminiscent of the movie adaptation of X, except this is overall a better movie. X made the mistake of trying to condense a long, complex story into an hour and a half. Black Jack wisely shied away from that mistake and focused instead on one story--a mega-episode, if you will, with a higher production value and, as is often the case with movies vs. TV shows, higher stakes.
That being said, the movie lacks some of the simple, powerful charm of Tezuka's manga stories, or even their portrayal in the recent TV series adaptation. This movie isn't intended to be charming--it is dark, gritty, sprawling, and blunt. Black Jack wears a trenchcoat instead of a cape (albeit with his arms out of the sleeves so it flutters like a cape), and he meshes himself in a world that is both sterile and industrial, a sprawling mass of tubing and electronics that could almost be considered retro-futuristic, even given that the anime is contemporary to 1996. The visuals are lush and gorgeous, and, again, like X the movie, are intricately-faceted and often ethereal. Both movies are able to make blood splatter look hauntingly elegant. This is the sort of aesthetic I love, so I'm admittedly biased, but it does what it does *well*, and that is what counts.
My biggest complaint with the movie is that conceptually it does not cover any new ground. We have the Big, Bad Pharmaceutical Corporation performing unethical experiments on uninformed humans, and the movie bashes us over the head with the consequences of trying to transcend humanity, reminding us that there is no such thing as a free lunch and all successes come at a cost. Instead of selling your soul to the devil, you have to sell your soul to the Giant, Faceless Multinational Corporation. The concept that a child growing up in a brutally-competitive, unaccepting, cold environment makes a screwed-up adult hellbent on success AT ALL COSTS (hi, Japan; I think this was aimed at you) is not new either. Granted, this is all the stuff epics are made of, and there is a reason the same themes keep resurfacing in fiction--they are relevant--but compared to Tezuka's creative, quirky way of delivering the same universal messages, this seems weak. I had already guessed pretty much everything that was going to happen two minutes into the movie.
All things considered, though, within the framework of a wider context this is a solid movie title, and there is the potential for those with little understanding of the Black Jack canon to enjoy themselves. It's not very deep and it's not very groundbreaking, but hey, the worst disasters and mistakes are often echoes of the same old refrains we've heard throughout human history. Maybe that is part of the point. Or maybe I'm reading too damn much into this movie.