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.
A Medical Assessment of Dr. Black J. Acula's Movie
While I'm not as familiar as with the character as I was watching the show semi-regularly when I was younger, I found this feature adaptation on Amazon the other night and decided I'd try it out. What I found was a mixed bag of alternating extremes. At times extremely interesting and involving writing, at times extremely cliched and melodramatic writing, at times truly beautiful and engaging animation, at times truly terrible animation half-heartedly painted over with stylized freeze-frames.
I found the concept of the story to be pretty great, even if it's not necessarily the most original, a
spooky company performing experiments on people to create super humans gone horribly wrong ask a brilliant doctor to help them fix the formula. It's relatively well-done and I was quite drawn in throughout about 75% of the run-time, however, the last 25% almost completely lost me. Where it started out as a moderately subdued and down-to-earth medical mystery/conspiracy theory story, in the last act it felt the need to throw in a cacophony of dramatic exposition dumps and fiery action scenes set to supremely cheesy 80s love ballads.
The last act was beyond ridiculous and wasn't helped by the fact that the incessant freeze-frames for dramatic emphasis tended to occur almost every time a character projectile vomited blood, a side-effect of the aforementioned experiments gone wrong. But as the dramatic conclusion drew near, characters were almost constantly vomiting blood to remind us of the ticking clock and after a while it became frankly hysterical every time it happened.
Despite its occasionally awkward animations and slightly overblown shakespearean dialogue, the movie was a pretty good time and kept me entertained from start to finish. It had quite a few interesting characters who almost all got their time to shine, even if that time was sometimes spent hamming it up a bit in the voice acting department. If you're a big fan of the series you'll probably like it more than I did and if you aren't or were just a casual viewer like I was, you can still get a kick out of it. Black Jack the Movie gets a good 7 out of 10 stars from me.