What makes a monster? Are some men born monstrous or are they simply a product of their time? This film forces the viewer to struggle with these kinds of questions. What would we be willing to do in order to survive? Can we even fathom what people had to do so long ago and how can we possibly judge them? Asura has shocked and touched me in a way an anime film has not since Grave of the Fireflies. The title character is designed to look very much like an oni of folklore, but the viewer is reminded very quickly first and foremost he is
just a child. This makes witnessing his gruesome and primal attempts at survival all the more disturbing.
Perhaps what struck me most about this film was a clever sequence in which Asura struggles to crawl out from a pit of corpses. His clawed gnarled hands reach up to the light in the cracks of the rock and the animation breaks to see Wakasa in the river shortly before she discovers the wounded Asura. This scene clearly paralleled a certain journey for Asura. He crawled from the depths of Hell to catch a glimpse of Heaven and that's when he truly learns about human kindness from Wakasa. This scene was so poetic that it made the rest of the film all the more tragic.
This film was beautifully done. At times it is difficult to watch, but that is the point. I will not soon forget this film and I do not think anyone else who sees it will either.
Asura kicks off with a pregnant woman giving a quite graphic birth to a boy, before she beats a wild dog to death with a nearby axe. As we can see, things are looking pretty grim in this world. Everyone is dying and the only way to survive sometimes is to resort to cannibalism. This baby eventually leaves his mother (after she throws him onto a fire with the intent of eating him) and becomes a wild child who runs across the countryside, eating other dying people.
To be fair to the producers of Asura, there probably was a time in history when the outlook for
society really was this grim. There probably was a time when a child would stumble while pushing a log and a guard would order his father to throw his feeble son into the ravine. There indeed probably was a time when haggard housewives would stumble along a road, gossiping about how their next door neighbour ate her baby. Maybe it’s just my fault that I can’t take such a bleak world at face value. But it would really help if the show didn’t keep undermining itself.
For one, there’s no context given for how the world ended up in this state. People are poor and there’s no food, that’s just how life is. It never gives any idea that an alternative would ever exist. It’s just grim decay from start to finish, and it really likes to beat us over the head with this, to the point that it flips around and becomes unintentional comedy. The spurts of blood that would shoot out of someone the cannibal kid attacked looked completely ridiculous. It also has real issues with continuity sometimes. The cannibal kid suddenly jumped from having a vocabulary of about 10 words to being able to philosophise the pain of existence.
Then there was the CG, which had the usual problems CG has. Characters do that thing where they sway in motion for a few seconds before coming to a standstill, like a video game character returning to their neutral stance. Hair seems to be made out of flat pieces of paper glued onto the top of their head like a wig. I know the movie is supposed to look ugly, but I don’t think these were the kinds of ugly it was going for. Sometimes I wonder whether my dislike of fully CG anime comes from me being used to 2D animation and having a gut dislike of anime designs in 3D, but then I see a shot where someone’s standing still but their feet are mysteriously hovering a few centimetres above the ground and dismiss that thought.
It’s has some incredibly dumb scenes too. I’m going to spoil a big plot twist here, but you shouldn’t watch the movie anyway so who cares. The kid occasionally meets this monk who tries to teach him not to become a killer. During one of his attempts to teach the kid, the monk pulls out a sword and then swings at his own arm. I thought this about making the kid realise he cared for someone and would stop the monk from swinging the sword. But I was under the mistaken assumption that the movie was leading to some sort of hopeful narrative conclusion. Instead the monk chops his arm clean off and tells the kid to eat it. The kid runs away, so the monk just stands there are cries for a bit, probably at the realisation of how bloody thick he was for chopping off his own arm. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time.
And you know what this was all leading up to (spoiler warning for the end, but again who cares because it’s a rubbish film)? The kid has an entire village chase after him to kill him, only to fall into a ravine. The kid doesn’t die, which might at least give some narrative finality to his actions where we learn the damning life of being a monster that is beyond saving. Instead he becomes a monk with his life lesson being that people die because I don’t know, life sucks I guess. It’s such a frustratingly pointless end to a movie that would have been unpleasant even if it wasn’t so badly made. With that end though, it makes me wonder what the point of the whole thing was. Even if you like unrelenting grimness, which makes for a bad story anyway the same way unrelenting calm and peacefulness would, there’s anime far better made than this crap.
Asura starts off with a very graphic backstory as to how the main character came to be, showing his gruesome birth and exactly what he had to go through pretty much immediately after being born. Lets just say Asura didn't have a great start in life, and because of that he basically became a wild animal who can't speak. The movie is fairly short so I'm going to do my best not to spoil anything, that is why I'm not going to go into too much detail about specific events.
Story(6): While this is probably the movies saving grace, it doesn't exactly "save" it. The
story is about a boy who is left for dead by his mother in medieval Japan where starvation is the norm, and people often have to resort to cannibalism to survive. Having to survive on his own, he basically becomes a wild beast. Who will kill and eat anything, including humans. Early on he meets a monk, who for the first time in his life shows him compassion. The rest of the movie is basically him trying to survive in a small village where everyone sees him as a monster, while he's tries to become more human. Overall there where some distracting plot holes, like how did he survive as a newborn left for dead, but it was a fairly well told story with an ending that I think saved the film from being completely mediocre.
Art(6): The art is similar to the new Berzerk movies, in that it's a mix of digital 3D animation and hand drawn. Much like the new Berzerk I didn't even notice it was done in this style when seeing the trailers. It can look really nice during certain scenes, but scenes with subtle movement can tend to look awkward in my opinion. Maybe some people like this style, but I personally am not a fan. The movie might have actually benefited from being in a more traditional hand drawn style, cause I actually found it distracting at times.
Sound(6): Everything about the sound was just ok, the voice acting was ok, the score was ok, just ok. Nothing memorable. If anything the voice actor for the main character I thought over did it with the whole "wild beast" thing. I don't think that was his fault though, I'm sure he was directed to do it that way. I just think they could have been more subtle/realistic, about that.
Character(6): This was one of the things about the movie that was a bit disappointing. It is a character driven story, but the characters are just not that likeable. The monk was probably my favorite character, and he didn't get much screen time. The story relies very much on your feelings for the characters, and I just wasn't attached to them.
Enjoyment(6): I really can't say I enjoyed the movie that much, but it kept me entertained enough that I kept watching. There are some pretty climatic moments that keep you interested, so you never feel bored. At least I didn't
Overall(6): Overall, the film is watchable. I don't feel like my time was wasted watching it or anything, so if you are interested in it I say give it a shot. The ending really helped make it a 6 and not a 5 though, I just thought it had a good message however somewhat cheesy. I'd like to mention that I have never rated anything on MAL a 10, so my 6 is pretty much most peoples 7.
can you find the light in such a darkened dying world?
can you keep that light shining?
i never thought that 'asura' would bring me down to my knees.. in a brief winking moment my eyes witnessed all the blood and gore, the crescent carnage and madness surrounding. but in a subtle and suspended animation you can feel the beauty embracing you. a big round of applause for this timeless masterpiece..
and in the end if you can't feel any kind of compassion towards asura, i say you're the beast!