Aug 31, 2018
Welcome back to Film Buff Friday. If I had to pick a favorite day to produce this podcast, it has to be Film Buff Fridays. I love going back to films I’ve seen before and classics I never had the chance to see. This week is particularly special, because I have an attachment to this Japanese animated film, one that shows my age. If you love Japanese animation, then check out “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” (Episode #212) and “Flavours of Youth” (Episode #224) for two animated features, and “FullMetal Alchemist” (Episode #058) and “Gintama” (Episode #206) for two live action adaptations. And if you have any favorites, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Fist of the North Star” (1986), the Toei Animation feature-length film directed by Toyoo Ashida and written for the screen by Susumu Takaku, based on the manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. The film is set after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed the earth and transformed some humans into powerful mutants bent on conquering what remains of humanity. However, a man named Kenshiro (Akira Kamiya) seeks his lover Yuria (Yuriko Yamamoto), who has been kidnapped by his former brother-in-arms, Shin (Toshio Furukawa). And the streets do in fact run deep with the blood of the non-believers.
My first exposure to “Fist of the North Star” was the game developed for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, a side-scrolling beat-em-up with a story I could barely understand. I didn’t have access to the Internet, nor access to a library where I might be able to get more information, and frankly, the game wasn’t that good. It wasn’t until I stumbled across the Columbia House VHS Anime club that I started to really get into anime, starting with “Akira” which blew my mind, proceeding to “Ghost in the Shell”, “Lupin 3”, “Barefoot Gen”, and eventually, “Fist of the North Star”. I still remember when my mom came home to see me watching an animated film featuring fountains of orange-tinted blood, shaking her head, and moving along. At least I assume she was shaking her head, because my eyes were glued to the screen, as only an adolescent nerd would.
“Fist of the North Star” is based off the animated series that was developed off the manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. It began with a smallish post-apocalyptic wasteland tale that developed into a complex set of characters. The animated series stuck closer to the original manga, but the film plays fast and loose with the story, using the same production team, and picking and choosing scenes to get right to the fighting in most cases. The story made very little sense on first viewing, and only a bit more after two more viewings, but the images were like nothing I had seen before. While “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell” brought a Neo-Tokyo vibe, “Fist of the North Star” was violent on a whole new level, and it made me seek out other R-rated animation that might exist out there, including cult classics like “Wizards” and “Heavy Metal”, the latter I had to get a special note from my mother to rent from the local video store, and one I intend to review for an upcoming Film Buff Friday. It was slim pickings back then, but they inspired today’s plethora of adult-oriented animated features and series.
“Fist of the North Star” may easily be the bloodiest animated film ever made, or at least it was at the time. The patchwork story almost gets in the way of the fighting and did I mention the fountains of blood? In retrospect, the film also lacks cohesion because it was clearly intended to be the first of a series of films, as this film culminates in our hero being spared yet again by Raoh (Kenji Utsumi) and still not finding his now lost lover Yuria. Even the end credits scenes teases a lush oasis in the wasteland that feels tacked on. Sure, the fighting was tantalizing to a young man, and it was no doubt influential as a film, but the story and direction leave a lot to be desired, especially with the high quality of the animation of the time and such a rich intellectual property to mine, one that continues in multiple video game renditions today.
“Fist of the North Star” (1986) is one of the earliest adult-oriented animated features to make its way from Japan to the United States, inspiring other adult-oriented offerings. The film has problems with story and direction, but also has great animation and excellent voice performances. It could have been a lot worse, but it also could have been a lot better. Fans of early Japanese animation, or fountains and fountains of blood, should definitely check out this film, but then do yourself a favor and check out the original animated series.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.0/10
“Fist of the North Star” (1986) is not rated and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Crackle.