Fantasia 2012: ‘Asura’ is messy in some areas, but packs a lot of realized potential
Directed by Keiichi Sato
Written by Ikuko Takahashi
Who has not heard or read about the story of the man or woman who thought it was a neat idea to own as a pet, not a dog, cat, or some fish, but rather some wild beast they believed they could somehow tame and, in the process, form an inseparable bond with? A tiger, a lion or any other range of intuitively ferocious animal belonging in its natural habitat, that is, the wildlife. The story ends with mention of how the so-called pet turned on its its master, causing dreadful injury or even death. What propels people to engage themselves in as risky an endeavour as taming something that belongs in the wild is anybody’s guess. In Asura, the latest Japanese animated film, this one based on a 40 year old manga book from George Akiyama, screenwriter Ikuko Takahashi and director Keiichi Sato toy with the notion of taming wild beasts by having the creature be a real human boy who knows nothing of civility, only hunting and killing.
The setting of our story is feudal Japan, at a time and in place where poverty and death by starvation reigned supreme. One mother gives birth to a little baby boy on a violently stormy night, nearly perishing in the process at the hands of a famished wolf stalking her from just outside the abandoned cabin. Under the current socio-economic circumstances, the mother’s plight is now twofold: find a way to feed and offer shelter for herself and now a child. As the weeks go by, hunger, frustration and hopelessness get the better of her morals as she tosses the child into a sea of flames. The child unexpectedly survives, but without a proper upbringing, is it unlike any other youth. The boy is an animal, roaming the countryside with a spear, attacking unsuspecting innocents and hacking them to death for food. His barbaric ways take a different turn on the day he stumbles upon a Buddhist monk, who accepts to offer him food provided the boy, whom he baptizes Asura, refrain from killing. Thus begins Asura’s hurdle prone metamorphosis into as regular a human being he can become, the most emotionally challenging episode being when he is taken in by a young, beautiful woman who works in the fields for her father…