At the foot of a wrecked shrine, a beast is born in fire and destruction. Plunged into an age of war, chaos and starvation, and taught to eat human flesh by the madwoman who gave birth to him, he is called “Asura,” for the warlike Buddhist spirit, or “anti-god.”
Toei’s anime feature ASURA (????, Ashura) will begin its Japanese theatrical run on September 29th. The film has already made its North American premiere; screening at the New York Asian Film Festival/Japan Cuts in July, with the Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on August 1st.
Based on George Akiyama’s legendary banned manga (originally serialized in Kodansha’s Weekly Young Magazine in 1970-1971), ASURA is a brutal anti-Miyazaki movie about the depths we’ll sink to in the worst of times. Directed by anime veteran Keiichi Sato (TIGER & BUNNY, KARAS) and featuring two legendary Japanese voice actresses, Masako Nozawa (DRAGON BALL, GALAXY EXPRESS 999) and Megumi Hayashibara (COWBOY BEBOP, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION), the film is harsh, uncompromising and relentless. But underneath the scars it has a battered, bleeding, burning human heart.
Mid-15th century Japan. Flood, drought and famine have transformed the landscape of the capital of Kyoto into a barren wasteland. More than 80,000 have perished in the three years between 1459 and 1461. This desolate state served as the backdrop to the beginning of the country’s greatest civil war. The victims of this dark period in Japan’s history were too great in number to include in the pages of history.
Orphaned as an infant after his mother tries to eat him alive, Asura is forced to learn the means to survive in the wild. He becomes a pint-sized murder machine, killing and eating everything in his path — human and animal alike — until he meets a beautiful village girl, Wakasa. Wakasa nurses him back to health, teaches him to speak, and works to turn him away from the path of barbarism. Through love she tames Asura’s beastly heart and teaches him the lessons of humanity.
But times are hard, and as disease and starvation bear down on Wakasa’s village, her poverty-stricken neighbors prove unwilling to accept the strange outsider and lash out against Asura. Though he was taught kindness, love and empathy, it is jealousy and prejudice that drives Asura as he reverts to his animalistic mindset. But he can’t help remembering the words of the Buddhist monk who tamed him once before, and the sacred, purifying sutra chant he was once taught. In this world Asura never asked to be born into, he must conquer the beast within, or die trying…
ASURA was produced using a new technique Toei Animation has developed called Hybrid Animation. It mimics “watercolor in motion”, the next evolution in traditional animation. All of the characters are animated in CG while the backgrounds are painted in traditional fashion. This allows the camera to move freely in the environment and adds realism to animation. Forging the composite between CG and 2D elements was a challenge, but Toei feels the end result is innovative and distinct, marking a new age in the history of Japanese animation.
“ASURA is a deeply moving film reflecting the destructive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan just over a year ago,” explained the film’s producer, Yoshi Ikezawa. “It personifies the collective consciousness of a people heartbroken by unimaginable disaster, only to embrace humanity and find strength in each other.”