Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Does the humane society care if cartoon dogs get hurt in an anime?

I went to see the anime film, "Steamboy," with a friend tonight. The movie wasn't too bad. The animation was very good, at times approaching art. The story was watchable even though it did descend into the juvenile at times. The theme explored the perils of technological advancement in an era of nationalism, capitalism, and militarism. In that sense, it was a bit sophomoric for my taste. Capitalism has been the greatest engine for creating and distributing wealth among the general population the world has ever seen. The nation-state is not inherently bad, and where the people govern themselves it is a guarantor of liberty and human rights. It's hard to object to the film's portrayal of militarism, a bad ism I'll admit, but I will note that the military is as necessary to a peaceful society as the police.

But it wasn't the movie itself that struck me. Instead, the most interesting thing about the movie involved the audience's reaction to something that happened in the movie. The annoying girl character had a cute little dog that she hit a couple of times early in the movie. Don't ask me why. She was a rather loathsome little girl and she never got her comeuppance for hitting her dog. She even ends up the friend of the boy hero by the end of the movie. Maybe it's a cultural thing because no self-respecting western filmmaker would let her off that easy. The audience would not stand for it.

In fact, that's exactly what happened tonight. Each time the girl hit her dog a large percentage of the audience groaned and complained. This, for an animated character in a movie. Truly no dogs were hurt in the making of the movie. Still the audience reacted. Lots of human characters were hurt in the movie too. Some even died. Yet the audience didn't even cringe at that. Not once.

What does that mean, I wonder?



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While I believe I enjoyed the film more than you -- I've thought about it some since seeing it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it -- it absolutely remains a flawed picture. The filmmaker did a good job balancing the various -isms, though he clearly had a message he hoped to put across. It's interesting that both sides had armies and "hi-tech" steam machinery. It clearly was using steam power as an analogy for atomic power (and the weapons that can come of it -- the steam ball was unquestionably a stand-in for a nuclear reactor), which makes the questions raised within the film more timely: in a world where nuclear power and weapons exist, who really deserves to have them?

Each side believes it's right and would possess and potentially utilize them in a manner that, in their view, is justifiable. Yet clearly there are those who should have them, and those who should never have them (Bin Laden, as a just one of many examples). I don't have a good answer ...

As for the dog, that was a weird trait for the girl (Scarlett O'Hara) to possess. I am wondering if the undubbed version showed her in a different light ... she had essentially no redeeming qualities, and she never paid in any way for mistreating her pet. She reminded me of Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka more than anyone else.

Oh well ... I remain quite glad I saw it, and will continue to think about it in the coming days.
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