“One Piece Film: Red” practically redefines the phrase “eye candy” when it comes to Japanese anime. A colorful cornucopia that pushes the shadings palette, it’s a musical fantasy action adventure so stuffed with characters that you pretty much have to be Japanese to keep all, or at least some of them straight.
That’s what happens when you adapt a manga and get 15 films out of it — visual dazzle and character clutter that leaves the narrative comically incoherent Nipponese nonsense.
I dare say fans will find pleasure in the ongoing brawl between pirates and the straw hats and in Uta the singer’s power pop, so Shakira-stylized that she mesmerizes all who hear her. I’m tempted to source the soundtrack, but I traded my MX5, and the whole point would be to listen with the top down and soak in the stares of everybody who stops next to me at a traffic light.
In this One World fantasy, there is but one government and its most important branch just might be the Navy. They’re the ones charged with contending with pirates. It may be a high tech civilization offering pop show spectacles that would put Lizzo, Taylor and Gaga to shame. But seafaring is still done under sail. Call it “sail punk” fantasy, because steam punk is ruled out.
Uta’s (Kaori Nazuka) putting on this epic show when assorted piratical factions set out to singer-nap her, mid-concert. The straw hats, including childhood chum Luffy (Mayumi Tanaka) set out to foil them. Flashbacks show their childhoods, with Uta’s craving for stardom separating them, eventually.
There are other intrigues and wrinkles in the plot, but they take a back seat to a stadium full of characters. A talking bear, what looks like Hello Kitty’s uncle and a hulking talking and tusked blue beast wearing an Elvis suit (“fat Elvis” era) stand out from the pack.
But there are others — Nami, Shanks, etc. — who are part of the story’s continuum and take on their tiny pieces of the puzzle to move this two hour chiaroscuro cartoon to its climax.
It’s all rather psychedelic in look and feel, not so much a film a newcomer to the series plumbs for meaning. Let it wash over you as spectacle that can be a tiny window to another culture.
For instance, there’s this telling line, served up after we’ve spent much of the movie watching Uta sing via a sort of boots-eye-view, looking up her skirt. She’s not alone in getting the anime lads’ attention. Nami (Akemi Okamura).
“I can almost see Nami-san’s PANTIES!”
No, that isn’t in every anime film. But don’t get me started on Miyazaki.
Film series produced by Hollywood take some pains to make each movie stand alone by giving the viewer enough information and ongoing narrative recap to let it make sense. Japanese anime isn’t bound by those rules. Whatever the simplest throughline of the thread is, “One Piece” makes just enough sense to grab hold of, but not enough to recommend to anyone not already immersed in this world.
About 15 minutes of its dazzling visuals and vapid narrative is enough. But if you doubt this distinctly Japanese art form isn’t making its mark, check out the box office of this film, and take note of the trailer for the next “Puss’in Boots” movie from Hollywood. It’s loaded with anime approaches to fights, action and over-the-top wackiness.
Rating: PG-13 for violence, suggestive material, profanity
Voice Cast (Japanese version): Kaori Nazuka, Mayumi Tanaka,
Akemi Okamura, Shûichi Ikeda, many others
Credits: Directed by Gorô Taniguchi, scripted by Tsutomu Kuroiwa, based on a manga by Eiichiro Oga. A Crunchyroll release.
Running time: 1:55