Letters from the New York Otaku #4

“Letters from the New York Otaku”

By David Cabrera

#4 – The Shock of “In Japan, nobody cared about Redline”

Takeshi Koike and Madhouse’s passion project Redline toured film fests around the world over the last year or so to rave reviews from English-speaking anime fans. Meanwhile my online anime fan friends, mostly guys on the West Coast, were taunting me. “Seen Redline yet, Dave? Oh, right– it hasn’t played there yet!” I seethed in envy on the other side of the country as LA guys got to see Redline, Florida guys got to see Redline, and so on around the country with no showings anywhere near my beloved town.

So with my otaku pride hurting just a little, I decided to make an event of it when Redline finally made it to NYC theaters. Usually when I try and drag my friends out for a movie, everybody knows they’re in for something weird– Black Dynamite, Ohbayashi’s House– and the friends who show up are those precious five or so who trust my tastes and are absolutely up for anything.

When I called my friends out for Redline, about 20-some people showed up. I was overwhelmed. Most were otaku friends who knew exactly what they were getting into, some were just people sold by the film’s very impressive trailer, and one poor guy had absolutely no idea what he was going to see until the lights went down. He came out of the theater grinning ear-to-ear.

After we had talked and praised the movie to death– its distinctive look, its bizarre universe, its endless visual invention, and its absolute refusal to take itself seriously– I brought up an important point: “In Japan, nobody cared about Redline.” As you may be aware (or maybe you’re not aware of Redline at all!), the film didn’t do well at the box office or on video.

This statement was a little shocking to a few of my anime fan friends, possibly offensive. People who see Redline tend to be either entirely disinterested, or they fall in love with it from the first frame. For my friends, it was the latter. “How?”, they wanted to know. Didn’t anyone go to this movie and feel the way we did? Of all the ways you can react to this movie, how does an audience meet something like Redline with apathy? And so, we all went for the drinks we now needed.

Well, I don’t know why Redline wasn’t a huge hit in Japan either, but I think I know why it resonated so deeply with my friends and I. It has to do with where we came from and how we got to anime. Redline made sense to us.

But that’s a long story and we’re already at the end of the column, so next time we’ll talk about what the word “anime” meant in 1998 at the local Blockbuster Video store. In the meantime, go rent Redline, it’s fantastic!