Osamu Tezuka is probably as close to Walt Disney as anyone in Japan will ever be.
He started out by redefining Manga and then jumpstarted the Japanese anime market with Astroboy. In his early work, he told surprisingly dark stories for younger readers featuring a running cast of familiar characters, but later moved to more adult work. His output ranged from incredible science fiction stories to horror, historical, mystery, and almost every genre of manga conceivable, including a cartoon biography of Buddha and an incredible, unfinished epic, The Phoenix, covering thousands of years.
There’s a definite inventiveness to much of his anime output (although he never seems to have done the traditional director’s job on any of his animation projects), with some fairly wild abstract animation turning up in his animated version of The Phoenix.
Fumoon was made for Nippon TV and originally ran as a TV special. Now, I’ll confess that, as a result of all those animated kid’s specials I watched during the Seventies, I would normally expect Fumoon to be the most limited of limited animation, with more talk than motion.
Of course, the Japanese seemed to use limited animation in far more creative ways than their American counterparts, but Fumoon does not seem particularly limited. It certainly looks far better than Speed Racer. I suspect that Tezuka Productions had a larger budget to work with than they had for their various TV series, as it looks remarkably good. It perfectly catches the look and style of Tezuka’s classic art.
Mind you, it doesn’t look quite as good as their big feature film, Space Firebird 2772 did that same year. But then, you really wouldn’t expect that.
One of Tezuka’s earliest classics, Nextworld, formed the basis for this TV movie. Along with Lost World and Metropolis, it was one of the stories in his epic early science fiction trilogy) –There are a few notable differences, like changing Tezuka regular Kenichi from a child to a teenager, but it is remarkably true to the original.
When a scientist starts investigating a strange series of events, including a number of disappearances, he learns that the atom bomb tests on a once beautiful island have somehow led to the birth of a new human race, who call themselves the Fumoon.
The Fumoon have incredible mental powers and communicate entirely by their thoughts. They don’t even have mouths, and look a lot more like our traditional idea of a fairy.
They are supposedly fairly small at first, although later on I think they lost sight of what size they were supposed to be in some of the scenes.
But it is a minor glitch.
While their main goal is remaining hidden, they hate the outside world which devastated their island and want to eliminate anyone who knows about them.
However, there was a devastating stellar explosion a long way off, and it has sent a vast black cloud towards the Earth which has already swallowed up and destroyed countless other suns. They plan to leave the rest of us to our fate and fly away in their dazzling spacecraft.
And the rest of us won’t survive without their help…
It is quite impressive, in a film which is only 90 minutes long, just how much is packed into this story. We After setting up the background of the cold war which threatens to turn hot between two major powers, and the endless series of atom bomb tests by both sides on the same island, the story turns into a mystery, with several of Tezuka’s stock cast in a number of roles, including Mr. Mustachio, Rock, and even Duke Red as the leader of one of the two warring nations. Tezuka gives us car chases, trips to strange worlds, gangsters, corporate intrigue, desperate plans and even apocalyptic destruction.
And yet, for all these complications, Fumoon remains at its heart a surprisingly straightforward story.
That is very hard to achieve.
Somehow most of these early classics seemed to end up with epic amounts of destruction, and yet this is one of the most hopeful of his stories. Yes, we have made a mess of our world, but we can, if we chose, change our ways and once again make our world beautiful. While many of Tezuka’s characters make great sacrifices in his stories, the Fumoon girl, Rococo is one of his most admirable characters, taking enormous risks to save the lives of the people who caused so much harm to her people.
Fumoon isn’t as radical as some of his other animated work, but there is a rather comic and Tezuka-esque moment when we see what the Fumoon are doing to prepare the animals they load aboard their spacecraft.
It is, however, an excellent adaptation of a great Manga. While it isn’t exactly a classic itself, it is a solid and entertaining little film, with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting.
Which is more than you can expect from most animated TV movies.
And you’ve got to love any movie which dubs a minor character “Dr. Frankenstein”…
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