kite_coverThis review of Kite is of a version not available in the States due to some depictions of intimacy with underage girls (don’t you just love euphemism?). That means two things: First, that you may not be able to find the show I’m writing about in the form I’m reviewing it, and though I doubt that there are any differences between the versions that would cause me to substantively alter my view of the show, you oughta know where I’m coming from. And second, kids – skedaddle, I’m talking to the elders here.

Kite is an anime whose shallows drown its depths. Maybe it was the creator’s personal perversities, or those necessitated by Green Bunny, the Japanese production company that created it, but the level of sleaze (as Mike Toole pegs it correctly in his Hentai Jump review) in the uncut Kite undermines the show as an entertainment and so forestalls it from being anything greater.

Kite is the story of Sawa, a girl taken into custody by a police officer after her parents have been murdered. Through a series of psychological and physical abuses, the cop Akai gets a deep hold on Sawa and trains her to become an assassin, murdering pedophiles for bounties. She meets another bounty hunter in the cop’s thrall (sort of) named Oburi and develops something like a healthy relationship with him.

This provides the setup for a taut psychological thriller, and Kite certainly steps in that direction; but then it flounders too far in the direction of pornographic sex and ludicrous violence to be anything but a gorgeous and at times astonishingly well-directed failure.

Take the very first sequence: Sawa (dressed in a schoolgirl’s outfit and looking quite young) is being nigh-on molested by her mark, a TV comic, while an old lady in the elevator watches. There’s an altercation between the comic and the old lady, during which Sawa calmly steps to the elevator door, pulls out a gun, fires into the comic’s head and chest, and walks out. Terse, quiet, disturbing. Then the bullets in his body explode, spraying blood Fist Of The North Star-style, as if his body had been under constant pressure and the explosions had loosed the valve. Any tension or mood the story had developed is undermined by excess.

The sex is treated the same way: it seems to confuse its own purpose with its graphic nature. Akai creates, in some manner (one might cynically assume it was added for the mere purpose of a sex scene), a sexual slave out of the girl. The sex between them is abusive – rape, essentially. Well, rape ain’t titillating, it’s disturbing. The inclusion of these rape scenes and Sawa’s own complicity could have had thematic weight, but making them pornographically specific robs them of that weight, (not least because Akai’s anatomy looks pretty goofy).

The mood is killed completely, and a dark little ‘amorality’ play is turned into a farce. The scenes between the cartoonish violence and the lurid sex are some of the most interesting, as Sawa and Oburi start to develop an affection for each other through accumulated quiet details: sharing some tea, lying next to each other on mats and talking about little to nothing, one gets a palpable feeling of the hurt that lies inside these characters, and how difficult is even this moderate amount of interaction. Even more haunting are the times when Sawa gets playful, teasing Oburi in the supermarket. Though they are murderers, it’s like they’re still kids.

There’s a lot of coinage here to be spent in an absorbing action film, but it’s all spent in the wrong places. Only one action sequence, where Sawa botches an assassination attempt on a Hollywood pervert, really works, but not within the context of the show: it’s a separate piece that, like the extended murder scene in Hitchcock’s Torn
, has a sort of mastery apart from the film it lives inside. It is grueling, ugly, and long, and the fight goes on without anyone seeming to get the upper hand. It’s a great sequence, but it requires that you forget everything you’ve seen before – the stuff about Sawa’s assassination skills, when she moved in, killed her mark, and was gone with nary a trace.

Kite has so much going for it – the character designs are hauntingly beautiful, the animation is detailed, and the sax music is appropriately moody. At every chance, though, it sabotages itself by routinely returning to the surface just when it threatens to explore the scenario’s inherent depths. It wants to be about morality but never examines, questions, or defines the moral parameters of its characters. Does Sawa ever think about the people she kills? Why do Akai and his partner seem to target only pedophiles when they themselves capture and rape young girls (and not just Sawa)? Kite is too concerned with exploding bullets and kinda funky-looking phalluses to ever really deal with itself.
Rating: C-


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