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  Locke the Superman It's a bird, it's a plane, it's not who you think so don't sue us
Year: 1984
Director: Hiroshi Fukutomi
Stars: Keiichi Nanba, Keiko Han, Taeko Nakanishi, Toshiko Fujita, Yoshito Yasuhara, Banjou Ginga, Daisuke Gouri, Eiko Yamada, Gara Takashima, Hidekatsu Shibata, Hideyuki Tanaka, Koji Totani, Shigeru Chiba
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Former super-soldier Locke (voiced by Keichi Nanba) is an all-powerful psychic whose near god-like abilities keep him eternally young. Now a committed pacifist he leads a quiet life rearing sheep on a distant farming planet. Until gung-ho Federation agent Ryu Yamaki (Yoshito Yasuhara) drags Locke out of self-imposed retirement to thwart his old adversary Lady Kahn (Taeko Nakanishi), an elusive industrialist secretly training a group of psychics for a war to usurp the old human order. One such powerhouse is Jessica Orin (Keiko Han), a teenage student at a girls' school run by Kahn, who has grown up mistakenly believing Locke murdered her parents. Under the guidance of Kahn's top agent Cornelia Prim (Toshiko Fujita), Jessica blossoms into a formidable psychic. Following a string of terrorist attacks across the galaxy the so-called Millennium group wipe Jessica's memories and install her as an undercover agent. Re-christened Amelia she falls deeply in love with Ryu until her explosive encounter with Locke.

Adapted from the 1979 manga by Yuki Hijiri, Choujin Locke or Locke the Superman was re-titled Locke the Superpower on its initial English language release to avoid any copyright entanglements with DC Comics. Having made his screen debut with a ten minute short also by Hiroshi Fukutomi, Locke's lavish two-hour adventure was the first theatrical film produced by Nippon Animation studio. It remains notable for its pioneering use of computer graphics and other artistic innovations like superimposing 'live' footage of flames, static and bubbles onto animated frames. Often lumped in with Japan's post-Star Wars (1977) space opera craze, Locke the Superman features the mile-long spaceships and wacky robots one would expect but tells a more introspective and delicately-paced story. Screenwriter Atsushi Yamatoya, who penned Seijun Suzuki's mind-bending cult crime thriller Branded to Kill (1967) and directed the even more bizarre Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands (1967), keeps the focus on psychology, character building and mystery.

Hijiri's action packed but melancholy story deals with some ambitious themes including a strident anti-war message (only slightly undermined by numerous set-pieces showcasing graphic violence). Bearing an intriguing resemblance to the Peter Pan featured in Gigi and the Fountain of Youth (1985), the titular hero is drawn as a tragic figure, dedicated to peace but doomed to a lonely life mistrusted by enemies and allies alike. The engaging central theme stems from Locke's steadfast belief that the psychics' innate humanity can transcend their programming as war machines. To that end his emotional journey is repeatedly paralleled with that of Jessica/Amelia who also grows to despise life as a psychic killing machine. Unfortunately the film's lofty ideas are derailed by a convoluted story-structure that too often veers off on wild tangents and shifts focus from Locke to dull supporting players like nice but dim Ryu. Indeed the film remains infamous in fandom circles for the scene where Ryu tries to break down a steel door with his head.

The film also devotes a lot of screen time to Jessica/Amelia whose subplot incorporates elements highly reminiscent of The Fury (1978): covert government testing, a psychic schoolgirl (who were all the rage in Eighties Japan: e.g. The Aimed School (1981), Esper Mami (1987), Kazuya Kudo and Riyoichi Kagami's popular manga Mai the Psychic Girl), dreamlike flashbacks where a protagonist misinterprets a key plot point, and slow-motion chase sequences in the Brian De Palma style. While Locke the Superman keeps curtailing promising subplots with strange left turns it still weaves an intricate story that leads to a satisfying pay-off. On a surface level the production oozes class all the way showcasing impeccable visuals, innovative editing, lavish futuristic design and a lush score by Goro Omi. All hallmarks of anime's golden age. The psychic action sequences where Locke does his thing prove suitably trippy and mind-blowing but the subtext is endearingly humane as Locke defuses Millennium's crypto-fascist pursuit of martyrdom and rekindles their humanity yet in a poignant coda finds no solace for himself. Four years later Akira (1988) usurped Locke as the definitive psychic sci-fi anime. Yet the gravity-defying green haired hero returned sporadically in direct-to-video sequels: Locke the Superman: Lord Leon (1989), Locke the Superman: New World Battle Team (1991) and Locke the Superman: Mirror Ring (2000).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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