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  Marine Express where lies the secret of the sea?
Year: 1979
Director: Osamu Tezuka
Stars: Kosei Tomita, Fumi Koyama, Junichi Takeoka, Mari Shimizu, Shinji Toyoda, Kachita Hisashi, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kenta Kimotsuki, Koichi Chiba, Toshiko Ota, Koji Yada
Genre: Thriller, Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: It’s the maiden voyage of Marine Express, the amazing undersea train, journeying from California to Japan. But sinister forces are at work. The director of the Public Construction Corporation is found dead in his office. Ace detective Shunsaku Ban chases the killer, but is ambushed by karate kicking assassins. Left for dead, his life is saved by the legendary Black Jack, genius outlaw/surgeon, who promptly delivers a bill for 5 million yen! Together, they trail the killers to Marine Express where it seems every passenger harbours a secret.

Dr. Nasenkopf, the train’s designer, has had second thoughts and now plots to destroy his creation before it ruins the environment. His son, Rock, the train driver, has strange visions of the ancient undersea kingdom of Mu. Mr. Credit, the U.S. Secretary of State, is using fake passenger dummies to smuggle laser weapons. His little daughter Milly falls in love with Nasenkopf’s adopted son, Adam - who is really the amazing robot child Tetsuwan Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy)! Shunsaku Ban and Rock reveal Nasenkopf’s plot to the C.I.A, but injured during his escape the scientist falls into a coma.

This triggers a bomb set to explode in twelve hours. Gun-toting saboteurs storm Marine Express, forcing Black Jack to perform life-saving surgery aboard a speeding train prone to shark attacks, while Milly tries to convince Adam/Atom/Astro Boy to rebel against his programming. Just when things couldn’t get any worse: a time-warp transports everyone to ancient Mu, where young Queen Sapphire and her magical lion, Leo lead the fight against alien invaders. The three-eyed alien Prince Sharaku and his sidekick, Count Dracula have evil designs on Marine Express, which leads to intergalactic war, flying Easter Island statues, not one but two tragic love stories, and Astro Boy taking on a ten-thousand strong army. And you thought your commute was tough?

Fans of manga genius Osamu Tezuka will find all their Christmases come true here. The zany concept behind Marine Express is that all your favourite Tezuka creations are actors playing roles in this story. So we have cameos from Leo of Jungle Emperor (1965), Sapphire, star of Princess Knight (1967), and Black Jack, all voiced by their original performers. In the great tradition of Far East filmmaking, this anime classic crams a dozen movies worth of fantastical ideas, sci-fi action and in-jokes into one, mind-bogglingly complex plot, but in the hands of a master storyteller, becomes an exhilarating thrill ride. From the opening film noir/detective story car chase we segue into an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit by way of Speed (1994), before several astonishing twists warp us into a lost world fantasy adventure akin to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Tezuka manages these strange u-turns without losing his grip over the often poetic characterization, and weaves in Jacques Cousteau-style science lectures about sea-life and several philosophical asides. He fervently believed anime should enlighten as well as entertain, and here tackles complex issues from varying perspectives. Environmental issues are obviously the main theme, but racism, Third World exploitation, religion and the morality behind artificial intelligence, are all woven into the audacious plot. Half-Polynesian Dr. Nasenkopf is driven as much by the prejudice he suffered in youth as by desire to avenge environmental rape. Black Jack sports a skin-graft, donated by an African friend, as a badge of honour marking his liberal ideals. Several manga stars are ‘cast’ against type: with Elmer Fudd look-alike the Three-Eyed Prince as the surprise villain and perennial bad guy Rock, playing the hero for a change.

Even Tezuka’s most beloved and traditionally moral character, Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, is reborn as a tragic anti-hero. When Milly implores the robot child not to blow up the train Tezuka deliberately evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick approached Tezuka to work as special effects supervisor, but prior commitments meant he had to decline!), although here young love and childhood innocence save the day. Tezuka famously disagreed with Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, taking a Buddhist/Shintoist view that any artificial intelligence would inevitably develop a soul.

Newcomers may struggle to tease out such allusions from the eccentric narrative, but you don’t have to be an anime fan to savour a Dracula cameo or a robot co-pilot named Dewey, in reference to Silent Running (1971). Disco title song by Tommy Snyder of Godiego, the band who performed the theme to Monkey (1979).
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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