Saturday, October 17, 2009

Newsday Astro Coverage

In preparation for the upcoming CG animated Movie, has two new Astro Boy articles. The first is a look at the issues found within the film and the apprehension felt with taking on a feature version of this beloved character. The second is a short look at the influence of Osamu Tezuka. There is also an image gallery of scenes from the movie.

Check out Newsday to read "An icon in Japan, Astro Boy comes to America" and "Astro Boy creator Tezuka the 'Walt Disney of Japan'" or click the link below for archived versions of both articles.

An icon in Japan, Astro Boy comes to America

October 16, 2009 By JOHN ANDERSON Special to Newsday

Astro Boy has issues.

Like a lot of kids bordering on adolescence, he feels different. A bit alien, perhaps. His father doesn't understand him. He wants to be accepted. He wants to be normal. And he has rockets shooting out his legs.

Based on the celebrated Japanese manga and anime TV series, the big-budget, 3-D "Astro Boy," being released in theaters by Summit Entertainment Friday, revisits the iconic '60s character, with a topical '09 spin: He may be "Peter Pan," "Pinocchio" and "Oliver Twist" all rolled into one superpowered android, but in his jet wake trails a plume of topical issues, cosmic questions and metaphysical disorientation. If anyone still thinks animation is only for children, this first Astro Boy film will happily disabuse them.

Trying to survive

Directed by David Bowers ("Flushed Away"), the actionadventure (and comedy) is set in the futuristic Metro City, which floats above an Earth not unlike the one in "WALL-E" - used up, polluted and, in this case, inhabited only by a vagabond population scrounging for survival. When the famous Metro City robotics scientist Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicolas Cage) loses his son, he replaces him with a robot boy - and then rejects his creation as an unsuitable substitute. Bewildered and wounded, the soon-to-be-dubbed Astro Boy ends up on Earth and has to deal with a culture taught to hate his kind.

If anyone wants to read anything into this, be the director's guest.

"If people don't get it," Bowers said from London, "that's OK - it still plays as a movie. But if they do get it, that's great." He said at the time he was writing the movie (with "Kindergarten Cop's" Timothy Harris), the world was slightly different, "and I can't help but reflect what's going on in the world in my work. I want people to be stimulated by the movie. You can unplug your brain if you want and you'll still enjoy it. If you leave it plugged in, you'll enjoy it more."

Which is not to say "Astro Boy" isn't an action film with a lovable central character, one to whom museums are dedicated in Japan. But in addition to the epic battles between good and evil - and between Astro Boy and some very impressive monster robots - there's a pervasive subtext about the nature of humanity, and a lesson in tolerance. Just for the kids, of course.

"If you're taught to hate someone or something, and then find out they're not so bad, it's hard to deal with," said actress Kristen Bell, who voices Cora, leader of the Dickensian pack of wild children who work for the Fagin-esque Hamegg (Nathan Lane) and who initially accept Astro Boy as just another human. "She definitely has to struggle with the idea that this kid she likes is a robot."

"I think that it's nice to have that undercurrent in the film," said Freddie Highmore, whose face is known to audiences for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "August Rush" and whose voice has been heard in films such as "Arthur and the Invisibles." "It's about things everyone can relate to, the feeling of being slightly different for whatever reason and wanting to be like everyone else. But there are issues you don't expect to be raised in this film, the biggest one being about rejection and trying to fit into society. Astro Boy thinks he's the same as everybody else, but he's a robot, and that's the obstacle he has to overcome. Apart from saving the world."

A certain apprehension

In the original series by "godfather of anime" Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy was conjured up by a scientist to replace his dead son, but as Bowers points out, Tezuka's scientist wasn't as directly responsible for the death as he is in the new film. "Also, in the movie," said Bowers, "he gives the robot boy his son's memories, so we get into the question of what is it that makes us human, and what is it that makes a person a person, which aren't in the original." The old Astro Boy, he said, "knows he's a robot from the get-go. He just looks like the man's son."

Bowers admitted to a certain apprehension about taking on a story and character so beloved, at least in Japan, and about whom the Japanese, not surprisingly, feel a bit proprietary. "At the same time," he said, "the Tezuka estate encouraged me to expand on the universe of the story and make a movie that would play globally. 'Astro Boy' has been very big in Asia and Latin America but hasn't really made an enormous impact on Europe or the United States. They're hoping this might be the movie to introduce him.

"I think it's easy to underestimate a family audience," he added. "Kids are able to deal with a lot more drama than we give them credit for: The classic Disney films like 'Snow White,' 'Bambi' and 'Pinocchio' are pretty devastating at times. But I think kids appreciate drama and with drama here have to be peaks and valleys, so the lower you go, the higher you can climb. And then everything works out happily. And 'Astro Boy' does have a very happy ending. He just has to go through a lot to get there."


Astro Boy creator Tezuka the 'Walt Disney of Japan'

October 16, 2009 By JOHN ANDERSON Special to Newsday

Photo credit: Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd. | Osama Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy.

For couch potatoes of a certain age, exposure to world culture once consisted of the British puppet adventure "Thunderbirds," the Japanese cartoon "Speed Racer" and most memorably "Tetsuwan Atomu" - "Astro Boy," the syndicated program based on the 1951 manga (comic book) by Osamu Tezuka. Known as "the Walt Disney of Japan," and the godfather of manga, Tezuka would parlay his nuclear sprite into the animated TV program first broadcast in Japan from 1963 to 1966 (it was shown in an English-language version on NBC at almost the same time). The series would be relaunched in the '80s, and again in 2003, but the original episodes had the greatest impact culturally, establishing Astro Boy as the humanoid Mickey Mouse of Japan and giving him a certain pop-iconic status here as well.

As the first hero of anime, the Japanese style that has influenced animation globally, Astro holds a sacred place in his country's pop-cultural consciousness. Still, his genesis is of a sort that has echoes everywhere. In addition to "Oliver Twist," and perhaps "Billy Budd," Tezuka was clearly influenced by "Pinocchio" - he met Walt Disney at the 1964 World's Fair in New York - and he himself seems to have influenced not only "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," the Steven Spielberg film, but perhaps even the short story on which it was based: In 1969, well after "Astro Boy" and his creation myth, UK author Brian Aldiss published that story ("Super-Toys Last All Summer Long"), about an android boy who doesn't know he isn't real and faces rejection when his "mother" becomes pregnant. And "A.I.'s" original guiding light, Stanley Kubrick, asked Tezuka to be the art director on "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Tezuka may have been compared to Disney, but he certainly had a sphere of influence all his own.


Watch Astro Boy said...

hehe I want one!

Unknown said...

You did great job..
It does not matter whether it is very different from the origin.
It looks like Japanese domestic viewer reject this film.. it is very sad to say that they may lose a great opportunity to make this astro very famous like Micky Mouse.
If this film fails, there will be no more Astro 2.....