North American Premiere
78 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Directed by: Keiichi Satou
Starring: Masako Nozawa, Megumi Hayashibara, Kinya Kitaoji, Kappei Yamaguchi, Tetssho Genda
Thursday, July 12 @ 6:30pm (buy tickets)
In 15th century Kyoto, at the foot of a wrecked shrine, a beast is born in fire and destruction. Plunged into an age of war, chaos and starvation, and taught to eat human flesh to survive by the madwoman who gave birth to him, he is a bestial cannibal child, called “Asura,” for the warlike Buddhist spirit, or “anti-god.” Based on controversial “king of trauma” George Akiyama’s legendary, banned manga, ASHURA is not what we’ve come to expect from an animated feature film. It is a brutal anti-Miyazaki movie, about the depths we’ll sink to in the worst of times. Lensed by anime veteran Keiichi Sato and featuring two legendary Japanese voice actresses, Masako Nozawa (Dragonball and Galaxy Express 999) and Megumi Hayashibara (Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion), it is, like its creator, harsh, uncompromising, and relentless. But underneath the scars it has a battered, bleeding, burning human heart.
Orphaned as an infant after his mother tries to eat him alive, Asura grows to become a pint-sized murder machine, killing and eating everything in his path, until he meets a beautiful village girl, Wakasa. Wakasa nurses him back to health, teaches him to speak, and works to turn him away from the path of barbarism. But times are hard, and as disease and starvation bear down on Wakasa’s village, Asura reverts to his animalistic mindset. But he can’t help remembering the words of the Buddhist monk who tamed him once before, and the sacred, purifying sutra chant he was once taught.
ASURA is staggeringly gorgeous, featuring an animation process that’s been compared to “watercolor in motion,” utilizing three-dimensional CG characters against lush painted backgrounds. At 75, Masako Nozawa gives a heart-wrenching performance as a very young boy wrestling with how to articulate basic emotions that come to us naturally but are utterly alien to Asura. Megumi Hayashibara makes Wakasa less of a saint, and more of a human, with needs and doubts all her own. In this world Asura never asked to be born into, he must conquer the beast within, or die trying. For all the heartbreak, pain, and rage, there is a kind of battered grace to this disfigured little demon. With damnation at either end of his path, he perseveres, and if you go with him, you will discover that through the fire and the blood, there is still faith, humanity, and hope. We had to show ASURA, because Asura is us. Trust us: Stay after the credits.