Review: Suchîmubôi (Steamboy, 2004)


Hey, it’s Akira, only set in a different time period and only about a tenth better!

Written By: Sadayuki Murai & Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Directed By: Katsuhiro Ôtomo

I will never for the life of me understand the love affair people have with Katsuhiro Ôtomo. Akira was his first major film and it was a huge success and credited with changing the anime industry. This despite the fact that Akira was a jumbled mess of a film that had no discernible story whatsoever. Ôtomo spent ten years working on his next major film, Suchîmubôi, and by the tiniest of margins it managed to be a better film than Akira. Unfortunately in all that time working on the film Ôtomo failed to address the glaring flaws found in Akira, a complete lack of an interesting story and developed characters. Suchîmubôi, just like Akira, sure does look pretty, but it’s story is frankly pathetic. It’s like an old dime store novel, except dumbed down even more, that right there should tell you something.

Before I rag on the lack of a story any further, Suchîmubôi does indeed look gorgeous. You can tell that Ôtomo did his homework in regards to steam technology and how to properly display it on screen. England looks very muted and gray, much like one imagines it would look in the very drab Victorian era. Neat animation tricks can be found throughout Suchîmubôi, such as refracting mirrors, the aforementioned steam turning into ice and then snow, and much more. Visually Suchîmubôi is very appealing, at least until the final twenty or so minutes. At that point Ôtomo goes for his preferred chaotic battle style, the type where you have no idea what is going on and the edits are so fast and sloppy that it is impossible to keep track of the action. In short, the action becomes too hectic for its own good.

Back to the facet of Suchîmubôi that all Ôtomo fans want to pretend doesn’t exist, that darn story. What happens, who is evil, who is good and why the heck is that girl around? Who cares, it’s all fluff with caricatures, obviously evil men, twists and turns out of nowhere, characters changing allegiances with no reasoning given and then switching back yet again, I’m looking at you Dr. Eddy Steam! I really don’t want to keep talking about the story because there isn’t much to talk about, it’s a very shallow and obvious story, and it’s a complete rip-off from Akira. Just switch out steam for experimental mutants and you have the same exact story of scientists gone awry with their power. But, just when you thought the story couldn’t get any worse, the Doctors Steam both survive at the end, and hey, they didn’t die valiantly after all and none of their destruction of London matters because it’s just another experiment in their quest to further science. I think, nay, I know I need to read something even halfway decent to wash Suchîmubôi’s story from my mind.

What it all boils down to with Suchîmubôi is that it is a film full of arresting visuals and interesting ideas devoid of a passable story or intriguing characters. That sadly is the career of Katsuhiro Ôtomo in a nutshell. He is a man whose brain houses all kinds of wonderful ideas, if only he could learn how to put them in the proper context or scope then his movies would match his ideas. Suchîmubôi is yet another flawed film from Ôtomo, but hey, it sure does look pretty!




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