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Entry updated 3 April 2023. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2004). Bandai Visual, Studio 4 degrees C, Steamboy Committee. Directed by Katsuhiro Ōtomo. Written by Sadayuki Murai and Katsuhiro Ōtomo. Cast includes Kiyoshi Kodama, Manami Konishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Ann Suzuki and Masane Tsukayama. 126 minutes (also cut at 103 minutes). Colour.

Ponderous Steampunk caper in which a family of inventors trap super-heated, super-pure water in a metal "steam ball" to create a miraculous Power Source. James Ray Steam (Suzuki) flees from Manchester to London, hoping to enlist Robert Stephenson (Kodama), son of the inventor of the "Rocket" locomotive, to keep the McGuffin from falling into the hands of moustache-twirling dastards. Steam's own father and grandfather argue incessantly about scientific ethics, while half of London falls to collateral damage.

Set in an Alternate History where the Crystal Palace has been built on the Isle of Dogs and Scarlett O'hara (Konishi) is the heiress to a foundation that sold guns to both sides in the American Civil War, Steamboy displays a wide-eyed admiration for Victorian style and attitudes. But despite appearances to the contrary, its rivets, goggles and unwieldy Mecha contraptions derive from antecedents in Japan, particularly the Jules Verne-inspired Gainax Anime serial Fushigi no Umi no Nadia (1990, trans as The Secret of Blue Water circa 1996 US), and Hayao Miyazaki's homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, Meitantei Holmes (1984-1985; vt Sherlock Hound, 2010 UK).

Sadayuki Murai's script focuses on "new types of weaponry", reminiscent of both the "new type of bomb" that opens Ōtomo's earlier Akira (1988) and Emperor Hirohito's similar phrasing as used to describe Hiroshima in our own world. Despite its trappings of Scientific Romance, Steamboy's warnings on progress and responsibility amount to little more than Akira in frills and starched collars. At heart, it is a meditation on the roots of the nuclear age, framing the unhistorical 1866 Great Exhibition as the venue where Weapons dealers from all over the world (except Japan) present tanks, flying machines, ironclad calliopes and armoured suits intended for a new century of industrialized warfare. A final coda shows James to have liberated his family's technology from the ruins in order to fight crime with a jet pack (see Superheroes). Bearing in mind Ōtomo's predilection for Recursive SF, this might be interpreted as a mischievous invitation to reconsider the film as an origin-story, and its title as a play on Osamu Tezuka's iconic Astro Boy (1963-1966).

Despite the presence of big-name actors such as Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina, the English-language cast offers an embarrassing miasma of faltering ecky-thump accents. Worst offender is a miscast Anna Paquin in the lead role, with a "Northern" dialect that wanders from Canada to New Zealand, and all points in between. [JonC]


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