© 1996 Tezuka Productions
Black Jack: The Movie
Whenever I hear the name Osamu Tezuka, I invoke fond childhood memories of watching Astroboy blasting off on his many adventures. Or I remember the visually stupendous Metropolis, a fitting tribute to one of the most influential figures in anime. And even thoughts of Kimba, the White Lion pop up, more so from the Disney/Lion King controversy than from actually watching the series (which, admittedly, I haven't). But a dark, moody medical drama in the vein of E.R. is about the last thing that comes to mind. Yet, that is exactly what Black Jack: The Movie delivers, featuring Tezuka's unlicensed, yet incredibly talented surgeon-for-hire, Black Jack.
Not being a fan of television medical dramas, I never took interest in the Black Jack OAV series that U.S. Manga Corps released a few years back. The time needed to get through the entire series didn't seem worth it. This movie, on the other hand, at only 90 minutes in length, seemed a better vehicle to introduce me to Tezuka's world of Black Jack.
The story begins with the summer Olympics in full swing. There's a remarkably able body of athletes competing, as old records are being smashed left, right, and center. These particular athletes are dubbed "super-humans" by the media and heralded as a new stage in human evolution. At the same time, Black Jack is busy removing a brain tumor in an effort to save a young girl's life. Flashforward two years, and the girl Black Jack operated mysteriously passes away. An autopsy reveals her internal organs had deteriorated as though she were 90 years old! Inexplicably, the record-setting athletes from the previous Olympics are also dropping like flies.
While this is going on, a strange, young woman has been leaving Black Jack messages on his answering machine. She promises him large sums of money, but with no name to go by, Black Jack does not bother to contact her. Undaunted, the woman approaches Black Jack and ends up blackmailing him into helping her by kidnaping his young assistant, Pinoko. With no recourse, Black Jack is recruited into a team of medical professionals to help solve the mysterious deaths.
I am actually surprised I enjoyed this movie, since I am not predisposed to the genre. Of course, although this is a medical drama, the real intrigue comes outside the operating room, as Black Jack tries to unravel the mystery of the athlete's deaths, all the while becoming a pawn in a corporate conspiracy. This isn't to say the medical scenes are secondary, and they are impressive, with vivid close-ups of some of the surgical going-ons in the operating room. One thing about medical dramas in general, and this movie is no exception, is the incredible time compression that takes place during the operations. While operations in the real world typically take hours, the surgical scenes in Black Jack are composed of a few dramatic moments, whether it's Black Jack making a precision cut with no room for error, or a patient's heart erupting in a shower of blood (yuck!).
The weaknesses in this movie are few, but glaring. In particular, the nature of the mysterious condition that has befallen the various "super-humans" is handled inconstantly. Early in the story, the condition appears to take a couple years to run its course. Later, the condition is manifested much quicker, solely for the sake of causing tension in the finale. The ending is also a let-down, being rushed in comparison to the methodical pacing of earlier events. In particular, a tribe of desert nomads (briefly mentioned early in the movie), show up as a convenient plot device without enough prior explanation.
The animation is good, although characters aren't as fluid as I would have expected for a theatrical release like this (I guess I was spoiled by the great character animation in Metropolis). Tezuka's characters, though, are recognizable as his, although rendered less iconically than some of his other works (the exception is the cute-as-a-button Pinoko).
Black Jack: The Movie delivers good doses of suspense, intrigue, and medical exploits that should definitely appeal to anyone looking for a good drama. The inconsistencies, however, detract from the story at times, and certain plot points require some heavy suspension of disbelief. But aside from these quibbles, Black Jack: The Movie makes for 90 minutes of worthwhile entertainment.
The Verdict: * * * 1/2 (above average)
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