Steamboy

Steamboy

2004, PG-13, 126 min. Directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo. Voices by Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart, Robin Atkin Downes.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 18, 2005

Director Ôtomo is best known stateside as the man behind 1998’s animé landmark Akira and 2001’s equally stunning Metropolis, but Steamboy, 10 years in the making at the unfathomable cost more than $20 million U.S., is his most personal, and most personable, film. The cyberpunk dystopia of Akira, with its roving gangs of 5,000cc motorcycle maniacs and apocalyptic visions, is replaced this time out with an almost elegiac story set in the Victorian era, a place and time that’s part British period piece, all bowler-bedecked Mancunian propriety and gee-whiz gadgetry, and part Amazing Stories. There’s none of the soul-wearying cynicism of Ôtomo’s previous masterworks, and in fact, if anything, the optimistic Steamboy plays like an ode to the possibilities of the creative act. That act comes here with the invention of a device known as the "steam ball," a new, mechanical source of limitless energy that is at the heart of Steamboy, and as always, the possibility of using such magnificent power – for good or evil – is the crux of the matter. Invented by the father and grandfather of Young Ray Steam, the steam ball is eagerly sought after by the O’Hara Foundation, a sinister proto-technology corporation that aspires to, well, if not world domination then at least a healthy market share in the steam-powered doohickey demographic. Chosen to guard the device until someone can figure out what to do – or not do, as the case may be – with it, the invention-happy lad must outwit legions of nefarious do-badders in what becomes one of the most entertainingly protracted chase films ever animated. Ôtomo’s storyline is near simplistic when compared with much of the indecipherable philosophical musings of his previous outings. However, denuded of any cyberpunk philosophizing, the film aspires to and achieves a dazzlingly straightforward rush that finds its protagonist in astonishing action set-piece after set-piece. You barely have time to catch your breath after he’s captured aboard a roaring locomotive (via a zeppelin snatch, natch) before it’s on to the next gorgeous bit of mind-bending, Tom Swiftian-adventure, all of which ends in a lengthy but genuinely pulse-quickening multiclimax that should have die-hard animé fans as well as the rest of us gnawing their nails to the quick and beyond. As ever, Ôtomo’s attention to the most minute details of setting and character are beyond reproach. If Victorian Manchester had been remotely like this, H.G. Wells never would have bothered to pen The Time Machine – he’d have just stepped outside and into the fray.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Films
Rock Camp: The Movie
Music fans seek glam without the grit and grind as they play with stadium-fillers

Selome Hailu, Jan. 15, 2021

Some Kind of Heaven
America's retirement heaven shows some splinter in the clouds

Josh Kupecki, Jan. 15, 2021

More by Marc Savlov
The Marksman
Liam Neeson is the action man again in this border thriller

Jan. 15, 2021

Beautiful Something Left Behind
The hard path to healing when kids suffer a death in the family

Jan. 8, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Steamboy, Katsuhiro Ôtomo

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle