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‘Fist of the North Star’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 25, 1991


Toyoo Ashida
Under 17 restricted

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Frame by frame, "Fist of the North Star" is spectacular -- which is to be expected from an animated feature inspired by a popular Japanese comic book that has spun off a television series in Japan and a Nintendo Game Boy cartridge in America. However, this 100-minute feature is much closer to its origins in the graphic novels of Bruoson and Tetsuo Hara, which means an unsettling mix of cosmic preachiness and red-ink-splattered violence. Definitely not for children, "Fist" would be rated R, and possibly X, were its stars human.

The story itself is typical post-apocalypse: Technology is useless, the land is barren, cities are in rubble, and hapless survivors vie for water rights and shelter. This is all near-irrelevant background to a series of clashes between titans both good and bad but equally possessed of supernatural martial arts skills -- the most dangerous being their ability to slice and dice foes, and to make heads explode, "Scanners"-style. Since there's a steady stream of Mohawked biker outlaws and armor-clad sinners from Central Cartooning, heads explode with regularity and blood flows by the barrel.

The good toons are Ken, who will save the world (maybe), and Rei (who probably works in an animated Benihana somewhere). Ken is apparently killed by former best friend Shin (another muscle-bound martial arts master who also abducts Ken's fiancee, Julia). Though Shin leaves Ken with seven gaping holes poked in his chest, he manages a Clint Eastwoodian resurrection. Later another evil competitor, Jagi, impersonates Ken, sowing terror and reaping fear among the background characters. There's also the ultra-evil Raoh, who develops an emperor complex, and the children, wily Bat and innocent Lynn, who represent "the future."

All this is played out in fine, colorful graphics embracing wide, desolate panoramas and extreme action -- an Eastern, if you will, but with director Toyoo Ashida paying homage to Sam Peckinpah and Wes Craven rather than John Ford. There are other film echoes here, as well: "A Fistful of Dollars," "Triumph of the Will," "Mad Max," "Star Wars," "Alexander Nevsky," "Kung Fu" and every Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme film ever made.

In fact, the graphic violence is so extreme and visceral, so bloody, that Chan, Van Damme and the entire World Wrestling Federation might get queasy. And while the frequent clashes are fairly well drawn, the simple walking movements lack grace and seem reduced to cheap cartooning rather than animation. Dubbed in English (Julia sounds just like Jane Fonda!) and featuring characters who'd be quite at home in Sweden, "Fist of the North Star" is a gut-punching ecological fable (a stretch, but it's there), but watching it you'll feel as comfortable as a hemophiliac in a razor blade factory.

"Fist of the North Star" is not rated but contains more violence than most films rated R.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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