Eden Of The East – The Movie 1: King Of Eden

voice cast: Jason Liebrecht, Ryohei Kimura, Sakiko Tamagawa, Saori Hayami, and Leah Clark

director: Kenji Kamayama

82 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Manga blu-ray region B

RATING: 7/10
review by Sarah Ash

Eden Of The East – The Movie 1: King Of Eden

A warning to the casual viewer: don’t watch Eden Of The East Movie I: King Of Eden before the main part of the extras, Air Communication. Better still, don’t watch it without seeing the original – and excellent – TV series Eden Of The East first. EOTE was one of the anime viewing pleasures of last year, a witty, taut conspiracy thriller, attractively drawn and intelligently written. This movie, King Of Eden, is technically not a sequel to the TV series, it’s a direct continuation of the main storyline.

And here the main problems lie. Air Communication (a ‘feature length film edit’) is, at best, a précis of the 11 episodes, with a commentary by the heroine Saki and her friends from Eden Of The East. (The white subtitles are an added problem as, in many scenes; vital information is really difficult to read against a pale background.) It is fun to revisit the original series with the commentary, but it’s not the best way to engage with the characters if you’re a first-time viewer, as it dilutes or glosses over some of the best material. (It’s the little details that provide much of the richness of the series.)

Saki Morimi (Saori Hayame/ Leah Clark) has gone to New York to search for Akira Takizawa. The two young Japanese met six months ago in Washington D.C. in extraordinary circumstances, when Takizawa, suffering from amnesia, appeared stark-naked and waving a handgun in front of the White House, distracting the cops who were about to arrest Saki for trying to throw a coin into the fountain.

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Saki was then sucked into a whirlwind adventure with the unpredictable, yet charming and charismatic Takizawa. The highly unusual cell phone in his possession tells him he is one of 12 specially selected Seleção who have each been given 10 billion yen by ‘Mr Outside’ to use to change Japan.

Juiz, the voice behind the phone, often finishes the call with the phrase ‘Noblesse oblige.’ Only one project will be approved, which means that only one of the 12 will ultimately survive. Meanwhile, Japan has been rocked by a strange terrorist attack, known as ‘Careless Monday,’ in which 10 missiles struck Tokyo… but no one died. Was it carried out by one of the Seleção? Could it have been Takizawa’s work – or was he the one who saved Japan? It seems that he deliberately had his own memory erased. He invites Saki and her friends (the IT group Eden of the East) to work with him to try to find out the truth. The climax of the TV series involves NEETs (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training), and some truly ingenious and nail-biting twists and turns of the plot as a second missile attack threatens the country.

King Of Eden plays out in New York, with the Eden of the East team anxiously following Saki’s movements, while trying to keep tabs on the other shadowy Seleção. The moment when Saki and ‘Takizawa’ meet again – he has no idea who she is – is magically done. But filming Saki and Takizawa is a mysterious and sinister observer. “Finally,” he observes, “everyone’s following the script.” Someone is trying to eliminate Takizawa – but help, however, comes from an unexpected source. Also anxiously watching over Saki are her colleagues in Eden of the East, as Panties – no longer a shut-in – comes to the rescue. And Saki and Takizawa will need their help more than ever as their lives are threatened and one of the other Seleção numbers makes a bold and ruthless move.

King Of Eden looks just as good as the TV series, with evocatively rendered cityscapes in Tokyo and New York – and it looks even better in crisp HD. The attractive character designs are by Satoko Morikawa, based on the drawings by mangaka Chica Umino (Honey And Clover). The voice acting, both in the dub and the original is convincing, and Jason Liebrecht and Leah Clark as the central couple capture their characters growing relationship in a touching and believable way.

The score comes again by the talented Kenji Kawai and, even if the opening song isn’t from Oasis this time; Invisible by LEAH is catchy enough, as is the ending theme, Light Prayer by School Food Punishment. And, as before, Kenji Kamiyama (SAC, Moribito) has directed and written the screenplay. Which may well be why – given all this wealth of talent! – this film ultimately disappoints. Bringing the final half of the story arc to the big screen must have seemed a good idea at the time. That’s the only way I can explain it to myself. But there are some significant problems of pacing, leaving the viewer – well, this viewer, anyway – baffled by the long build-up, then the rather abrupt ending. This is not; repeat not, the place for a new viewer to start.

So what works? It starts well enough in New York before getting bogged down in exposition when Saki and amnesiac Takizawa return to Japan. The growing relationship between the two is touchingly and sympathetically sketched in, aided by Chica Umino’s delightful character drawings. It’s also a delight to meet again the other quirky members of Eden of the East, especially Micchon (Ayaka Saito/ Stephanie Sheh) the brains behind EOTE, and Yutaka ‘Panties’ Itazu, the “whiz kid from Kyoto” (Noboyuki Hiyama/ Newton Pittman) who was nearly killed by one of the other Seleção.

Themes close to Kamiyama’s heart reappear, especially little nudges to significant cinematic moments. One curious facet of Takizawa’s amnesia is the fact that, having made his base inside a multiplex in a shopping mall, he can remember scenes from many films (and films are constantly being referenced) but can’t recall details of his own life. Film buffs will have fun looking out for film posters and other cinema-related hints. Sure enough, the movie references are still there to be enjoyed. In a recent interview for NEO, Kamiyama mentioned the importance of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye in his formative years and Salinger buffs can have fun looking for one singularly significant allusion. The role played by the NEETs in the TV series saving Japan is another theme underpinning the action, almost a political ‘what if?’ in the context of contemporary Japanese society.

If you liked the original EOTE TV series (as I did) you’ll want to watch this film, as there’s still plenty to intrigue and enjoy – even if it’s ultimately frustrating, leaving everything on a cliff-hanger to be resolved in Eden Of The East – Movie II: Paradise Lost. Disc extras comprise: Air Communication – prequel (summary of the TV series), movie one newsflash, movie one preview; TV spots and trailers.