Here at Failed Critics, we’re all attempting to regain our collective composure after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road over the last couple of weeks. But just when you thought it was safe to leave the wastelands behind, Matt Lambourne takes us back into the post-apocalyptic future with one of the most famous and entertaining Anime’s ever created.
By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)
If you enjoy Anime films, comics or video-games you are already probably familiar with Fist of the North Star (or Hakuto No Ken in Japan), but if you haven’t then strap yourself in for an epic assault on the senses!
I’ve wanted to discuss Fist of the North Star for a long time with my colleagues on the Failed Critics team, but we’ve lacked a relevance to feature it. However with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, I think we have a mutual ground of interest to dip into the ultra-violent and harsh world of this film.
The world of Fist of the North Star is set amongst the post-nuclear global war, scorched Earth. Much of the world is wasteland and few survivors remain. Those that have survived, struggle to rebuild a fragile way of life and continue to fight over the limited food and water supplies that remain.
The hero of the film is Kenshiro, who is to succeed his adopted father Ryuken as the new First of the North Star, a deadly assassination style that is passed from from one Master to a chosen successor.
However Ryuken’s other adopted sons grow jealous of the rise of their youngest sibling and plot against him to remove him from the line of succession. Early in the movie, Kenshiro is confronted by his long-time friend, Shin, who has a deep love for Kenshiro’s fiancée, Julia.
This is used as bait by Kenshiro’s older brother, Jagi, who convinces Shin that only the strongest can protect the ones they love and that he should forcibly take Julia away from Kenshiro.
This results in a grizzly scene in which Kenshiro is repeatedly maimed by Shin (Fist of the South Star) and he inflicts 7 severe wounds into Kenshiro’s chest before leaving him for dead and taking Julia with him.
The story reconvenes a year after Kenshiro’s death at the hands of Shin and we are introduced to 2 children, a thief named Bat and a mute girl named Lin, who are being pursued by a biker gang (ala Mad Max). Just as the 2 are cornered by the murderous bandits a strange and dark figure is seen wondering in the barren landscape, heading towards them.
The figure begins smashing down the crumbling skyscrapers with his fists as he casually walks towards the group. As it draws closer the bikers engage the figure who is eventually revealed as a rejuvenated Kenshiro, who easily annihilates them and rescues the 2 children.
The group eventually meet another deadly martial artist named Rei who is searching for his lost sister. She is being held captive by Jagi, who is impersonating as Fist of the North Star and reigning in terror of the local towns-people.
The group engage Jagi and he is eventually defeated, but not before he makes Kenshiro aware of his betrayal and that he encouraged Shin to take Julia. Learning that Julia is still alive, Kenshiro makes his way to Shin’s stronghold. However he is unaware that his eldest brother Roah: The Conqueror is moving there also with a huge and deadly army, which sets up a climactic battle between the 2 deadly brothers at the end of the film.
There is much to critique about Fist of the North Star, the character development is very much an after-thought to the spectacular violence and compared to the great Anime movies that come at the end of the decade (Akira for example), the animation is very ordinary.
However I think this misses the point of Fist of the North Star. It’s a movie that concentrates on how men’s sole desires influence their entire existence when the world around them falls apart. A theme that was explored to great effect in Mad Max: Fury Road, whereby Max is reduced to a single human instinct, survival. In this movie, Kenshiro’s undying love for Julia keeps him alive and is his sole reason for existence, whilst everyone else around him is power hungry and bent on domination.
Whilst these movies are explicitly different, Fist of the North Star and Mad Max share many themes, particularly the protagonists. It’s what made me instinctively think of FotNS when watching Fury Road and going back to the original Mad Max.
The film’s action is what it is most remembered for, with it’s over the top martial arts and splatterhouse death sequences being some of the most infamous in all of anime. But at the heart of the movie, is an overwhelming sense of the triumph of human-spirit, as Kenshiro wanders the wilderness in search of his true love, the only motivation he has to keep on living.
It may not rank amongst the greatest Anime movies for the purists and perhaps detracts away from the source material in the comics of the same name. But for me, Fist of the North Star is blissfully nostalgic, stylishly violent and conveys a great message behind all of the madness it shrouds itself in.
Just stay clear of the mid-90’s live action movie… we’ll just conveniently pretend that never happened!