‘Redline’ sights and sounds dazzle

Action films, almost to a one, take a cavalier approach to the conventions of physics, warping what we know about the natural world to amplify the thrills and pleasures of movement. Logical complaints, I believe, normally arise when the craft of the film is sub par. If a film is working correctly, the impossible seems tantalizingly possible.

When dealing with implausibilities with as much brazen attitude as Japanese racing film “Redline” does, execution is everything. Luckily, Takeshi Koike and the artists at Madhouse were up to the challenge, laboring for seven years of production before releasing their manic brainchild to Japanese theatres in late 2010.

“Redline” follows “Sweet” JP, an expert race car driver with a fabulous duck-tail hairdo and a history of race-fixing, and his participation in the Redline. Redline is the most prestigious and popular race in the galaxy, and beings from all over space are congregating on Roboworld to compete for the checkered flag. This would be enough of a premise for most racing films. Layered into this, however, is the fact that Roboworld’s government, concerned with the secrecy of its illegal weapons projects, has forbidden the race from taking place on their soil. Disregarding such formalities, JP and the other racers flock to this hostile planet anyway.

There are other plot elements in play, including a romantic subplot involving JP and Sonoshee, a determined, driven woman he met in childhood. JP also has a close but troubled relationship with longtime friend and mechanic Frisbee, who has sold out their team to the mob, fixing races for gambling purposes. The major plot threads are all resolved largely how one would expect them to be, but to concern oneself with these details would be to miss the point.

The point is, of course, action. Those who have seen Koike’s previous film, the hyperactive “Dead Leaves,” might be prepared for the calibre of kinetic frenzy you find in “Redline.“ Whether one has seen the director’s work before or not, however, one has to recognize that the film is one of the most beautiful works of visual art put to film in the last decade, and all of it hand-drawn. Shadows are cast in deep unbroken blacks, frames bulge and heave with lifelike, highly varied designs. The animation is polished to a point of near-flawlessness. The film begins and ends with two extended racing sequences that are genuinely thrilling, exploiting the medium to produce jaw-dropping displays of automotive fetishization and racing prowess. Every character is imbued with a sketch’s worth of personality in the script, with the design and animation work bringing them to startling life. “Redline,” for all its conceptual simplicity, ends up being difficult to describe because all of its cardinal virtues have to be seen or heard.

Accompanying all of the astonishing visuals is a solid sound design scheme. Most of the music is vaguely futuristic electronica, often composed to suit particular characters. As for the sounds of cars crashing, engines burning, tires skidding, crowds cheering and missiles exploding? They only compound and enable the visuals to carry their maximum impact.

“Redline” is an action film that escapes cliche, a canvas for its designers to slather our eyes in eroticized vehicular designs and stunningly imaginative alien creatures, machines and landscapes. With a wiry script that serves as a mere skeleton to the onscreen action, it is utterly uninterested in making its profound points with words. This is a film for the body, for the eyes and for the amygdala. Please try to watch it on the largest screen with the best, loudest speakers you can find. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.