Typhoon Hagibis is touching down on Tokyo as I’m writing this. The city’s entered a soft lock-down with the majority its residents holed up in their homes with extra bottles of water and mountains on convenience store snacks on deck. Just a couple hours ago I took a stroll around my neighborhood before the mess got too bad and even the local 7/11 was closed, something I’ve never witnessed. Trains are offline too and knowing I’d be on my lonesome today, I figured I’d finally get around to watching one of the most seemingly ambitious anime projects of the year; Sturgil Simpson’s Netflix original Sound & Fury. Boy, I’m glad I did.
To give a little history on how insane this project us, let’s talk about how it came together. Sturgil Simpson is an alternative American country musician who found a lot of success simultaneously turning back to the genre’s working class, story-telling roots while simultaneously pushing how far country could go sonically. His 2016 release A Sailor’s Guide To Earth even won the Grammy for the best country album in 2017. Not a figure you’d think we’d cover here right? Well, in his younger days he spent a good chunk of time in Japan during a military stint and has held a fondness for the country and culture since. Moving away from his country roots for his latest album and incorporating more blues, psychedelic, and even industrial influences he decided he’d give his new output the Insterstella 5555 treatment.
Sound & Fury the film hit Netflix towards the end of December and it’s arguably the service’s best original offering since Devilman Crybaby and Baki. Maybe you’d say this one’s more for fans of animation than anime specifically but that doesn’t mean there’s not a whole lot of Japan-specific flare. A few notables in the anime circuit lent their talents to this project including Afro Samurai mastermind Takeshi Okazaki, Tekkonkinkreet director Michael Arias, and legacy animator Koji Morimoto whose responsible for the incredible Magnetic Rose segment of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories. More or less a series of shorts with different styles that change up with the songs, though some reoccurring characters and story-lines are present throughout, the project was handled at Kamikaze Douga with Batman Ninja director Junpei Mizusaki overseeing the project.
There’s so much to like here with both the music and animation. The opening segments take place in this very Fist Of The North Star Mad Max setting with more traditional Japanese imagery thrown into the mix. A bit contradictory on the Netflix platform, but there’s a clear anti-capitalist message at work here; The bad guys of Sound & Fury are these two obscenely rich dudes who pay militia and assassin’s and so on to get what they want and stay in power. You have these elaborate battle scenes compromising of cybernetic Samurai, vigilantes in big cars, all sorts of weird mechs, and other general madness all clashing at each other. While you can get battle-scenes in other anime, the music Sturgil’s created really ups the impact from start to finish.
There are no country twanging or songs about trucks and mudding here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that despite his country styling, Sturgil did indeed find success not singing about that ish. Here though, you have industrial rock and roll with heavy blaring guitars and somewhat obfuscated vocals sound-tracking the entire film. Sturgil’s really tapped into some devil magic the put together some tunes that, while I can parse the influences, are something else entirely. The music sounds like nothing I’ve ever quite heard before and as the film transitions through its main Fury Road style plot through some of its other experimental or segmented shorts, you’re just as excited to hear what’s coming next as you are to see it. I’m not sure how well it works as an album outside the film, but that doesn’t matter for our purposes. You just need to watch it.
I think the segment of Sound & Fury that stuck with me most was ‘Episode 8’, ‘Last Man Standing.’ Directed by Arthell Isom at D’art Shtajio, it may not have been the most visually impressive of the pieces but I don’t think it was meant to be. Animated with a first-person perspective, the short follows around a homeless man as he tries to find safety before the city he lives in gets bombed out. One by one doors slam in his face, and even the homeless shelter denies him entry. At the end of his unfortunate journey, he befriends a stray cat who melts in front of his face seconds before he too turns into goop because nobody would help them. With Sturgil at his most Bruce Springsteen (a phrase I’d never thought I’d type on Otaquest dot com!), the peppy tune matched with the absolute downer of a story that rings true with today’s socioeconomic climate is absolutely haunting. Less cyber-ronin killing gluttonous rich dudes, more present-day reality.
As Sound & Fury segments through short by short, 2D and 3D animation and even a very neat live-action segment towards the end handled by the legendary Koji Morimoto, you get an entire theatrical experience in the film’s relatively short 41-minute run-time. It harkens back to classic gems like Ninja Scroll while including more modern elements like a somewhat abstract dance segment. While this may lack the aesthetic and conceptual cohesion of Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto’s seminal Interstella 5555, I think it was actually more ambitious in some ways. You had creators from all over the world involved with this project and yet it is being marketed as an anime, not just an animated film handled by Japanese studios. Sturgil Simpson wanted to do something crazy and to make that happen, in regards to all the animators on the project, he wanted to ‘get them all drunk and put them to competition to see who can outdo one another’. I don’t know who ‘won the competition’ but the team succeeded in creating an entirely new experience.
If the typhoon takes me out, I’m okay with this being the last thing I watched.
Sound & Fury is available on Netflix now.