Wednesday, September 03, 2008

World Record

World Record
Directed by Takeshi Koike
Source: "The Animatrix", DVD, Warner Bros. 2003

In the wake of Usain Bolt's 100 meter world record, one must question how much further the human race can push the limits of our bodies and our minds. Takeshi Koike's "World Record" takes a look at the power of the human mind to break its bonds, even if that is not its main goal.

The majority of the film's narrative takes place over the course of 8.72 slow-motion seconds. Through flashbacks, it tells the story of Dan Davis, a world-record holding sprinter who is determined to regain his reputation after being caught doping. The film begins at the start of his record attempt. At the sound of the gun, the first flashback cuts in, explaining his past. Each successive flashback reveals a different element of the story, such as his intense training regiment and what racing feels like to him. All of this as the race itself unfolds in the background. I have always been fascinated by the challenge of making a film that takes place over a very short amount of time. I enjoyed the use of flashbacks to extend the temporal depth of the film while still staying within the constraints of a 8.72 second race.

The visual style of the film is remarkable for its exaggerated figures. Every muscle in Dan's body during the race is exaggerated and very closely examined. His face contorts and his muscles morph in a dynamic, visually expressive way. As his muscles begin to tighten and break down, their form becomes twisted creating a visual tension. When he breaks, his legs literally explode, which makes his recovery that much more dramatic. His face changes from twisted to intensely focused. His legs quickly reassemble and he explodes in with inhuman speed. The slow-motion nature of this sequence put me in Dan's shoes as the world seems to slow down around him.

Dan's ultimate triumph is not his race victory or his world record. Through intense concentration not only did he finish the race and win, he freed his own mind from the bonds of the Matrix. The power of the human mind is a recurring theme of the Matrix series and the Animatrix series, and Koike truly gives the viewer a visual illustration of what that feels like. As his mind begins to break free, the world slows to a standstill and dissolves to reveal the "real world" that lies beneath. The agents pursue in vain, but fail to reach him. He then gets a glimpse of the bleak truth that surrounds him.

Despite the fact he is reeled back in and taken back to the Matrix, Dan achieved the impossible, even if only for a brief moment. At the conclusion of the film, he remains defiant of his bonds, and nearly breaks free once more. "World Record" is an illustration of the human hunger for freedom, and the power of the human mind to achieve it, at all costs.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

The visual style of the film is remarkable for its exaggerated figures. Every muscle in Dan's body during the race is exaggerated and very closely examined.

It's a matter of personal preference, but my least favorite part of Japanese-style animation is this habit of self-indulgence. In this case, Koike got awfully Aeon Flux-happy and pulled the old trick of not animating the rest of the frame while anyone was talking. The mouth always moved alone. I hate that shortcut with a passion.

Thankfully, most of the story is told through the visual expression that you pointed out, so I can make my peace with this film.