Background artists are the unsung heroes of anime. Character design tends to hog all the spotlight, creators becoming much sought after for their signature style. But where would Wings of Honneamise be without the long corridors of intricately detailed electronics filling the rocket facility? The spider web that is Tokyo’s electric grid does more than just provide local color in Lain. Its presence might appear to be just another horizon clogging feature of the landscape, but its role is a key element of the plot. And years after having seen Ghost in the Shell, I had forgotten or misremembered pretty much the entire story. What stuck with me were those towering yet sagging tenements of the future, eroded by pollution, overpopulation and and the refuse of mass production.
Tekkon Kinkreet may well be the film that gives background artists their due at last while at the same time rendering concepts like foreground and background effectively moot. The environment is permeable: action is embedded deeply throughout the space. Just as you’ve taken in an establishing shot, the camera swivels around completely and position and focus are redefined. One moment White’s face fills the screen, crisscrossed by the mesh of a wire fence, and then Black appears to talk to him and the fence and playground full of kids becomes the backdrop, its presence subtly informing the conversation. It’s fitting that the title of the film is a play on the Japanese name for ferroconcrete: the building material that reinforces overpasses and skyscrapers alike. Architecture in motion, the city as “living space,” this is idiom no longer just implied but fully realized.