Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a breathtakingly-beautiful animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised Yin and Yang of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. First their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: the yakuza. Members of the notorious Japanese mafia have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.
Directed by Michael Arias, American filmmaker residing in Japan, and influenced by European comic books, Treasure Town captures its audience from the very first scenes, from its philosophical prologue and then its bird’s-eye view of the Treasure Town, filled with chaotic and never-ending construction works, colourful shop fronts, eye-popping billboards and labyrinthic streets. This is a town where you can be anyone you want, and Kuro and Shiro made it their playground, fortress, home. That is, until a ruthless developer by the nickname Snake comes with the ideas of his own, to turn the town into one giant amusement park, declaring the war on the two boys (nicknamed “the cats”) and sending his assassins to re-establish his order and control of the place. If the background of the animation is rich, colourful, surreal, whimsical and detailed, the two main characters are simply-drawn, angled urchins, as different from each other in personality as black is from white. And, it is this contrast between intricacy and simplicity which gives Treasure Town its peculiar, immediately distinguishable and uneven feel. If Kuro is a serious warrior, the protector of the town and his friend, Shiro is a lovable, innocent and carefree playmate living in a slum as though it is his dreamy kingdom where he does not have to worry about anything because he has Kuro. The touching bond between the two is a beacon of hope in the gritty world filled with all kind of cruelty and unfairness.
Treasure Town is surprisingly philosophical with much “social” depth to it. There are such themes in the animation as (i) children thrust into the adult world that is full of violence, corruption, poverty, homelessness and loneliness; and (ii) the impossibility of escaping one’s life circumstances, no matter how hard one tries. Kuro and Shiro may even represent two sides of the same country, Japan. Kuro may stand for that Japan that is protectionist and serious when it comes to working and earning money. He wants any tradition to continue, and he is outward-looking. Shiro, on the other hand, may stand for a more playful side to Japan, that Japan that is a dreamland, the inward-looking one. It is that side of Japan that gives rise to the best computer games, digital technology and the kawaii culture. The plot of the animation is uneven, or rather “unusually-handed”, but, strangely, that also has a certain charm and provides for strange realism.
In Treasure Town, childhood innocence and the rough world of adults collide, leading to a “transformative”, unforgettable conclusion. Dubbed the “forgotten landmark in animation”, Treasure Town is bursting with imagination and creativity, containing a very detailed fantastical world that encompasses harsh realities of living and the exhilarating grittiness of action. This unique animation is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. 9/10