Review: KICK-HEART Kicks Hard, Tickles Heart

, Associate Editor, Features
I'm a big fan of Japanese animation director Yuasa Masaaki. The man's output is often weird but always wonderful, and his designs never use the standard templates so often used in anime. Just look at his series Kaiba and The Tatami Galaxy and you'll see just how unique an artist he is. In fact, I like him so much that I sometimes imagine giving him loads of money for a new film.

Last year, there was no need for imagining: via the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter it was possible to finance Yuasa's newest project, a 13-minute short called Kick-Heart. The first anime produced through this means (and by Production IG no less), it has now been finished and will be released to its financial backers from Monday onward through Vimeo.

Kick-Heart is screening theatrically in Los Angeles this weekend in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. It will also be playing at Fantasia in Montreal later this month (July 28). Time for a review!

kick-heart-poster300.jpgThe Story:

Maskman M, a pro-wrestler, struggles to hide the fact that he enjoys being beaten up in the ring. Secretly he fantasizes about the sadistic female wrestler "Lady S". But by chance Lady S discovers his secret, and when the two meet in battle during a charity match, sparks fly in more ways than one...

The Short:

Yuasa Masaaki has said in interviews that he got the inspiration for Kick-Heart from wondering about pro wrestlers in general. Why on Earth would someone make a career out of being beaten up, and doing endless, punishing training? Then he wondered: what if a wrestler thought pain is actually pleasurable? What if he is actually a masochist?

In Kick-Heart, you see this idea fleshed out. Few people can strongly convey the feelings of sex and desire through abstract art, but Yuasa manages to do so again and again in his works. His brilliant feature film Mind-Game even contains what may be the best animated sex scene ever, bizarre as it is. In this short you can see it as well: the first fight in Kick-Heart leaves no doubt as to what it is that tickles Maskman M. When he later squares off against Lady S, the mutual physical attraction is palpable. Crotches bulge and nipples poke.

But yet again, Yuasa doesn't rely on titillation to show the arousal of his characters. The actions and designs shown are unattractive, sometimes even gross. Instead, he shows us a glimpse at the hearts of his leads, and even in this short timeframe he manages to make us feel for them, and therefore WITH them. Maskman M and Lady S aren't portrayed as degenerate perverts, but as two sympathetic souls who happen to like their contact sports a bit kinky.

The art in Kick-Heart looks deceptively sloppy, and more resembles the sketchy look of Bill Plympton's work than it does regular anime. But the animation is fantastic, as is the use of color and music. Yuasa Masaaki manages to put more story, thrills, and clever jokes in 13 minutes than many others manage to put in a full feature. Kick-Heart is funny, cool, hot, and a strikingly different piece of art. The trailer below only scratches the surface.

In short: this short is very much recommended!
Around the Internet:
  • Hiroaki Johnson

    The making of video they sent out to backers a few weeks back was incredibly charming on it's own. I can't wait for tomorrow.

  • Art Vandelay

    Oh man I can't wait!!!!

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