In the live action adaptation of the popular manga series “Attack On Titan” the scraps of flesh that make up the last surviving members of humanity have been cowering in fear behind three 100-foot concentric walls for more than a century. Terrified, they wait for the gigantic, cannibalistic Titans to rear their ugly stitched heads again and strike. Mankind has forsaken technology returning to a quasi-feudal system with one eye perpetually watching the wall for the Titans and the other terrified of what might happen should humans rediscover their flare for technological advancement.
A trio of young friends, Eren, Mikasa and Armin live in the agricultural district closest to the outer wall. Standing astride an ancient undetonated bomb, the fraught Eren questions the very existence of the Titans to his friends. He feels they are a conspiracy theory to keep the status quo and wants to venture to the base of the wall to find out the truth once and for all. Soon the friends wished they hadn’t as the film doesn’t waste any time in unleashing an uber-Titan on the ill-equipped wall garrison, smashing a breech so that the smaller, more agile Titans can prey on sweet, human flesh. Two years later the friends find themselves on a desperate mission to plug the hole in the wall by using humanity’s last stash of explosives.
What “Attack On Titan” does so nastily is induce a sense of utter dread in its audience when the more human Titans enter the fray. They create carnage with a child like abandon, toying with their food before devouring their screaming victims. Their bodies are imperfect and naked, coloured with a sickly green hue and their eyes are so wide with wonder as they stalk through the human detritus that we can’t help but identify with them in some sick and twisted manner. Even more disturbing are their J-Horror smiles, sutured grimaces that stretch snake like when bolting down small wriggling, thrashing bodies. They could be the animalistic peasant women of “Onibaba” possessed, stretched and clawing their way out of their pit for seconds.
The contrast between the young, good-looking heroes who fly about on a specially designed wire system in order to strike at the Titans vulnerable spot at the nape of their necks and their earthy, serf like foes is akin to Paul Verhoeven’s bruising satire, “Starship Troopers.” Both films set up their idealistic beautiful youths to be at best horrifically mutilated and at worst eaten alive by an alien threat they are at war with smashing innocence with the brutal reality of conflict. What’s more, “Attack On Titan” like “Starship Troopers” hints strongly at the possibility that humanity has been the aggressors and the rampant xenophobia is badly misplaced and should be directed at the fascist system that sends them eagerly to their deaths.
Are the Titans in fact a by-product of a nuclear disaster on the scale of Fukushima? A very timely metaphor when the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing not only to reopen Japan’s nuclear power plants but possibly build more despite the initial pledge of his predecessor to end nuclear energy by 2040. The reason? To help save the economy and reduce carbon emissions. Armin who is a technical whizz is warned that such dabbling leads to a lack of resources and catastrophic disaster.
With the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the horrifically logical conclusion to Pearl Harbour driven by Japan’s need for oil, fresh in the global consciousness, “Attack On Titan” despite paper-thin characterisations (especially of its women) has a surprisingly strong sense of social commentary. How will Japan negotiate their nuclear schism where they embrace nuclear power but want to ban all nuclear weapons? Perhaps the sequel, “Attack On Titan: End of the World” released on September 19th will provide us with the answers.