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Review - Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Just got home from a midnight screening of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door in its native Japan) at Sunshine Cinema. Despite its universal acclaim, I’ve never actually taken the time to sit down and watch the original anime series (I know, I know; I’ll tear up my nerd card), so I figured this would be a good opportunity to familiarize myself with the premise and characters before committing to a Hulu marathon.

Mission accomplished: I can’t wait to take another deep dive into Shinichiro Watanabe’s beautiful, deranged world. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is the best noir-flavored sci-fi Western I’ve seen in quite a while—slick, stylish, gorgeously animated, and a whole lot of fun. I was especially impressed with the action scenes: protagonist Spike Spiegel is a Jackie Chan-caliber improvisational fighter, using anything and everything he can lay his hands on—brooms, fire extinguishers, coffee machines, party poppers—as a weapon, lending the numerous brawls a wonderfully manic, comedic energy. That said, the fisticuffs can also be remarkably brutal when the narrative calls for it, with the exquisite sound design conveying the sheer bone-crushing force of every blow.

And the narrative frequently calls for such tonal shifts. The bad guy du jour is a nihilistic, suicidal soldier-turned-terrorist, whose perception of reality has been so utterly distorted by an experimental medical procedure that he believes he’s trapped in a dream—and his only means of escape is total planetary genocide (perhaps Nolan was a fan?). A near fatal encounter with the madman forces the normally easygoing Spike to confront his own mortality, rethink his impulsive approach to bounty hunting, and learn to outthink his opponent (building on a surprisingly subtle shogi metaphor introduced earlier in the film).

Fortunately, these moments of somber reflection never diminish the movie’s sense of adventure, nor does the zany humor dilute the drama; the various moods blend together seamlessly to create a story every bit as eclectic as the pop- and jazz-infused soundtrack. I’ll be adding Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door to my Blu-ray collection very soon, but I’m glad I was able to see it on the big screen first; it truly is a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience.

[Originally written June 25, 2017.]

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