Steamboy: Director's Cut

UK Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  PG

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £15.99

Running Time: 121 minutes

Audio Options:  English 5.1 & DTS, Japanese 5.1 

Subtitles:  English

Reviewer: Shay Marx (guest)

The most expensive Japanese animation so far from the man who introduced the “geeks” to the world of Akira.

Steamboy is the accumulation of a dream for the director Katsuhiro Ôtomo and those who have spent many years working with him.  Originally penned in 1995 but unable to complete due to the level of technology at the time it’s more than ironic that Steamboy is story of advancing science and technology in a world where people have no idea how to appreciate it.

Taking place in 1866, Steamboy shows England (via Manchester and London) in a light that has been reflected since British animations such as Watership Down.  The story centres on the Steam Family and the discovery of the Steam ball an invention that can resist extreme amounts of pressure allowing for the out put and control of more power during the steam age.  The first half of the film continuously adds new characters with their own agenda that encourage the audience to question who the goodie and who are the baddies. More appropriately who is right and who is wrong, while each side attempts to secure possession of the steam ball. The second half is one gigantic action scene which whilst commencing is full of political and topical speeches that once again encourage you, the audience to make a decision to whether you stand with Imperialism, Capitalism or neither.  As deep as this may sound the film if full of humour. From nice little touches such as a Rovers Return Public House outside of the factory in which Ray (the youngest Steam) works, to a steam powered treadmill for the pocket dog that belongs to the films “mini” Paris Hilton, an American by the name of Scarlet O’Hara. From the numerous “not then” inventions such as "Zeppeliners" to the never dying optimism from the salesman Simon, who while the walls are literally falling down around him continues to try and sell weapons to foreign investors.

Technically Steamboy is astounding. The art of film making is to create images and bring them to life without revealing creators or their tools.  If you did not know that it was impossible to create Steamboy with out CGI you wouldn’t know it had been used. Unlike Beauty and the Beast or Ghost in the Shell 2, Steamboy hides its digital imagery but throws images through the screen with angles that could not possibly created with just cell animation.  The music ranges from regal and royal to war and violence, very appropriate.  Steamboy looks sounds and feels English and with an excellent English dub where lines have been added to both fill in the gaps in speech and to add more of a British tongue. 

There have been many comments of how disappointing Steamboy is compared to Akira. Claims that the films are totally different and that aimed at different demographics. These claims are false. Both films are pro-youth, anti-government, anti-authority and question the capitalist way of the world.  The difference is within the settings. Akira is Neo-Tokyo, while Steamboy is Victorian England. There is a difference between the expectations of young adults during the 19th century and those of a post apocalyptic Japan. Ôtomo has assigned very similar tasks to both groups and merely showed the same result. Yet for some reason many vocal members of the audience for both films can not see the similarities.  Maybe that’s due to the very English feel that Steamboy has. The dialogue would have Shakespeare rejoicing and mad scientists reciting.

Steamboy a film that was destined to be shrouded in controversy due to its message and its impact on the technology of its animation is unfortunately only recognised due to its lack of blood. Personally I perceive Steamboy as Katsuhiro Ôtomo’ inspired masterpiece and thoroughly recommend.


Steamboy is available in the UK as either a single disc theatrical version or a 2 disc Directors cut. The Directors Cut is 25 minutes longer and contains both the English and Japanese Dub. It does not include the theatrical version of the film.  The second disc contains a lengthy (85 minutes) making of documentary that surprisingly changes from Japanese to English three quarters of the way through.  The making of feature fits in very nicely as set for someone who may have both Akira and Memories.  The DC comes in a hard back box with discs contained in the regular special edition style cardboard DVD case and alternative and glorious imagery compared to the somewhat drab appearance of the single disc version. The DC also includes an envelope containing collectable and promo postcards, a 164 page WIP scrapbook and an “Adventures of Steamboy” manga with separate English translation sheet.

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