Promotional poster for the Japanese release
|Directed by||Katsuhiro Otomo|
|Story by||Katsuhiro Otomo|
|Edited by||Takeshi Seyama|
|Box office||$18.9 million|
Steamboy (Japanese: ?, Hepburn: Such?mub?i) is a 2004 Japanese animated steampunk action film produced by Sunrise, directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, his second major anime release, following Akira. The film was released in Japan on July 17, 2004. Steamboy is one of the most expensive Japanese animated movies made to date. Additionally, the film was in production for ten years and utilized more than 180,000 drawings and 440 CG cuts.
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In 1863, where an alternate nineteenth century Europe has made tremendous strides in steam-powered technologies, scientist Lloyd Steam and his son Edward have succeeded in discovering a pure mineral water in Iceland which believe can be harnessed as a nearly unlimited power source for steam engines. An experiment in Russian Alaska goes terribly wrong, with Edward being engulfed in freezing gases, but results in the creation of a spherical device.
Three years later, back in England, Edward's son, Ray Steam, is an avid young inventor who works at a textile mill in Manchester as a maintenance boy, often working on a personal steam-powered monowheel at home. While he usually lives alone with his mother, his friend Emma and her brother Thomas have recently been sent over to stay until their mother returns from a business trip.
Ray's life is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a package from his grandfather Lloyd; the spherical device, along with its schematics and a letter instructing him to guard it. Then, Alfred and Jason, two members of a company called "The O'Hara Foundation" arrive and attempt to steal the sphere, but Lloyd appears, stating that the device killed Ray's father and bids Ray to flee from the men and deliver the device to Robert Stephenson.
Ray flees, pursued by O'Hara agents in a large steam automotive, eventually thwarting it on a railway line by putting it in the way of an incoming train. By coincidence, Ray encounters Stephenson on the train, who was on his way to Manchester to meet with the elder Dr. Steam. However, as the train approaches the station, an O'Hara zeppelin attacks the train and kidnaps Ray, taking the device with them.
The zeppelin takes Ray to London, where preparations are being made for the 1866 Great Exhibition. Ray encounters Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled granddaughter of the Foundation's head chairman, and Edward, who is revealed to be alive but severely scarred and mechanized from his injuries in Alaska. He takes Ray and Scarlett on a tour of the "Steam Castle"; an elaborate facility entirely powered by the compressed gas in three devices called "Steam Balls," one of which was the device sent to Ray. Ray is enamored both by the castle, and his father's vision of using it to enlighten mankind, and quickly recruited to help complete the castle. He also begins developing a love/hate friendship with Scarlett, who has become attracted to him.
While helping to finish the castle, Ray encounters Lloyd again, who was captured by O'Hara but has escaped from his cell and is attempting to sabotage the castle, revealing that the Foundation's true intentions for the exhibition is to sell weapons to Britain's enemies. Lloyd shows him the collection of weapons, and Ray struggles with the moral dichotomy of being a scientist - of how to contribute to the world without giving into vanity, conveying his conflict towards his father, and the conflict brewing between Edward and Lloyd.
The two eventually reach the core section of the castle, and manage to pry away one of the Steam Balls before security surrounds them. Lloyd is shot by Alfred and recaptured, while Ray makes another elaborate escape with the ball. The next morning, the exhibition is underway, and Ray has reunited with Robert Stephenson, giving him the ball and the knowledge he acquired in captivity. An assault on the castle is then met with a demonstration by the Foundation of its new steam-powered weapons, which turn the exhibition into a war zone. Ray becomes aware of his folly when Stephenson uses the ball to enhance his own company's battle tanks (which resemble the real-life Hornsby Chain Tractor of 1905), leading him to realize that he had no better intentions than the Foundation's.
Edward, eager to show the world the castle, enters the observation/control room and orders the engineers to "launch" it, causing the structure to rise and shed its decorative outer shell, revealing a monstrous floating fortress, the steam generated by the structure's gigantic propulsion jets flooding the city and freezing everything in its path.
Ray steals the ball again to create a makeshift rocket vehicle, and attempts to gain entry as the British Royal Navy and Stephenson attempt to battle the floating fortress. Scarlett, who has since become worried about Ray, searches for him, but ends up lost in the depths of the castle before eventually finding her way to the control room. Ray makes entry as well, and Lloyd (having escaped again) confronts Edward about his actions before shooting him with a stolen gun, and having his body disappear in a cloud of steam.
With the castle steered off course from the battle, the structure has become unstable and threatens to explode over the city. Lloyd and Ray rush to redirect the castle over the Thames, defeating Alfred, who is controlling a pair of gigantic construction claws in the process. At the last minute Edward, whose metal body repelled the gunshot, re-emerges from the steam and assists them. Ray re-installs the stolen steam ball, and makes his way to the control room to make a final escape with Scarlett on an emergency jet pack, while Edward and Lloyd halt the machine over the Thames and escape as well. The castle eventually detonates in a spectacular explosion, sparing the city of most of the destruction.
The ending montage reveals Ray returning home, and later becoming a global superhero (aka Steamboy) using the jet pack gear from the castle; his grandfather Lloyd introducing Ray to electricity and finally passing away; the Great War being fought with paratroopers and zeppelins; his father Eddie founding a corporate conglomerate; and Scarlett maturing and becoming a famous pilot.
The Japanese release of Steamboy featured the voices of Anne Suzuki, Manami Konishi and Masane Tsukayama. The United States release, held in a limited number of U.S. theaters on March 18, 2005, and expanded to additional theaters on March 25, was released in two formats: a subtitled release featured in fewer cinemas, and an English dubbed version cut down by 15 minutes that featured the voices of Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, and Patrick Stewart.
Steamboy was distributed across Japan by Toho and English regions by Sony's Triumph Films subsidiary. The DVD was released in Japan on April 15, 2005, in Australia on June 22, 2005, the USA on July 26, 2005, and the UK on March 27, 2006. Both the edited English version and the original Japanese version were made available on DVD, with the longer version being sold as the Director's Cut.
The UK Blu-Ray/DVD combo version of the film is the original, full length version. However, it has been misprinted as the cut down version of the film.
Steamboy was released in Japan on July 17, 2004 where it was distributed by Toho. The film was released in the United States by Triumph Films with an English-language dub on March 18, 2005, prior to this Tristar Pictures was going to release the movie. The film was released to home video with the original Japanese version with English subtitles.
According to the reviewer KJB at IGN.com, this could be due to the marketing methods used in the United States. Steamboy could have had a larger Western audience, but due to the limited release, that was not able to happen. "Steamboy is one of those few anime films that would be able to play to a wide audience in the United States. Instead, the film is getting a limited release through Sony's smaller label, skipping some cities entirely and only playing in smaller art houses in many of the cities that are getting the film."
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Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post states, "The movie never transcended its elaborate production work to achieve an independent reality. It's simply pictures of what could have happened."
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave Steamboy a rating of 59% based on 91 reviews, with the site's consensus "The story isn't the greatest, but there's an abundance of sci-fi eye candy to compensate."