Strait Jacket

Strait Jacket (2008)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

No, this isn't the 1964 William Castle axe murder film featuring Joan Crawford; still, if you're looking for some nasty bit of chopping, feel free to drift into this hefty anime film originally written by "Scrapped Princess" novelist Ichiro Sakaki.

As always, the Japanese prove to be some of the most ingenious sci-fi, horror and animation creators around (though "Pokemon" and "Yu-Gi-Oh" be damned forever) and with "Strait Jacket," the premise is an immediate attention-getter that capitalizes efficiently with plenty of moist redness to give it gory amplitude.

Somewhere between "Full Metal Alchemist," "Akira" and "Blade Runner" does "Strait Jacket" lie, and the titular sorcerers are empowered enforcers for hire set in an urban sprawl infected by a demon plague. A "Strait Jacket" in this splintered society refers to tactical sorcerers who operate within the governing Sorcery Management Bureau (shades of Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic?). Like James Bond, they need a license to kill, otherwise they face prosecution. All the while, they are encased within protective armor (the proverbial strait jacket) that modifies their potentially catastrophic spells. The catch is, the more a sorcerer uses his or her powers, the more receptive they leave themselves to being germinated (as well as spreading the infection to others) by the demon plague, hence the necessitation of the armor.

You have to appreciate the noted hypocrisy of "Strait Jacket's" Sorcery Management Bureau, one that is compelled to utilize the services of potentially dangerous magicians to keep order amidst its quite bloody civilization, all the while issuing laws and edicts of practice. The demons in "Strait Jacket" resemble the mountainous globs of discombobulated flesh from both "Akira" and Stuart Gordon's splattery sci-fi film "From Beyond." They morph violently and smear the walls with their victims, plus issue lunatic chatter to unnerve their would-be thwarters.

All the while, a rogue Strait Jacket named Leiot Steinberg is considered one of the Sorcery Management Bureau's most wanted non-licensed sorcery practitioners. Despite being chased down by the Bureau's Nerin Simmons and cornered with the implication of imprisonment, Steinberg is only motivated by money when the Bureau offers him license. At least that's what appears at face value, but as "Strait Jacket's" story unfolds, we discover Steinberg has a deeper incentive; the need for redemption of a past deadly act that entwines some of the film's other characters.

Steinberg has an in-house affiliate, a short four-eyed sorceress named Kapelteta Fernandez, whose presence is to usher Steinberg to a righteous termination that will absolve him of his past atrocity. She is also there in the event Steinberg turns into a demon, prepared to take him out thusly. Undermining the insanity of it all is a fiendish plot by would-be terrorists who send their Strait-Jacket squadron to round up their own spawned demons and thus collect a paycheck to-boot.

Sakaki prepared the anime film's script, while "Strait Jacket's" director Shinji Ushiro creates a lean hour-sixteen spectacle that almost never dawdles, save for exposition scenes. The animation is largely old-school (so much a few scenes begrudgingly betray stillness of the background as the characters move), and at times it is filled with a bluish monochrome patina that gives "Strait Jacket" appropriate starkness. The best part about "Strait Jacket" is its inherent sarcasm glossed by an overcoat of futuristic vengeance. Very recommended…