It has never seemed like a good idea to turn the 1999 anime OVA Kite into a live action movie. The anime, while having achieved admiration among the cult set, and having been named an influence by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, became mainly known for its controversial, transgressive content, which included graphic rape scenes of an underaged character. Any adaptation of the work would have to be very different, and consequently a bit pointless. Kite, while stylish, isn’t able to establish much of an identity as it strives to make the content of its source material palatable to a wider audience.
Teenager Sawa (India Eisley) saw her parents murdered. She believes that the killer is the Emir, the head of a criminal syndicate that works mainly in human trafficking. With the help of her policeman father’s ex-partner, Lt. Aker (Samuel L. Jackson), she hunts down people with connections to the syndicate, hoping to find clues leading her to her final target. Aker has provided her with a special weapon and a designer drug to help her in her quest. But as she gets closer to the Emir, she also gets closer to a well-hidden truth about that fateful night that her parents were killed.
The film is basically reduced to an aesthetic. There isn’t much to gain from the narrative, which follows Sawa from target to target with very little sense of progress or character motivation. Sawa just isn’t a very interesting character, and India Eisley plays her with an empty sneer that suggests nothing deeper beneath the pouty exterior. Her quest for her parents’ killer never really makes a whole lot of sense, the heroine never overly concerned about getting information out of her victims. And for the most part, Aker doesn’t seem to be doing a terribly good job of covering up her crimes.
The story is just stalling for a big twist that lands with a thud. A sudden information dump at the end changes the dynamics of the story, but there isn’t any time at all to process any of it. It doesn’t hold together, the reversal retroactively rendering lot of the characters’ earlier choices completely illogical. To the film’s credit, it’s able to make a lot of this nonsense look pretty good. The film puts together a fairly compelling depiction of a world brought low by its corruption, every detail in the frame designed to suggest a society that has fallen apart.
But the style isn’t enough to make any of this memorable. The film, in skirting the more controversial elements of the source material, has just produced another story of a teenage girl assassin, which in recent years has been a little overdone. And the film doesn’t even deliver on the action. It falls to the temptation of cutting everything too quickly, never giving its moments the time to breathe. This might be a reaction to how badly choreographed so much of it is, the film trying to hide its shortcomings behind its jumpy editing.
Kite felt like a poorly conceived project from the start. The value of adapting the source material was questionable at best, and the attempt to make it a more mainstream property makes the entire exercise completely pointless. Perhaps it would have been best to leave well enough alone. Perhaps the original Kite is meant only to exist in its original form, a transgressive anomaly that was a product of its time. This movie has to bend over backwards to try and fit the story into a form that won’t get banned in certain countries, and the effort just doesn’t seem worth it.