The theatrical film adaptation of Fist of the North Star was released in 1986, in the middle of the television show’s run. Created by Toei Animation, the studio behind the series, the movie features the same cast and crew, but with a noticeable bump up in both production values and violence. However, with the continuity in its production comes a rather jarring storyline that will keep fans of the TV series and manga on their toes.
A fitting alternate title for the film might be Fist of the North Star: Remix. It isn’t set within the continuity of the television series, but rather exists as a separate entity that tells its own story. Like other animated films based on but not set in the continuity of an existing television production, such as Escaflowne or Adolescence of Utena, Fist of the North Star retells the story of Kenshiro from the beginning and quickly veers off in its own direction.
The film very loosely follows the same path as the TV show from Shin’s betrayal of Kenshiro and Yuria’s kidnapping to Kenshiro’s first battle with Raoh. But the details in getting from point A to B are very different, and the timeline of certain events has been rearranged. For example, in the film, Kenshiro faces Jagi before finding Shin, and rescues Rei’s sister Airi in the process.
Then, there are more dramatic differences. There comes a point when Raoh’s army encounters and fights the Fang Clan, which, in the series, terrorizes Mamiya’s village. As for Mamiya herself, she and her village are excluded entirely. More glaring is the omission of Toki, who is absent despite part of the film being set in Cassandra, the fortress in which he is imprisoned in the TV series.
This all adds up to the sensation that the film version of Fist of the North Star is really just a Cliff’s Notes edition of the story, with a few pages either missing or out of order. It at times feels disjointed, and it doesn’t flow well, as it leaves plot threads behind not long after they’re picked up. After Kenshiro helps Rei rescue Airi and restores her vision, both are back on the road in short order, along with Bat and Lin. Airi is neither seen nor mentioned again.
On the other hand, there’s the increased importance of Lin. The TV series hints that the little girl has some sort of empathic link with Kenshiro. She can sense when he might be in trouble, and Kenshiro seems able to sense her cries for help, no matter where the two are in relation to each other. In the film, Lin is able to communicate with Kenshiro before her voice is even restored—he rescues her because he heard her empathic cries.
Lin has a powerful effect on just about everyone she meets. It is ultimately she who gives Airi hope to live on again, even after Kenshiro restores her sight and sanity. She gives Yuria hope, as well, going so far as to sneak into the prison where she’s being held by Raoh in order to see her. And then, of course, there’s Raoh himself. Even the most hardened man determined to rule the post-nuclear world softens at Lin’s words.
Toward the end of the film, after Raoh and Kenshiro beat each other to a draw, Raoh is the first to climb to his feet. But before he can finish Ken off, Lin appears and pleads for him to stop. And Raoh stops. He sees something important in Lin, and rather than mercilessly snuff her life, he instead urges her to live and grow up. Without another threat of violence, he climbs back on his horse and rides off.
Ultimately, Lin represents hope. She wants to see flowers and verdant life return to the dead planet. And by planting seeds given to her by Kenshiro that once belonged to Yuria, she is able to make a flower grow. She carries with her proof that the barren wasteland can be restored.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Fist of the North Star without hyperviolent martial arts action, and the movie has that in spades. While the TV series is comparatively tame next to its manga source material and depicts its violence in a way that’s acceptable for a television broadcast, the film is much more upfront, with a greater degree of detail. That being said, it’s not so much more graphic that it makes the violence more difficult to watch. If you have the stomach to handle the television series, then you should also be able to handle the movie.
Unfortunately, when compared to the TV series, the movie just doesn’t hold up. Condensed, remixed, and with an unsatisfying ending, Fist of the North Star’s theatrical turn is narratively one of the weaker entries in the franchise. It’s a fun way to get a bite-sized portion of the story with a heaping dose of exploding torsos, but it’s missing too much, and the story suffers for that. Given the choice, and if you have the time, the TV series is the way to go.
Come back next week, when we take a look at Fist of the North Star 2!
Fist of the North Star: The Movie was released on DVD in North America by Eastern Star, a Discotek Media label. The DVD features both the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub produced by Streamline Pictures for its original North American VHS release. It is not rated, but contains graphic violence and brief nudity.