Asura (アシュラ) is a 2012 Japanese anime film directed by Keiichi Sato and based on a manga of the same name by George Akiyama. Asura tied for the Audience Award for Best Animated Feature at the 16th Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
In a mid-15th century Kyoto ravaged by successive waves of floods, drought, and famine, Asura was left to fend for himself in the wilderness as an infant and grew up into an axe-wielding child surviving on both animal and human flesh. Asura’s life took a turn when he became acquainted with Wakasa, a young village girl who taught Asura words and drew out semblances of empathy from within him. Yet Asura’s peaceful moments with Wakasa would not last long, as famine began to take its toll on Wakasa’s village.
Asura has shocked and touched me in a way an anime film has not since Grave of the Fireflies. The title character is designed to look very much like an oni of folklore, but the viewer is reminded very quickly first and foremost he is just a child. This makes witnessing his gruesome and primal attempts at survival all the more disturbing. Perhaps what struck me most about this film was a clever sequence in which Asura struggles to crawl out from a pit of corpses. His clawed gnarled hands reach up to the light in the cracks of the rock and the animation breaks to see Wakasa in the river shortly before she discovers the wounded Asura. This scene clearly paralleled a certain journey for Asura. He crawled from the depths of Hell to catch a glimpse of Heaven and that’s when he truly learns about human kindness from Wakasa. This scene was so poetic that it made the rest of the film all the more tragic. This film was beautifully done.