Secret Santa: Patlabor: The Movie, Where Oshii Mamoru Says, “Trick or Treat!”

This review is a part of the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project for 2010.

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie is a film by Oshii Mamoru, director of Ghost in the Shell. Though it predates Oshii’s most famous film by a few years, there is no mistaking its pedigree.

In the world of Mobile Police Patlabor, mankind has embraced the use of giant robots to help with large-scale construction and manual work. Referred to as “Labors,” it wasn’t long until some people started using them for less altruistic purposes, creating a new problem in the form of Labor-related crimes. In response, the police begin deploying their own Patrol Labors, or “Patlabors” for short. One such force is the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Special Vehicle Section 2, Division 2, a group of misfit officers whose ranks include a tomboy who names all of her pets Alphonse (her Patlabor being the latest), an overly aggressive gun nut, and a seemingly dull and lazy division chief. Nevertheless, they do their best to serve and protect despite their spotty reputation.

Given this scenario, you’d probably expect some combination of cop show drama and ensemble comedy with a dash of mecha, and you’d be right, normally. But while most of the Patlabor franchise falls along those lines, Patlabor: The Movie is instead a cerebral mystery. A recent string of “berserk” Labors threatens the completion of an important project and the most likely suspect, programmer Hoba Eiichi, is already dead, confounding Shinohara Asuma, the Division 2 member who has taken it upon himself to investigate. All the while, the film explores the continuing onset of technology and the eternal struggle of new vs old, with numerous biblical references strewn throughout. Given the tone and content, Patlabor: The Movie is like a stepping stone towards Ghost in the Shell and the eventual direction Oshii’s oeuvre would take.

The film still has a lot of the requisite elements of Patlabor; it has those same goofy characters (all of whom act as they should), robot fight scenes, and a personal feel to the setting. In fact, you need not have watched any of the previous material to understand the movie or to get an idea of the personality quirks and relationships of the characters. However, those aspects of Patlabor are either more subdued or less frequent in the film, instead putting the spotlight on the mysterious culprit, “E. Hoba” (Jehovah), and his motives. In this respect, it reminds me of another movie, Sengoku Majin Goshogun: The Time Étranger, a sequel to a super robot anime featuring a decidedly different tone and absolutely no giant robots, only Patlabor: The Movie is somehow both more extreme and less in its deviation. Patlabor: The Movie really feels as if Oshii (who also directed the Patlabor OVAs) was trying to push the franchise beyond the limits of its basic premise and bend it to his own personal will. It actually works pretty well overall, maintaining suspense throughout and giving quite a bit to think about, but I’m not sure if Patlabor was the place to do it.

In short, imagine Oshii Mamoru trapped in a giant paper bag called Patlabor, trying to punch his way through until he ends up wearing the bag like a Halloween costume, and you have Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie. He’s pretty dashing in that getup.

What Do You Mean Not All Anime Involve Philosophical Discussions?

When it comes to anime and manga academia, I commonly see two mistakes.

First is when an unusual work that is elevated by critics and scholars as being artistically significant is considered indicative of other works in anime and manga. Oshii Mamoru’s Ghost in the Shell movies are the most frequently misused in this respect, and while I do like Oshii’s work (including his recent film The Sky Crawlers), he’s pretty much considered an anomaly. And even though he’s much more celebrated and popular, I think Miyazaki is the same way; his works are almost a universe unto themselves when it comes to the Japanese animation industry. If you’re going to analyze the nature and life of the Japanese animation industry, do you look at the rare exception or do you look at the more common works, the middle-of-the-road stuff? I’m not saying you should enjoy crap, of course. However, I think that while the former can give you a good idea of what anime can do, the latter gives you a far clearer image of where anime is.

The second is sort of a mirror image of the first problem. Here, run-of-the-mill works with little to say creatively are considered shining examples of artistic brilliance. Shows that served little purpose outside of making some money and are quickly forgotten due to mediocrity are carted about and displayed as if they were seminal works in the history of anime. For example, Seitokai no Ichizon might be presented as a brilliant portrayal of the difficulties in gender relations in education among students in Japan, when it’s more just a show designed to appeal to otaku and has some entertainment value.

But wait, you might be thinking, “How dare you tell us what’s significant and what’s not! You’re not the boss of us!” But I’m not saying that at all. Ghost in the Shell can say a lot of things about the anime industry. The only thing is that because GitS is an exception, you should probably study it as an exception. And I do think Seitokai no Ichizon‘s story is worth analysis to some extent, but you have to be aware of its origins as a light novel, as well as the otaku subculture it’s trying to appeal to, before you really try to present its ideas as indicative of anything at all.

While I do believe in personal interpretations quite a bit, postmodernism can be a terribly dangerous weapon.

Oshii Mamoru… and a Play About Tetsujin 28???

Below is an article from the Mainichi Daily News’ website, translated for your convenience.

Actually it’s for my convenience as it lets me practice my Japanese, but we’ll leave that aside.

Tetsujin 28: A 500kg Iron Man Stands Tall! Minami Kaho Claims the Robot “Has a Life of Its Own” at Public Dress Rehearsal.

The robot manga Tetsujin 28 [Originally brought to America as Gigantor] by Yokoyama Mitsuteru (deceased) has been transformed into a play by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence fame. During the public dress rehearsal on the 9th, viewers witnessed the roughly six-meter-tall [approx. 19.7 ft], 500 kg [approx. 1102.3 lbs.] Tetsujin. They also showed the climax where main character Kaneda Shoutarou (played by Minami Kaho) rides in Tetsujin’s hand as the robot itself stands up.

For the theater edition of Tetsujin 28, Oshii Mamoru helped with both the script and production. Originally known as “Prototype 28,” the giant robot emerged towards the end of the Pacific War as a decisive weapon of the Japanese Army and is later revived in 1964 around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. The story tells of boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, who takes control of the Prototype 28 in order to fight against a terrorist organization. After the dress rehearsal ended, Minami Kaho remarked that to her surprise she was able to sense life in the robot, claiming, “It feels as if it has a life of its own.”

The performance will be open to the public in Tokyo at the Galaxy Theater  from January 10 – 25. In Osaka, the performance will be at Umeda  Arts Theater’s “Drama City” from February 5 – 8. S-rank seats go for ¥11,000 [$121 US] while A-rank seats go for ¥8000 [$88 US].

Writer: Kawamura Naruhiro (I don’t actually know how you’re supposed to pronounce this name. If anyone could help that’d be great)

Planes that Never Land: The Sky Crawlers

Oshii Mamoru, director of Ghost in the Shell and its sequel, is very well known in both the American anime fandom and the American artist’s community for his striking visuals, attention to environment and detail, and philosophy-charged narratives. With that in mind, I attended the US premiere showing of Oshii’s latest movie, The Sky Crawlers, adapted from a novel by Mori Hiroshi. Even if it didn’t turn out to be a good movie, I at least knew that I was in for something interesting. In recent years, the declining birthrate has beeen a major issue in Japanese society, and a lot of the suspects fingered have to do with the idea that the youth of japan is having a difficult time accepting the responsibilities of adulthood. The Sky Crawlers, being a movie about literally eternal youths,  seeks to address this topic.

The Sky Crawlers is set in the middle of a long war where battles are mainly fought up in the sky by small groups of planes. Kildren, humans who cannot age past a certain point, are a common sight on the battlefield. Kannami Yuuichi, a skilled pilot called into a small base in the middle of nowhere as a replacement, is himself a kildren. Upon arriving, Kannami is initially struck by a strange sense of déjà vu, especially around the female base commander and fellow kildren Kusanagi Suito, but is quickly drawn into the daily routine of a war with no end in sight, unsure of where life will take those who refuse to grow up.

Whatever the intended message is, the delivery used in Sky Crawlers is very unusual. Yes, there are characters. Yes, there is a plot that I’ve described to you. How much they actually matter to the movie as a whole, however, is something I am unable to determine, at least not without a second viewing. Major plot points are delivered quickly and casually, with no clear distinction that they’ve just occurred, and overall the purpose of the movie seems to go beyond telling a story about people doing things to achieve a goal. Whether it’s fighting, talking, relaxing, or having sex, the events in the movie and the elements of the story all intentionally blend together into a disorienting haze, like trying to recall what you ate or what you wore exactly ten years ago.

On a visual level, the movie is as expected of Oshii, who places a strong emphasis on environmental shots. Like his more recent works, Oshii continues to push the incorporation of 3-D and 2-D animation, and though the difference is glaring at first, your eyes will eventually adjust to it and treat it as being a natural part of the movie. The Sky Crawlers also does a very good job of making the viewer lose all sense of proportion. A seemingly endless sky separates one base from another, and for all the advanced technology incorporated into the planes, when they disappear into the clouds they might as well not exist.

I came into The Sky Crawlers expecting at least something interesting, but what the movie did was destroy my sense of distinction between interest and boredom. I kept watching, unable to tell if I was being entertained or if my mind was drifting away. My memories of this movie are blurry at best, and I can’t help but feel that this was the intention all along.