Sunday, 17 September 2023

The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War - Director's Cut

Given that events in The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War - viewed here in Mamoru Oshii's longer, Gray Ghost titled Director's Cut - are predicated on a laser guided missile striking a suspension bridge, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this live action engagement is an out-and-out remake of Patlabor 2: The Movie. Tokyo War, after a spell, wrongfoots this assumption by referencing Yukihito Tsuge, the mastermind behind the previous (animated) film's attack, using the past tense. Despite the obvious and intended similarities, we are specifically being told that we are now in uncharted waters. Unfortunately, the ways in which Tokyo War departs from its predecessor decomplexifies the piece, relentlessly thwarting any feeling of tension or danger in the process. Where Patlabor 2 focused on a citywide response, expertly mapping the competing factions and agencies within Japan's capital and how their reactions and political retaliations frustrate any attempt at a unified response, Tokyo War sticks to grave whispering in and around prefab compounds. Mamoru Oshii's 2015 film is simplistic by comparison then; a degraded photostat of an out-and-out triumph that largely fails to convey that much of anything has changed following the initial terror attack. Oshii's preference for sedate rhythms and placid talking heads, as well as a budget that (quite apparently) doesn't stretch to the scale of coverage required to depict a boiling city, results in an unhurried film that fails to impart a sense that anything connected to these discussions is happening beyond the confines of these beautifully lit sets. Tokyo War isn't a complete bust though: Rina Ohta has such an obvious star presence that Oshii can't help but construct every single action set piece around her; even if there's also a boat mounted machinegun or an enormous, distressed robot in play. 

Harmonica by JEF2D

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

WXIII: Patlabor The Movie 3

Fumihiko Takayama's WXIII: Patlabor The Movie 3 almost completely dispenses with the Special Vehicles teams who struggled through Mamoru Oshii's previous two instalments, preferring instead to focus on a pair of detectives nosing around a spate of, apparently, unconnected murders and some light industrial sabotage. The film's technologically advanced near-future is leveraged then not to explore any criminality connected with robotic diggers or stolen military aircraft but to hypothesize the ways in which biological science has kept pace with mechanical developments, further diverging from our norm. If you were to summarise Patlabor 3 then it would not be incorrect to say that it is a creature feature with brief intrusions from hydraulic mechanoids. This kaiju aspect is densely delineated too, with allusions to work as diverse as Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and the kind of Lovecraftian horrors that are very often found entombed in ancient ice. 

The rhythms and mise-en-scène Takayama uses to tell such a conceptually outrageous story though are the complete opposite of the frenzy typically deployed. Patlabor 3 revels in describing the everyday and the mundane, the film largely an exercise in extracting a quivering, Autumnal beauty out of this vision of tomorrow's Tokyo. Since Takayama's film is almost entirely painted animation, this preoccupation with stillness and incidental detail becomes its own, intoxicating characteristic. Patlabor 3 betrays an obsessive commitment to prosaic clutter, communicated with brush strokes and feature film minutes that revolve around the description of human minutiae; be that a judgmental tremor on the face of an amusement park cashier or a Renoir calendar hanging in a bereaved mother's office. This is a hypnotic film, one constructed out of anxious pauses and static perspectives on a speculative, super-charged city that no-one actually got to live in. Japan's capital is portrayed as a sodden expanse filled with malfunctioning people, a beast that shrieks with a woman's trill, and a murder investigation that hinges on which sound frequencies are thoughtlessly eliminated by the process of digital audio compression. 

Kenji Kawai - The Last Rain

CORP81 - Dusk

Cobra by Monsieur Lamu

John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies - 69th St. Bridge

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Knights of the Zodiac

A sixty million dollar exercise in divining what an audience used to the drip-fed introductions of American superhero films might find appealing in a long-running, Japanese multi-media property. A bizarre and, apparently, fruitless strategy, especially given how well regarded the franchise is in any number of non-English speaking territories. Despite this embedded popularity, director Tomek Bagiński's Knights of the Zodiac monkeys around with Masami Kurumada's Weekly Shonen Jump serial, bending over backwards to find some rhythm or pattern of storytelling well-worn (and multiplex friendly) enough to smuggle in a story about sainted martyrs drafted into a cosmic-level war against, and alongside, Greek Gods. The crueller - and therefore more exciting - aspects of the manga are eliminated outright; a worrying shift since the entire tale is predicated on a similar sort of violent, religious malevolence as Go Nagai's Devilman

The tournament travails of battered and bloodied orphans are nudged aside for two vaguely defined factions battling over fully-grown cage fighters who are able to, accidentally, tap into strange, mystical abilities. Mackenyu, the son of big screen madman Sonny Chiba, stars as Seiya, a promising young scrapper blessed with pop star good looks and computer-generated vapours that roll off his body like a pleasant fragrance. Although positioned within the story as brash enough to inspire enmity wherever he goes, Mackenyu's Seiya is not only bland but actually pretty obliging. The young hero grimly submitting himself to a training regime that covers him in photogenic gashes and bone-structure accenting bruises after only the briefest of heart-to-hearts with Madison Iseman's trainee Goddess Sienna. The only actor transmitting the combative self-assurance typical of the fight comic genre is Mark Dacascos as Mylock, Sienna's Alfred Pennyworth-style attaché. When battle is joined Dacascos' swirling movements betray a confidence that goes beyond that of a drilled dance; further proof (if any was required) that Hollywood missed a trick with the actor. 

Sleepscreen - Headlight

Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen - Across the Ocean

Friday, 8 September 2023

Past Lives

Past Lives, the uncommonly assured feature film debut of playwright and Amazon streaming screenwriter Celine Strong, withholds its most obviously dramatic developments - the sort of moments that a lesser piece might construct explosive gear shifts around - then only refers to them in shy, past-tensed enquiries, years after they have taken place. Greta Lee's Nora, then going by Na Young, and Teo Yoo's Hae Sung formed a connection in their shared childhood; a first crush when they were both on the cusp of becoming teenagers. The pair walked a similar route home after school every day, a well-trodden track on which they would bicker and discuss their competing academic achievements. There's an obvious and easy rapport between the two, one picked up on by the children's mothers who arrange an idyllic playdate for them in a park. Even though both Na Young and Hae Sung carry umbrellas, it's not clear that it's actually raining; any meteorological blemish on these perfect moments not quite penetrating the record of this foundational memory then. 

Nora and her family emigrate from South Korea to Canada not long afterwards, leaving Hae Sung in a desultory sort of repose that seems to last throughout the young man's adolescence and into early adulthood. Twelve years later the two reconnect through social media and Skype, quickly resuming the same sort of rhythms that defined their adolescent relationship. The length of this long-distance relationship is slippery; it could be months or a matter of weeks but it's obviously, painfully, significant in both of their lives. When it becomes clear, due to clashing work commitments, that a physical meeting will continue to be elusive, Na Young, now going by her chosen, Anglicized name Nora, asks for an end to the calls. A decade later, when discussing her relationship with Hae Sung with her husband, played by John Magaro, this videophone era is pointedly elided. Nora preferring instead to talk almost exclusively in terms of them being childhood sweethearts. It's clear that this re-connection was deeply significant though. Both behave as if they are grieving when it ends, the couple quickly blundering into different relationships with varying degrees of success. 

When Nora and Hae Sung do eventually meet-up they are both in their mid-thirties and deeply entangled with other people. As they walk under a bridge while on their tour of New York, Shabier Kirchner's camera adopts a telephoto perspective. At first it seems as if this viewpoint has been chosen to evoke the idea of spying, as if we are watching on from some sniper's vantage point as two celebrities enjoy a clandestine meeting, one charged with a potential for infidelity. The more the two talk though, the more information, and therefore unaddressed longing, we are privy to. Nora had returned to Korea previously we learn, she had also tried to re-establish contact with Hae Sung. She did so while introducing her prospective husband to her family. The unspoken insinuation then being that she was indirectly asking Hae Sung to intervene and talk her out of this marriage. Since writer-director Song decided not to dramatise these developments, we can only know about them if the characters talk about them. Past Lives' strength is that this coded demand for an explanation of inaction is completely consistent with both of these characters. Nora does, to some degree, see herself as the subject in a swirling fiction; Hae Sung is much more gently romantic, seemingly content to have simply let this other, wonderful person touch on his own, ordinary life. 

Yoichiro Yoshikawa - Cold Devil Conspiracy

Slash by Ian Higginbotham