GAT – Patlabor: The Movie

Golden Age Theater

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

MAL | IMDB

Directed by Mamoru Oshii

In late 1988, Mamoru Oshii released a series of 7 OVA running 30 minutes each. By summer of 1989 the series had been remade into Patlabor: The Movie and exploded onto the market, which then demanded a 47 episode full series as a follow up. After the series, Patlabor 2 would take a drastic change in style and would be seen as the blueprint for the later masterpiece of Ghost in the Shell.

Mamoru Oshii had already made a name for himself by working on a few other series, and was in the news fresh from quitting a Studio Ghibli project. His famous love-hate relationship with Miyazaki, centered on what a story should be, likely influenced his hand on the Patlabor series. A call to intrigue and sinister ideals as the natural order, with only humanity and hope protecting us from cruel nature.


Narrative Control

The biggest impact I got from the film was Oshii’s narrative structure and control. Wings of Honneamise and last weeks Macross both attempted to condense a larger story into a shorter film format, using montage and skipping details to crush the narrative together. In Patlabor though, we can see Oshii’s understanding that less can be more. He constructs scenes to imply that there is more behind the curtain, characters with more depth and storylines with comedic tones, while keeping the central detective adventure story intact.

The cold open of the battle intercut with the credits was a relatively new technique back then. David Fincher and the Scott brothers were the only directors making liberal use of it at the time. Oshii nails it though, communicating the power and destructive nature of these machines with the missing pilot.

We have our central plot set up before a word is spoken, and the stakes are shown in brutal fashion.

The first act is a bit heavy on exposition after the impressive start, but the time is used quite well to cement our characters basic qualities. The hot head, the rookie, the captain, and the whole crew are portrayed simply but maintain an air of ‘more’. Unlike Macross, I don’t feel the need to watch the series after this to better understand, I do want to watch the series because I want more to enjoy though. A small, but impressive, difference in end result.


A Change of Pace

Above the acceptance that the film is well made, Oshii’s shift in story focus and mecha use really changed the game. WIth an antagonist that exists only as an ideal, and robots made part of the daily life, the genre of Mecha split again. This isn’t a Space Opera like Macross, and it doesn’t fit neatly into the Super or Real Robot genres that had dominated the industry.

It seems almost absurd that the two key action scenes in the film are centered around the mechs being human. With our hot head firing wildly into a river, negating any control a mech seems to offer, and our final battle that requires our girl to leave her robot in order to win. This acts as a great central point though, that humans can be sinister or good regardless of the tech involved.

It feels very natural, especially considering Japan’s prolific 60’s yakuza and detective films. A detective mystery thriller with police working to thwart an attack, while investigating subterfuge at the highest levels of society. This is the meat of nearly every film Oshii grew up with as a child, and his homage to them with the addition of mechs creates a very natural pairing.


Final Thoughts

The artwork, animation, and directing skills in the film are impressive. The film is one of the first examples of the 90’s aesthetic that would follow, and instigated a lot of it. The story also inspired a lot of the 90’s grounded character focus, leading to Oshii’s own Ghost in the Shell and others.

Patlabor’s story is quite simple and doesn’t have the same grandiose nature of Wings or Macross. The execution and simplicity of its goal are really where it shines though. Working wonders to deliver another Golden selection of film that defined the anime medium.

GAT: Macross – Do You Remember Love?

Golden Age Theater

MACROSS: Do You Remember Love?

MACROSS: Do You Remember Love?

MAL | IMDB

Directed by Shoji Kawamori

The film was released in 1984 as an alternate universe to the original series. The stories follow the same plot line but characters, events, and motivations, are all changed slightly. This lets the film work as a stand alone, and with all new animation it often feels different. On release, the film was seen as the best animation and one of the last Golden Age blockbuster films.

The Macross series as a whole is quite vast, featuring many series and film, including Macross Plus that launched the career of Shinichiro Watanabe. Do You Remember Love acts as the central point of the franchise for introducing the universe and story. The dynamic background animations, smoke and missile tracking, and swirling camera movements make it a pretty fun ride.


A Story of Love?

Macross: Do You Remember Love? is a stand alone film, but it doesn’t feel like it. The story follows a simple love triangle, played out over a grand space battle and the survival of the human race. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really go beyond that. Small montage moments and lots of action give us the basic premise, but the condensed plot is clear. Major characters of the series hardly require a mention, and our central three serve to frame the action more than anything.

Minmay, a new singer idol, gets caught up in battle and trapped with a fighter pilot named Hikaru. They spend three days trapped inside an engine room, become romantic, and continue dating after being rescued. The two of them get captured along with three other friends by a giant sized race of male green cyborg people!

This leads into the Male vs Female giant armies of death, and Hikaru escaping with his commander. Hikaru and the commander fall in love over the course of a month, return to the ship Macross, meet Minmay, and somehow save the universe while killing everyone.

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Hurray!

A really interesting story that leaves you wanting more can be great, and Macross certainly fits the role. Even if the story is a bit wanting.


A Story of Art

While the story was crushed down to its most basic form, the battles and light show are the real center of the film. Gundam has always been the big name in Mecha, and it is refreshing to see a drastically different philosophy in design.

The film revels in these interesting and mechanical designs of the ships that make the battles feel really large. Each fight feels like it requires more than the screen can handle, while perfectly framing the key moments.

Again the story is too brief to properly build the tension. Even as I watched a fantastic final battle scene, it never clicked that this was the big moment. Hints are within the film, leading Hikaru to battle the champion of the Female Giants, but the film doesn’t have time to let it really sink in.

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Final Thoughts

A beautiful film that suffers from a lack of time. Macross might be better experienced through the series, and the film as a nice visual treat afterwards. The story is a bit lacking in depth, but the action is packed full. A Golden Age popcorn blockbuster.

GAT: Night on the Galactic Railroad

Golden Age Theater

Night on the Galactic Railroad

Night on the Galactic Railroad

MAL | IMDB

Directed by Gisaburou Sugii

Night on the Galactic Railroad (NotGR) is a 1985 film that gained a cult following over the years. Sugii made the film after finishing three seasons of the anime Nine, and followed by three seasons of Touch. He also released Tale of Gengi two years later. Both films are dark, brooding, and moral journies, while the series are light hearted sport romance. An interesting dynamic, but we’re not here for Sugii.

NotGR is a little secret among anime fans, and likely because it is terrifyingly difficult to get into or understand. This is a film that has a firm grasp on what it wants to do, and that thing is not to entertain. It wants heavy atmosphere, philosophy, sadness, and above all else is time. NotGR wants you to sit, fidget, let your mind wander, and then focus again, before it does anything at all.


Setting the Stage

Right from the opening we are hit with this oddly slow and twisty intro to set that idea.

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Opening on the overhead shot of a school, we begin to drift down. Normally you would expect this to be a 10-30 second transition, even for detailed shots, but NotGR takes a full minute. Along with this is a windy, camera twisting, motion sickness ride across the single picture. All to get to the hallway.

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It gave us nothing towards the plot, narrative, setting… nothing. It just wants the audience to understand the ride to expect, like a giant speed bump on the excitement highway. At first it can be quite boring, but by the end it felt perfect.

The tone is set, and we move into the classroom to meet our two main characters Giovanni and Campanella. Gio’s mind wanders as he looks at a map of the galaxy for the first time, halted as kids laugh thinking he’s asleep in class. This turns to establish that Gio’s father has gone North to work and fish, mainly through the children making fun and creating terrible rumors in the way kids do. Only Campanella stands for his friend, silently supporting him in the face of the bullies.

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We go on to see the sorry state of affairs that Gio lives with. Brutally slow and tedious work at a printing shop, tired from the morning and the other part time job delivering papers, he earns just enough to bring food to the table. On the way home, he again drifts into a visual state of looking through the galaxy. This time by staring into a black rock. Then he moves on to return home with food for his mother.

His mother shares in the doubts and rumors about the father, and is so distant as to not even enter the same room. Gio is suffering but his hopes perk up with the plan to retrieve milk and visit with Campanella at the Festival of Lights. The dairy is empty though, save for a creepy old woman.

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Gio is again rejected by his classmates at the festival, and it serves as the final straw. He leaves the village to die alone on a far away hill, suicide through social stigmata. At this moment, Gio’s wandering vision of the universe comes for a third time and he stands before the train. Thus begins the Night on the Galactic Railroad.

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A Spiritual Journey of Lessons

From here, the story goes on through a series of symbolic scenes of the catharsis of death and religion. I thought at first that it was framed around a Buddhist mentality of rebirth, but it also features heavy Christian ideology. Perhaps fitting of a Japanese novelist writing about the death of his sister in 1924.

The episodic parts of the train ride each has some interesting portions to it. Things like the Bird Catcher, who spends his time capturing Herons that turn into candy, but let many of them die as they hit the ground. A wasteful and somewhat cold hearted circle of life.

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The meeting with the humans, also caught within the train of purgatory, are from the Titanic and have such a great little arc. The man who risks life and limb for these children entrusted to him, faced with the reality that separation may be worse than death, and committing to stay with them in the icy waters. The girl, who delivers our central ideal and folklore outlook in the tale of the scorpion.

The scorpion laments his choice to flee from a weasel and die alone in a well. With the idea, ‘My death will be useless and I will be alone’ on its mind, the scorpion wishes that in the next life his body be used for ‘true happiness in the world.’ An outlook of sacrifice, wrapped in a wish to exist fully. Its a nice central point to the film.

The humans leave towards heaven, and Gio tries to comfort his friend. For most of the story, Campanella has been the slightly more mature and effective of the two. Watching his quiet shadow glide alone the story felt saddening at times, but this moment was such a pay off.

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Gio’s affection for his friend is clear, and a great connection is held strong. Unlike Campanella though, Gio’s ticket is a special ticket that would let you enter ‘true heaven’ or any other stop along the ride. Campanella is not so lucky.

The film ends on a positive note, but it delivers a slow and methodical sadness throughout. Its almost exhausting, but the ending shows us why we took the journey we did. A glorious and tear jerking spiritual quest should always be this difficult. So Long, Space Cowboy.

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Final Thoughts

I still prefer director Sugii‘s other work The Tale of Genji, but this film turned out to be really interesting. It was hard to even get into watching, with cat people and famously slow pacing, but I’m glad I did. A good film done in an odd way with solid goals, always fun to find another to add in the collection.

GAT: Wings of Honneamise

Golden Age Theater

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise

MAL | IMDB

Directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise was released in 1987 as the flagship film for the new studio Gainax. The film was written and directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga, a 26 year old upstart looking to make his name alongside a new wave of generational talent. The crew includes some impressive names like  SadamotoItanoMasuoInoueMaeda, and of course Hideaki Anno.

The basic story of a careless man who falls for a female and an ideal she represents, who goes on to do great things. Its pretty standard, but Wings of Honne would try and do more with it. Through a series of montages and sequence storytelling. Wings of Honne expands the stories of the dreaming scientists, political anglings, war, and the human spirit. These sequence are interesting to see on their own, especially the final sequence that aims to make a 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tree of Life type send off.

Final 5 minute Sequence

Series like Ghost in the Shell and Akira hold the title of ‘must see Sci Fi anime’ for good reason. While Wings of Honne is a fantastic artistic and experimental film, this montage style narrative and overly expansive script left a lot to be desired. While the grand picture is impressive, the fine details lacked in a way that the true great films do not.


Love, War, and Human Nature

Shiro, our main character, begins the film as a man leading a bland life. Opening on his admission that he was not smart enough to become a pilot, Shiro has fallen into the Space Force. He is so apathetic that attending a friends funeral seems all too bothersome, and going for drinks with comrades is the only thing to grab his attention. With his friend skipping off to a whore house, Shiro looks around at the all too flashy life around him feeling empty. Everything is sex, bright lights, and indulgence that dulls the senses and from this noise comes a single voice, calling for repentance and acceptance of a god.

Love

Riquinni is a religious and damaged woman who looks after a similar young girl, and their dedication to the idea of a pure existence catches Shiro’s attention. Through the film, their relationship is tested and shows the pain that can come from the pure ideal. Shiro grows to love Riq, and she becomes the pillar that holds up his drive towards space. Her importance is driven home when he leaves the Space Force the second she calls for help, desperation to save her in his eyes.

Soon after, as he spends the next few days with her and feels like an outsider, he becomes the same apathetic man at the beginning of the film. Though he loves her, the connection between them is distanced and any attempt to bring them closer is rejected. This comes to a boil when he decides to take action, and what is famously known as the ‘rape scene’.

While Shiro is certainly making an aggressive move, the intention and circumstance is often ignored. His soul is eating away at him, facing death likely within the month, and his only connection to life keeps her distance. At his lowest point, he attempts to reach out to form a real connection as defined by the modern humanity, before realizing the moral distance between them. Even the next day, as he attempts to apologize, Riq demands that she was in the wrong for hitting him.

A lot of people in the West have latched onto this single scene. They rarely discuss its important context, or Japan’s cultural position on sexuality includes that includes the idea of a man ‘pushing the woman down’. Not to mention it was the 80’s.

This is Shiro’s darkest moment, and central to closing the arc of his determination.

War

In mirror to this story of love and religion, the world powers work to further their goals. The country’s leaders make corrupt deals with car makers to fund the Space Force, staining the name of these idealistic scientists. Shiro is a slow man, but those around him constantly mention the greed and corrupt nature of those involved. The launch is moved into controversial territory, and made into a pawn to draw war with another country. Finance and power made through blood, a perfect mirror to the peaceful separation of religion.

In the face of these two extremes, Shiro tries to hold the middle ground. Even as his life is threatened by hitmen, he attempts to maintain life.

This serves to help kindle the fire of Shiro’s goal, driving him to demand the launch even as war wages around him.

Human Nature

This is the spiritual core, and moral battle, of the film. While Shiro is captured by the quiet beauty of Riq, and inspired by her view of purity and space, he must also battle the sinful reality of man. This middle ground of the extreme is where we find our true nature of humanity. Funded by greed, driven by war, and inspired by the human drive for greatness,

Shiro uses all of this duality that surrounds him as he reaches orbit to serve as the world’s first astronaut, and quiet observer of the ‘stars of the world’.

A beautiful idea, executed in an interesting way, and animated at the highest level. Wings of Honneamise is not quite a masterpiece, but certainly has a Golden tinge.