Patlabor, Movie 3
If you recognize the sentence "SoW plz kthnx" then you know the addiction that has stolen my life. As a result of this my Anime review skills, which were marginal at best, are rusty and out of practice. So please take that into account when reading this review. I'll also thank the "Japanime 02" festival for allowing me to see this film, and the Japanese distributors who allowed them access to it.
The setting is Tokyo just as it begins to slide into science fiction. The city is even more crowded than today, but has not fundamentally changed. Science has advanced, large robots are used for heavy labor, allowing mankind to have even more influence on the world around him. Yet human weakness, crime, and those whose job it is to catch them remains bound in the strengths and weaknesses of those involved. And this is the story of one such case.
Labors being used on the waterfront are being found wrecked, literally torn apart. And since all that can be said is they find "most" of the pilot the police are very interested in finding out what is going on. Two detectives, one cynical and a youth to balance him, end up at the front of the investigation. It seem that there is something out in Tokyo bay, a monstrous something. They must find out where it comes from, and what drives it, before the death toll can rise further.
Very, very disappointing. I love the patlabor series, I love the way they tell stories, but this is distinctly average in my humble opinion. The amusing thing is that the movie screening I saw was actually introduced by one of the directors. He'd come to apologise for the movie being called Patlabor 3. He wanted to make it clear that the name it should have had was "XIII Patlabor", or more fully "Chemical Waste Product No.13". It's a story not specifically connected with the characters of the other movies, although they do make a cameo. Likewise the story does not connect with any of the other Patlabor anime, although it fits in the same world. And supposedly it takes place in the time period between the two patlabor films, although that's not really relevant. People who came to the film to see the Patlabor characters once more, or see the story continued, might feel disappointed at the lack of connection to the other material.
I didn't. I'd read that the movie was a side story so that came as no surprise to me. However what did disappoint me is that the story was so primitive and idiotic. Gee, there's a monster in Tokyo bay, a product of science gone wrong that is now here casting a pall of terror over the city and eating the occasional unlucky extra. Perhaps they should call Godzilla to get rid of it, or was it Ultraman? whatever, this has got to be one of the most dated and primitive stories to be made into a high budget anime movie. I can only assume that the source manga is old and short, because it really does feel like they've struggled to make anything out of it. And, like all these monster flicks, once the beast is revealed the tension drains out of the story entirely. And this happens way too early in the script.
What really makes it annoying is that the skill of the creators deserves more than this. The strength of the Patlabor movies has always been their sense of place, person and atmosphere. The characters have great personality, and the subtle hints in their interaction are wonderful. An example is watching the two detectives at home, how their surrounding silently set and explain their characters. How when they talk it is a bridge between two different views of the world. Wonderful stuff. Likewise when they do their investigations the city is wonderfully realised. It looks like a real city, full of humanity and insights into the way in which humans live. And the scenery seems to be full of meaning, of possible insights, something important to be savored. The characters are great, there is depth and poignancy to many of the scenes in the film, many times where you would like to know more about these people.
But, at the end of the day, there's just not enough meat in the story to make it worthwhile. It's ultimately just another monster movie. Find out what terrible thing is eating people, slowly piece together the madness that created it, it's weakness as a result, and then a final showdown. It's embarassingly bad and detracts from the far more interesting character work going on around the outside. The "discovery" phase, the detective work, also lacks the depth, intrigue and interest to drive the film. And the "villain", while full of character, lacks a certain degree of meaning. It's just a waste, so much talent and attention paid to an ultimately lightweight story. Go back and watch the twisted path of investigation in Patlabor 1. The convoluted politics of Patlabor 2. Then try and take this seriously.
Technically the production is very good. There's some elements of dodgy motion, it looks like cars are a real pain to animate. Likewise some of the character motion is a little clipped, but it's all eminently workable. And it quickly establishes a world, of dark rain-drenched streets, of concrete, steel and flickering neon signs. Meanwhile the characters have a wonderful sense of depth and expression that makes feeling empathy for them very easy. The monster itself is well animated but lacks character, violence and power but no mind or personality. The action scenes are reasonably done and have a certain sense of menace about them. Voices are good, Gotoh gets to crack a dirty joke, and the music and sounds fit the feel well.
I look forward to checking around the web for reviews of this title, but I haven't done so yet.