There's no mistaking the directorial style of Oshi Mamoru. It's cold, calculating, at times ponderous, and all immensely engrossing. Patlabor 2: The Movie has got wonderful visuals, well-written soundtrack (by none other that Kawai Kenji), tightly directed action and a great ensemble cast. So why is the script so full of holes? Specifically, why is there such a feeling of, 'this would never happen in real life?'
Part of the reason is that many of the events which are used as plot elements were borrowed from real-life incidents. The defection of a MiG-25 pilot in 1978 really did happen, and the phantom attack by the three bogeys in Tokyo airspace borrows heavily from the now-infamous botched computer training simulation which accidentally sent the United States to Defcon 3 and near nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It seems that real-life events are often triggered by a series of random incidents -- and that usually makes for poor material for a fictional story. (There's something to the old saying, 'the truth is always stranger than fiction.') The suspense build-up for each event as it unfolds is gripping stuff, and Kawai's moody, sombre soundtrack gets the heart pounding with each passing frame. But there's a sense of disbelief when the final time table is laid out, and the threat of either a military coup or military intervention by the United States is threatened. These are shades of the final days of World War II, when a coup was planned to overthrow the Emperor after he decided to surrender the Imperial forces to the US. Yes, it's rather a rather poignant reminder about some of the realities of war, and what the responsibilities of each and every citizen should be, but it's all very pat. The script as a whole rings false when everything simply falls into place. Would the United States even conceive of intervening in the event of an apparant civil war in Japan? I highly doubt it; this to me sounds like some latent anti-American rhetoric on the part of Ito Kazunori.
Animation is near the top of its class, with lots of smooth computer graphics effectively integrated with the highly detailed hand-drawn cell animation. But this movie also showed some budget constraints, with its preponderence of panned stills liberally sprinkled throughout the 108-minute long feature. I was also somewhat disturbed by the translations in this feature -- while very loose, and suitable in general, there were several instances where they were a little confusing, and detracted from the show's intent. This is a case where I would have liked to have seen a bit more literal translation at the cost of some continuity -- especially since with subtitling, continuity isn't as critical as when a feature is dubbed.
Characterisations are very similar to the first Patlabor movie. Many of the characters have moved on; Noa and Asuma are now involved witht he development of new labor interfaces, and even Ota has moved on -- he's a trainer for new recruits... a trainer from hell, that is. By far the most interesting character is the shady Arakawa Shigeki, the JSDF intelligence officer who is apparently working with his own agenda. But like so many Japanese films, you know right away that this is not a 'good guy'. For one, they always show him with an evil grin after each key scene, and secondly, his character has strabismus (both eyes don't track correctly). This latter feature is interesting; I don't recall ever seeing this in an animated feature before. It give the character a very disturbing sense of untrustworthiness, something the character designers no doubt had in mind. I simply wish that stereotypes would be tossed out of intelligent films like this one.
Despite its shortcomings, Patlabor 2: The Movie is highly entertaining. Many viewers will find it slow, and unwatchable (if you didn't enjoy Ghost in the Shell, you won't enjoy this one), but for those of you who would like to see a more intellectual side to anime, this is a fine example. I may not agree with what this show presents, but there's no denying its overall quality.
- AN, 98.01.10