So, we come to a review that has been a long time coming, to be honest. It’s every once in awhile for me that I get to tackle a really good anime movie. But here we are, to take a look at…..
“An Unexpendable Relic”
Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Studios: IG Tatsunoko and Studio DEEN
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Script: Kazunori Ito
The movie opens on a gorgeous shot which sets the big and epic scope of the film; it is that striking from a visual standpoint. Though at first the movie feels like the OVA but on a bigger budget, be it Nagumo getting sidelined in favor of Goto’s squad, the parasol gag, dealing with an out of control Patlabor unit, etc. Of course the movie assumes that you have seen the original OVA series, which considering this movie came out shortly afterwards makes sense.
Anyway, an operation is in progress dealing with a rogue Patlabor that has no pilot….. hoo boy. There is also some background stuff involving island reclamation to solve the issue of land shortages. Yeah the Babylon Project, remember that thing from like one of the episodes in the OVA…. yeah it slipped my mind too. In addition, a scientist (E. Hoba) that worked on the project has committed suicide. On top of all that, the SV2 has a new unit with a new OS called HOS (lol) which might connect all these mysterious plot threads. It’s a race against time to uncover the truth.
Now the story is the strongest element of the movie in my opinion. It has a strong start as it puts together these seemingly disparate elements into an effective mystery tale. It exhibits some of the more light-hearted/humorous bits from the OVA, but when it gets serious it does with such ease that it isn’t jarring. It has an interesting take on science fiction, in that the future serves as an extension of the present. I mean, the world of Patlabor looks like late 1980s Japan only with giant robots, still facing the issues that modern humanity has run into: the steady but inevitable progress of technology coupled with the hope that it will improve things. Though the finale is pretty awesome as the slow burn detective mystery turns into a big mecha action sequence.
Now, while the film does some things right in terms of story and plot, it does lack in terms of character development. The Noa and Asuma dynamic is somewhat absent for most of the film, only popping up when required by the story needs. Asuma and his conflict against the corporate political establishment is given some lip service but only at certain points when the story needs some push. It is also a pity that Kanuka Clancy, the best character of the OVA series, doesn’t appear until the final part of the movie and ultimately her role in the movie is so superfluous that it could have been done by any other character. It’s real telling that Goto and Shinobu get more screentime in comparison to the rest. What made the Patlabor OVA series work was the team dynamic on display but here that gets sidelined for focus on separate characters.
For a film, there are some rather high production values, even more than the OVA series that came out a year prior. It looks amazing especially with the mechanical design some of the best anime has offered. The movie also serves as an excellent showcase for Oshii’s very filmic approach as seen somewhat in the OVA but taken to its logical conclusion. Be it the use of very nice shot composition or the trademark fish eye lens Oshii is known for, this movie definitely is worth analysis from a filmmaking perspective. Granted it does drag a bit with the dialogue scenes, where it seems like Oshii lingers on them a bit more longer than need be. But it does provide a nice balance of action and the more quiet/thoughtful moments. I do find the biblical references (Psalms and the Babel story) while not quite subtle, are utilized in service to the story instead of just because it’s cool and neat (I’m looking at you Evangelion).
The english dub is worth noting, if only in terms of difference with the OVA series. While the OVA was dubbed by US Manga Corps, this film and the other 2 Patlabor films were licensed and released by Bandai Visual back around 2006-07 and only recently re-released by Maiden Japan last year. Bandai Visual farmed the dub out to Bang Zoom, getting Wendee Lee to handle it. I got to say it’s a more consistent effort in comparison to the CPM dub for the OVA, but not much better beyond that. It’s serviceable in just about every sense.
So the first Patlabor movie is quite good, though suffers a bit on a character dimension, but it tells a strong and engaging story. I like the movie but that’s about it. Although, there was another movie, but that’s a subject for another review down the line sorry to say.
My next review? Well, I figure that I resurrect something I haven’t done since 2012. That’s right an April Fool’s Day special review! Look forward to that one, dear readers, ’til next time ^_^