Patlabor 2: The Movie
I’ve been a longtime fan of the Patlabor TV Series. I caught a bunch of random episodes on Comcast’s Anime Selects on demand channel back in the day. Then I purchased a few random volumes of the DVD release. Eventually I purchased the entire TV series, and then the rest franchise (sans the original OVA series and the last part of the New File OVAs). But this this is something in an entirely different league then the TV series (which I loved). Now I know why old school fans speak so highly of this film. I do hope I don’t spoil too much, while trying to explain why this film is brilliant.
Patlabor 2: The Movie was helmed by Headgear, with Mamoru Oshii directing. This is a film that requires you to be familiar with the cast of Patlabor. I’d say checking out some of the episodes of the TV series and watching the first movie would suffice*. I understand that is a lot to ask, but doing so allows you to fully understand this movie, and thus is hugely rewarding. Patlabor takes place in the not-so-distant future where “labors” (robots) have taken the lead in industry, construction, and mechanics . Patlabors (potrol + labor) are police labors used to deal with incidents involving labors, or used in situations where a robot would come in handy for the police force of Tokyo. At any rate this film takes place a few years after the first one left off. Many of the stars of the series have moved on to bigger and better things, having been promoted to higher ranks, gone back to their homes overseas, or retired from the police force all together. What we are left with is essentially Goto, Nagumo, Noa, and Asuma. Although you can bet a few of the old characters will pop up to become the supporting cast. However the film wisely focuses in on Goto and Nagumo, as this is their story, and they are easily the most interesting characters in the franchise so it’s great to see them get their own story. It would have been tempting to again focus on the younger characters, but this bold move really pays off. Goto is a middle aged captain of the Patlabor units, a brilliant strategist, with chess master-like forethought. He is a manipulate, brilliant man, who is always one step ahead of everyone around him. But he is perhaps too smart for his own good, being exiled to an unimportant area of Tokyo (a common tactic used in Japanese government to get rid of people those with power have no use for). Captain Nagumo shares power with Goto in this film, due to reasons I won’t get into. Nagumo is a more by-the books boss, she’s intelligent and usually cold emotionally, but easily angered when others do not see things her way.
The film starts off with a battle involving U.N. Peacekeeping Forces (using labors) in Southeast Asia (yah! the U.N. rules !) in which only one man survives, and then cuts to the familiar characters in Tokyo. It is not entirely clear how this battle is relevant until much later in the film. In Tokyo a terroristic attack on a major bridge has the public confused and shocked. Much of the blame seems to be being put on the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) from the media. Things escalate quite fast, and right when it seems like it has to have been the JSDF eager to begin a coup d’état, a high ranking JSDF officer, Shigeki Arakawa shows up asking to see “the captain” of Section 2 (the Patlabor division), unsure if he means Goto or Nagumo the police let him meet with both of them. Shigeki Arakawa quickly gets to the point, that this is not some type of coup d’état, but just clear terrorist attacks being orchestrated by a band of followers of the man who survived the U.N. Peacekeeping mission in Southeast Asia. And so Goto, Nagumo, and Arakawa begin an investigation to try and get to the bottom of all this, all while relations between the Tokyo police and JSDF sour.
Patlabor 2: The Movie is one part political thriller, one part police procedural/mystery, one part character drama, with a dash of mecha added, because hey this is Patlabor after all! The comedic elements so prevalent in the TV series takes a backseat in this movie, but it does spring up from time to time. The film is frequently poetic, often taking it’s time to let you think about what is going on, and what the film’s themes are. It’s slow sure, but the pace picks up bit by bit, and becomes a tad suspenseful. It is a complex film, dialogue heavy (but never wasted) and feels like an Oshii flick. One of the best parts of the film is some heavy philosophizing by Goto and Arakawa. They discuss how Japan’s apparent and relative peace (and economic development) is based somewhat on foreign wars. The Japanese remove themselves from these wars, feeling it has nothing to do with them, or perhaps they are only lying to themselves. Maybe everyone knows the truth. Additionally the concept of a just war verses an unjust peace comes up. Not to mention the film asks the very pressing questions: what is the purpose of the JSDF? What is the true job of the Tokyo Police? What are these organizations supposed to do? What are they there to defend? This film came out during, and reflects, an important time in Japanese foreign affairs where the nation was finally becoming more willing to engage overseas by using the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (in peacekeeping missions for the United Nations). After so many years of refraining from using the military in anyway overseas, what would be next for Japan? Although Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution renounces war and the threat of force as a means to settle disputes, Japanese soldiers are still somehow deployed overseas and engaged in combat. In fact some even died. The JSDF was created to be a purely defensive force, but how far can those definitions be stretched and how leniently can they keep interpreting Article 9? Since this film has been made a contingent of the JSDF have been deployed in Mozambique, Iraq, Nepal, and the Golan Heights. While supposedly only there for humanitarian, peace keeping, reconstruction, or assistance, it really stretches the limits of Article 9. Oshii’s concerns were very valid.
The art is in a style I’ve come to love, traditional Production I.G. looks, with realistic character designs, wonderful backgrounds, and a subdued but beautiful color-tone. The animation while really great, will not completely blow you away. There are some interesting “camera angels” used, like extensive use of the fisheye lens. The music was done by Kenji Kawai whose soundtrack is almost spiritual. Bandai Visual’s Los Angeles dub sounds bored and uninspired. The actors are all uninterested and seem like they could have used better direction or something. This is a professional sounding dub, just not a very good one. Manga Video’s London Dub was directed by Michael Bakewell, one of the best and most interesting ADR Directors, and it boggles the mind why this dub is excluded from Bandai Visual’s release. Why did they even re-dub it at all but not dub other films they released that had no dubs? Manga Video’s dub stars one of my favorite actors, Peter Marinker as Goto, and he yet again delivers a performance that blew me away. Not to mention the script is a thousand times better and this dub just flows more naturally. The L.A. dub is a bit stilted and makes the film harder to comprehend then it should be. Bandai Visuals DVD case looks amazing, with two wonderfully detailed booklets and tons of extra features. But the lack of the better dub is hugely disappointing and frankly a stupid decision.
If I can find a problem in this film, it is that Oshii obviously wants to tell a very political story, but seems to have been forced yet again to revisit the same old franchise, one it appears he has already moved on from. But he handles this well enough. While Oshii wants to tell a political film, he only has police officers to work with here, so there are a few contrivances you will have to overlook. And the Patlabors are, for most of the film, not even used. But these are easily forgiven as the rest of the script is excellently written. The film is a mature, political, and thoughtful work that only older audiences will fully understand. This is a classic in every meaning of the word.
* I am well aware this movie takes place in a different continuity then the TV series, and actually follows the OVA series. But until that is re-released by Maiden Japan, it is difficult to come by legally.
Positives: Political, engaging, intelligent, philosophical, well written, brilliant dub (Manga UK’s London dub), focuses on the best characters, good animation, love the artwork, and poetic music.
Negatives: Boring dub (Bandai Visual’s L.A. dub), a little confusing, Mamoru Oshii and Kazunori Ito want to tell a story that is a little beyond what they have to work with.