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I

G v 9 L G V 9 8 L 0 8 L 6
The Cinema of Mamoru Oshii
ALSO BY DAN! CAVALLARO
The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki
(McFarland, 2006)
The Cinema of
Mamoru Oshii
Fantasy, Technology and Politics
DANI CAVALLARO
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Jeferson, North Carolina, and London
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGUING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Cavallaro, Dani.
The cinema of Mamoru Oshii : fantasy, technology and politics
/ Dani Cavallaro.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7864-2764-2
softcover : 50# alkaline paper
I. Oshii, Mamoru -Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.
PN1998.3.083C38 2006
791.43'34023092 -dc22 2006018554
British Library cataloguing data are available
2006 Dani Cavallaro. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Cover art: From the 1995 flm Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii
(Manga Entertainment/Photofest)
Manufactured in the United States of America
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Box 611, Jeferson, North Carolina 28640
www.mcfarlandpub.com
For Paddy
Table of Contents
Preface
PART ONE. OSHII'S CINEMA: AN ANALYTICAL SURVEY
1. Background: Developments in Ani me
2. Oshi i ' s Creative Traj ectory
3. Themes, I magery and Symbol i sm
4. Ci nematography and Ani mation Techni ques
PART Two. OSHII AND THE CARNIVALESQUE
5. Concepts of the Carnival
6. Urusei Yatsura: The TV Seri es
7. Urusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only You
8. Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer
9. Urusei Yatsura Movie 4: Lum the Forever
10. Angel's Egg
11. Twilight Q2: Labyri nth Objects File 538
PART THREE. OSHII'S TECHNOPOLITICS
12. Vi si ons of Power in Live-Action and Ani me
13. Dallos
14. Mobile Police Patlabor, OVA 1
15. Mobile Police Patlabor, TV Seri es and OVA 2
16. Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police
vii
7
9
16
20
29
41
43
48
55
61
68
75
83
87
89
95
100
108
113
viii Table of Contents
17. Patlabor 2: The Movie
18. Patlabor WXTII: Movie 3
19. Minipato
20. The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head
21. Killers: .50 Woman
22. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
PART FOUR. HUMANITy/VIRTUALITY:
OSHII'S POST-ROBOTIC VISION
23. Approaches to Cybersociety
24. Blood: The Last Vampire
25. Avalon
26. Ghost in the Shell
27. Ghost i n the Shell 2: Innocence
28. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
29. Post-Innocence Developments
Filmography
Chapter Notes
Bibliography
Index
120
128
134
137
149
153
163
165
168
174
185
199
214
219
225
231
241
245
Preface
The rapidly expandi ng appreciation of Mamoru Oshi i ' s cal i ber as one
of the most i ntri gui ng personal i ti es i n contemporary ci nematography
i nvi tes sustai ned critical refection upon hi s multifaceted career as a di rec
tor, scri pt wri ter, concept ideator and producer. Thi s monographi c st udy
i s i ntended as an i ntroduction to Oshii' s work for those who have not yet
had opportuni ty to fathom the artist's graphi c and conceptual universe, as
well as an i n- depth evaluation of Oshii' s career, techni ques and di sti nctive
tropes for those who are already partially fami l i ar with that world and wish
to enrich thei r experi ence thereof.
Oshi i has taken the ani mated medi um to styl i sti c and i ntel l ectual
reaches of arguably unprecedented complexity, whi l e concurrently exper
i menti ng with l i ve-action ci nema i n a highly i magi native fashi on, thereby
puncti l i ousl y expl ori ng both the formal speci fci ty of each and creative
opti ons for t hei r mutual cross-pol l i nati on. Resol utely eschewi ng faci l e
reducti ons of animati on t o t he underpri vi l eged category of chi l d- ori ented
entertai nment , Oshi i has persi stently maxi mi zed ani me' s procl ivi t y t o
engage i n t he treatment of seri ous phi losophical and i deol ogi cal i ssues, and
hence yi el d thought - provoki ng i nsi ghts i nto real ms of experi ence once
deemed the uncontested provi nce of live-action fl mmaki ng. Si mul tane
ously, he has endeavored to probe the ani mational potenti al i ti es of the l i ve
action form itself, by bri ngi ng some of the acti ng and stagi ng styl es of ani me
to bear upon fesh- and-bone performers and thei r envi ronments.
Throughout Oshi i ' s oeuvre, one senses an unfi nchi ng determi nation
to avoi d consolatory resol utions . No endi ng, however promi si ng i t may
seem, is ever devoi d of a tantal izing el ement of open- endedness . Among
the themes most assi duously revi si ted by Oshi i ' s ci nema are the nebul ous
ness of the boundary between empiri cal real i ty and the onei ri c domai n; the
condition of atomi zed solitude endured by vi rtually al l l i vi ng creatures
but most poi ntedly by humans -regardl ess of thei r membershi p i n com
muni t i es and profess i onal t eams; the rampant i nci dence of economi c
exploitation and political abuse i n contemporary and futuri stic soci eti es;
and the erosi on of i denti ty and, ultimately, even humanness resul ti ng from
2 Preface
i ncrementally i nvasive technologies of cybernetic and bi ochemi cal deri va
ti on.
These themes are customarily articulated by recourse to a deft alter
nation of hi gh- speed action sequences; dialogical or monol ogical segments
i n whi ch moti on i s mi ni mal i sti cal l y curtai l ed and verbal medi tati on i s
accorded pri ori ty i nstead; and methodically paced, wordl ess passages, nor
mally accompani ed by haunting melodies, which provide memorable pi c
ture gall eri es and pauses for refl ection. Ci nematographi cal l y speaki ng, thi s
characteri stically Oshiian mi x tends to rel y on the systematic empl oyment
of montages, l ong takes, sequence shots, scrol l i ng pans, distorted perspec
tives, exaggeratedly low and high camera angl es, and a dexterous mani pu
l ati on of the i nterplay of l i ght and shadow, refecti ons, refracti ons, and color
gradati ons . Equally recursive are numerous i mages drawn from the natu
ral worl d, used as metonymic correlatives for metaphysi cal noti ons and
preoccupations. Above all, Oshii' s cinematography i s marked by an adamant
avoidance of theatri cal i ty as an end i n i tsel f, as a resul t of whi ch the most
enduri ng memori es from hi s producti ons come to be associated wi th stu
di ousl y si mpl e and elegantly unobtrusive detai l s and gentl e chromatic vari
ations, aural modulations, gestural cl ues and al l usive textures rather than
the cl amor and pomp of operatic set pi eces .
Oshi i ' s fl ms draw on a variety of i nspi rational sources suppl i ed by
Eastern and Western traditions, as wel l as di verse hi storical eras, rangi ng
from Shi nto mythology to cyberpunk, from i ndigenous ani mistic beliefs and
ri tual s to global expressions of advanced technocratic regi mes. At the same
ti me, the di rector' s creative traj ectory evi nces unusual versati l i ty i n the
handl i ng and personal re-el aboration of a range of generi c codes and con
venti ons . Thi s renders the survey of Oshi i ' s ci nemati c output over the past
two decades a uniquely captivati ng journey across the real ms of comedy,
romance, vi sionary sci ence fction, dystopi an specul ation, action adven
ture, the epi c saga and the detective tal e. Along the way, these disparate di s
courses -whi ch verge on i rreverent sl apsti ck humor, at one end of the
spectrum, and on the murky depths of existenti al i st or absurdist drama, at
the other -fel i citousl y partake i n processes of reci procal redefni t i on ,
thereby mappi ng and remappi ng themselves onto one another to the point
that thei r i nitial diversity metamorphoses i nto reciprocally enhanci ng com
pl ementari ty.
Part One, " Oshi i ' s Ci nema: An Anal yti cal Survey, " provi des a
panorami c assessment of Oshi i's corpus i n the context of the medi um of
ani me and of i t s cul tural si gni fcance, outl i ni ng t he pri nci pal stages of the
fl mmaker' s career and focusi ng on the most characteri sti c traits of his si g
nature at the l evel s of i magery, thematic concerns, ani mati on techni ques
and approach to ci nematography. In Chapter 1 , "Background: Devel op -
Preface 3
ments i n Ani me, " key moments in the history of Japanese ani mati on and
i n the cognate medi um of manga ( comic books or graphic novels) are exam
i ned to hel p the reader si tuate Oshi i 's opus withi n the broader perspective
of i ndi genous graphi c tradi ti ons . The topi c of ani me' s i mpact on Western
audi ences i s al so i nspected. Chapter 2, "Oshi i ' s Creative Traj ectory, " traces
Oshi i' s evol ution from hi s budding i nterest i n fl mmaki ng, fuel ed by the
veritably avid consumption of di sparate movies of Eastern and Western
and especially European -derivation, through hi s early forays i nto ani ma
tion i n numerous capacities, to hi s progressive assertion of a highly personal
style and attendant expeditions i nto i ncreasingly complex ideological i ssues.
I n Chapter 3, "Themes, Imagery and Symbol i sm, " the di scussi on con
centrates on recurri ng narrative and iconographi c aspects of Oshi i' s work
that range from his i nnovati ve empl oyment of diverse mythological frames
of reference at the di egetic macro level , to hi s consi stent use of treasured
vi sual tropes at the pictorial mi crolevel . Chapter 4, "Ci nematography and
Ani mation Techni ques, " evaluates i n detai l , and wi th i l l ustrative reference
to appropriate producti ons, Oshi i's adoption of parti cul ar camera moves
and choreographi ng techniques i n the construction of hi s typical concep
tion of mise-en-scene. The speci fcally ani mati onal strategi es brought to
bear on the formulati on of hi s characters' personal i ti es and of hi s setti ngs'
uni que moods are concurrently di scussed.
Part Two, "Oshi i and the Carnival esque, " exami nes Oshi i ' s al l egori
cal engagement wi th the carnival as a phi l osophical and vi sual phenome
non afordi ng al most l i mitless opportunities for the constellation of radically
destabi l i zed worl ds, by recourse to the exuberantl y l udi c and the di s
turbingly surreal i n turns . Chapter 5, "Concepts of the Carnival , " ofers an
assessment of cultural and philosophical theorizations of that phenomenon,
addressi ng both its defnition as the traditional locus of temporary di srup
ti ons of order i ntended to provide sal utary rel ease mechani sms, and i ts
recent adaptation to the socioeconomic i mperatives of the adventure ( or
experi ential) society. Chapter 6, " Urusei Yatsura: The TV Series," Chapter
7, " Urusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only You, " Chapter 8, " Urusei Yatsura Movie 2:
Beautiful Dreamer," explore Oshii' s contributions to the sensationally pop
ular ani me universe of Urusei Yatsura ( 1983-84) as paradi gmatic i l l ustra
tions of the carnivalesque at its most famboyant . Chapter 9, "Urusei Yatsura
Movie 4: Lum the Forever," focuses on a post-Oshi i producti on ( di rected by
Kazuo Yamazaki in 1986) withi n the same ani mational domai n as a means
of assessi ng the ongoi ng l egacy of Oshi i ' s distinctive take on the carniva
lesque . Chapter 10, "Angel's Egg, " and Chapter 11, " Twilight Q2: Labyri nth
Objects File 538," ofer appraisals of those two producti ons ( executed i n
1985 and 1 987) a s i nstances of Oshi i ' s fair for transmuting bizarre playful
ness i nto Kafkaesque di sreal ity.
4 Preface
Part Three, "Oshii' s Technopolitics, " tackles Oshi i' s treatment of grave
pol i ti cal and hi storical dilemmas through the lenses of committed sci ence
fction, concentrati ng on hi s hi ghly ori gi nal appropri ati on and rei nventi on
of the mecha ( gi ant robot) subgenre of ani me and on hi s arti cul ati on of the
compl ex i nteracti ons governi ng i ndividual and col l ective patterns of con
duct . Chapter 1 2, "Vi si ons of Power i n Li ve-Acti on and Ani me, " suppl i es
a panorami c survey of Oshi i' s distinctive approach to those questions. At
the same ti me, i t also considers the director 's sustai ned eforts to arti cul ate
a ri ch di al ogue between l i ve-action ci nema and ani me by recourse to a
range of styl i sti c codes and a markedly personal i nterpretati on of noti ons
of stylization, exaggeration and mi ni mal i sm.
Chapter 1 3, "Dallos, " exami nes Oshi i's engagement with the aforemen
ti oned i ssues i n the ori gi nal video animati on ( OVA) of that name ( 1983-84) .
Chapter 14, "Mobile Police Patlabor, OVA I," Chapter 15, "Mobile Police Pat
labor, TV Seri es and OVA 2, " Chapter 16, "Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police,"
and Chapter 1 7: "Patlabor 2: The Movie, " explore Oshi i ' s i ncremental l y
sophi sti cated treatment of analogous themes i n the context of hi s i nvolve
ment i n the Patlabor franchise between 1988 and 1993. Related producti ons
that have been more or less overtly i nfluenced by Oshi i ' s take on the Patla
bar universe and its spi n-ofs are then considered in Chapter 1 8, "Patlabor
WXIII: Movie 3," a study of the feature fl m of that name directed by Fumi
hi ko Takayama i n 2002, and i n Chapter 19, "Minipato, " whi ch l ooks at a
collection of ani mated shorts di rected by Kenji Kamiyama in 2001 .
The discussion then concentrates on Oshi i ' s subsequent elaboration of
one of t he axial i ssues frst articulated i n t he Patlabor movie : that i s to say,
the unresolved tension between the zealous protection of j ustice on the part
of the guardi ans of law and order and the descent i nto brutal i ty to which
thi s may lead i f taken too far. Thi s crucial aspect of Oshi i ' s oeuvre i s probed
wi t h reference to hi s l i ve-action "Kerberos" tri l ogy ( 1987, 1 991 , 1 992 ) i n
Chapter 20, " The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head, " and further
pursued i n Chapter 21, "Killers: .50 Woman, " an exami nati on of a l i ve
action short produced i n 2002 and i ncl uded i n an omnibus proj ect . Chap
ter 22, "lin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, " focuses on the one -and arguably most
i mpressive -" Kerberos" feature executed through the medi um of ani ma
ti on, di rected by Hi royuki Oki ura i n 1 998, for whi ch Oshi i penned the
screenplay.
Part Four, "Humani tylVi rtual i ty: Oshi i ' s Post - Roboti c Vi sion, "
addresses Oshii' s treatment of hi s most i nveterate concerns -what makes
us human? what does i t mean to live as a human? -wi th reference to a
range of features varyi ngly i nfuenced by devel opments i n cybertechnol ogy
and, relatedly, by cyberpunk aestheti cs. I n tackl i ng those i ntertwi ned ques
ti ons, the director si multaneously throws i nto rel i ef the i nextri cabi l i ty of
Preface 5
the organi c from the arti fci al , with a focus on the i nfltration of ei ther the
sensori um or the physical organi sm i n its enti rety by vi rtual - real i ty equi p
ment and bi otechnological extensi ons . Chapter 23, "Approaches to Cyber
soci et y, " proposes that the fl ms i ncl uded i n thi s part are pr i mari l y
di sti ngui shed by an adventurous amalgamation of traditional and i nnova
tive ani mati on techni ques, and that thi s fusion of the ancient and the mod
ern i s thematically parall el ed by thei r consi stent return to ti me-honored
myths even as they focus on the fate of identity and humani ty i n advanced
technological mi l i eus. Hence, cybersociety is posi ted as an emi nently hybri d
cul tural formati on that cogentl y encapsul ates the i ntractably composi te
nature of contemporary subj ectivities at large .
Chapter 24, "Blood: The Last Vampire," Chapter 25, "Aval on, " Chap
ter 26, " Ghost i n the Shell," and Chapter 27, " Ghost i n the Shel l 2: Inno
cence," varyi ngl y document the above proposition, argui ng that i t i s i n the
producti ons studied i n thi s part ( and rel eased i n 2000, 2001 , 1995 and 2004)
that Oshi i ' s ci nema reaches somethi ng of an apotheosi s as a symphoni c
ensembl e of technical adventurousness, pictorial opul ence, and a profound
commi tment to defendi ng the ri ght to ethical and emoti onal i ntegri ty on
behalf of al l creatures. Chapter 28, " Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Com
plex, " exami nes related aspects of the Ghost in the Shell world with a focus
on the tel evi si on seri es of that ti tl e directed by Kenj i Kamiyama i n 2003
and 2004. Chapter 29, "Post-Innocence Devel opments, " fnally, provi des a
survey of proj ects i n whi ch Oshi i has been engaged in the aftermath of hi s
completion of the second Ghost in the Shell feature -particularly, hi s desi gn
of a pavi l i on for the Japan Expo 2005 devoted to "Nature' s Wisdom, " and
hi s di recti on of the l i ve- action feature Tachigui - The Amazing Lives of the
Fast Food Grifters ( 2006) , based on hi s novel of the same ti tl e .
+++
The textual di scussi on is compl emented by sti l l s from three produc
ti ons that coul d be deemed representative of as many key stages i n Oshi i 's
career:
Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police, the fl m whi ch Oshii has described as the
work that made hi m ( Oshi i 2003) , and i n which hi s deepl y i ngrai ned anx
i eti es regardi ng the col l usion of technol ogi cal , economi c and broadl y
social i ssues are chal l engi ngly foregrounded;
Ghost i n the Shell, a movi e now granted a cardi nal posi ti on i n the Ol ym
pus of epoch- maki ng cyberpunk classics alongside semi nal ti tl es such as
Ri dl ey Scott' s Blade Runner ( 1982) and Larry and Andy Wachowski' s The
Matrix ( 1999) ; and
6 Preface
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, the feature that most di spassionately at tests
to Oshi i' s ongoi ng apprehensi ons concerni ng the i nel uctably equivocal
nature of noti ons of loyalty and j ustice .
+++
My discovery of Oshii' s work was somewhat fortui tous, as research
i nto the background to the Wachowski brothers' cul t movi e The Matrix,
undertaken in the course of writing a book on cyberpunk and cyberculture, I
i nci dentally led me to realize that Ghost in the Shell had not only deeply
i nfuenced the American di rectors' proj ect and styl i stic preferences but also
been i nstrumental i n hel pi ng them get an apparently bafing concept past
a sl ew of doubtful prospective sponsors . Havi ng thus been prompted to
fami l i ari ze mysel f wi th that semi nal i nstance of ani me, I proceeded t o
explore t he whole of Oshi i ' s opus. I became i ncrementally i ntri gued wi t h
t he sheer vari ety of characters, situations, generi c formul ae -and corre
spondi ng moods and styl es-which that body of work seemed capabl e of
evoki ng.
I ncreasi ngly systematic i nvestigation on my part of the medi um of
ani me, conducted both as a corollary of a general fasci nation with that art
form and its concurrently cul tural and techni cal di sti ncti veness and i n
speci fc conj uncti on with my production of a book on Hayao Miyazaki and
Studio Ghibl i ,2 eventually led me to conceive of a monograph devoted to
Oshi i hi mself.
Published materials on the di rector' s work are scarce, at l east in the
West , and thi s entai l ed that el ectroni c and archival searches had to be
depended upon qui te substantially i n the drafti ng of thi s study. However,
i t i s thanks to a steadfast dedication to the experi ence of watchi ng the fl ms
themselves, and i ndeed engagi ng i n several repeat vi ewi ngs with a capaci ous
di sposi ti on towards their multiaccentual messages, that the present book
has come i nto exi stence and that my i nterest i n Oshi i' s ci nema may ul ti
matel y be communicated to other readers and spectators .
Part One
OSHII'S CINEMA:
AN ANALYTICAL SURVEY
The animated cartoon has made little progress except in Amer
ica, but the popularity of Disney flms, rivaled in universal appeal
only by the flms of Chaplin, gives reason to hope that there will
be a world-wide development in the feld of animation, each
country adapting the techniques of animation to its own artis
tic tradition.
- Taihei Imamura
Ever since the late 19th century there have been attempts to
expose the West to many aspects of Japanese culture such as the
atre, architecture, gardens, the tea ceremony, calligraphy, print
arts, and more. These have had some success but have tended to
convey a view of Japan as a refned and artistic culture -and
also as rather formal and even boring. Then anime and manga
made their way across the seas, and many who had tired of the
higher arts, or had no interest in them anyway, discovered Japan
in a diferent light. What was intended as popular entertainment
for domestic consumption became a worldwide phenomenon.
Because of anime and manga more and more non-Japanese are
being exposed to a culture with which they have been only
vaguely familiar, and they are starting to ask questions about
what they see.
- Gilles Poitras, p. vi
1
Back
g
round:
Develo
p
ments in Anime
Over the past few decades, manga and ani me* have ruptured the cul
tural boundary supposedly di vi di ng East and West, growi ng i nto a global
l ucrative enterpri se and, concurrently, redefni ng conventi onal percepti ons
of Japan. Japanese ani mati on resol utel y eschews the stereotypi cal Holly
wood proposi ti on t hat ani mated flms are "kids' stuf" and assi duousl y
addresses soci al , pol i ti cal and psychological i ssues of considerabl e gravity.
Neverthel ess, i t could scarcely be deni ed that the actual number of ani
mated producti ons aimed specifcally at reflective adults i s somewhat l i m
i t ed, and that t he number of movi es that deploy ani mati on as a vehi cl e for
phi l osophical commentary is even paltrier. The i ntri nsic nature of ani ma
ti on, as both an art form and a medi um requi ri ng the active i nvolvement
of scores of practi ti oners at vi rtually al l stages of the production process,
woul d seem to bani sh any l eeway for the formulation of an i ndividual vi sion
or i ndeed of a meditation on contemporary soci ety. Approached from thi s
perspective, the duskily speculative and technically refned fl ms of Mamoru
Oshi i are of si ngular si gni fcance, i nsofar as they defy the torpi d formal
premi ses of much traditional Western ani mati on whi l e concomitantly sup
pl yi ng a hi ghl y i ndividual and cogent commentary on the permutati ons of
both i ndividual and col l ective identities i n the twenti eth and twenty- frst
centuri es.
Wi t h the i nternational success of Ghost in t he Shell (Koukaku Kidoutai,
1 995) and the enthusiastic recepti on of its sequel Ghost i n the Shell 2: Inno
cence (Koukaku Kidoutai 2: Inosensu, 2004) , cul mi nati ng wi th the l atter' s
nomination for the Palme D' Or ( Cannes 2004) , ani mation director Mamoru
Oshi i has establ i shed hi mself as a dexterous bui l der of concurrentl y tanta
l i zi ng and harrowi ng universes. The escalati ng popul ari ty of Oshi i ' s pro
ducti ons among fl m cri ti cs and hi stori ans, members of the ani mati on
i ndustry and the ci nema world at l arge, as wel l as mul ti generational l ay
*These two terms are now fully accepted i n English and will not be italicized hereafter.
9
10 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
audi ences the world over, would seem to provide ampl e j usti fcati on for
dedicati ng a monographi c study to thi s director.
Importantly, Oshi i ' s arti sti c caliber has i ncreasi ngl y been attracti ng
global attention and gai ni ng recognition i n t he gui se of l egion accolades not
excl usivel y on the basi s of the aforementi oned productions -ci nemato
graphi cally ground-breaki ng and philosophically pivotal though they i ndu
bitabl y are . In fact, Oshi i i s al so bei ng i ncrementally hai l ed as the versati l e
creator of styl i sti cally and thematical l y diverse features, compri si ng both
ani mated and l i ve-action movi es, as wel l as TV seri es and OVAs . Indeed,
Dallos (1983-84) was the frst Ori gi nal Video Ani mation ever produced and
it is hardly an exaggeration to claim that the hi story of ani me si nce the
1 980s woul d never have been the same i n the absence of that epoch- mak
i ng i niti ative .
The arguments proposed in thi s book proceed from the tested prem
i s e that today few ani me vi ewers ( i ncludi ng those who do not si tuate "seri
ous" ani mation at the t op of their l i st of preferences) would deny that Oshi i' s
cinema has enterpri si ngly redefned the parameters of ani mati on by deal
i ng wi t h i s s ues of gl obal cul tural rel evance , and by engagi ng equal l y
confdently wi t h comedy, romance, science fction, pol i tical cri ti que, sur
realist experi mentati on, cri me and horror, thus generati ng an utterl y novel
ci nemati c synthesi s and correspondi ngly i nvigorati ng vi si on.
Oshi i ' s ci nema epi tomi zes the sheer breadth and compl exi ty of whi ch
contemporary Japanese ci nema i s capabl e more el oquently than that of any
other i ndi genous fl mmaker -wi th the excepti on, of course, of Hayao
Miyazaki' s . At the same ti me, i t exposes the often l i mited and even bl i nk
ered grasp of Japanese ani mation to whi ch Western audi ences are gener
ally di sposed. Due to the West' s i nitially l i mi ted exposure to ani me, many
peopl e have tended to associate thi s art form excl usively wi th tumul tuous
action, pornography and gore . Hence, numerous videos have received X rat
i ngs merely on the basi s of thei r havi ng ori gi nated i n Japan, even i f the
product i n question was no more grisl y or sexually graphi c a fl m than My
Neighbour Totoro. The reason behi nd thi s rather narrow perception of ani me
i s, qui t e si mply, that a large proportion of ti tl es origi nally imported i nto
the West i n the early 1980s had mal e teenagers with a passi on for sci ence
fcti on, action adventure and horror as their pri mary targets . As a resul t ,
ani me has been sti gmatized as t he repository of wei rd pl ots, expl i ci t sex
and gratuitous vi ol ence, which has served to precl ude the very pl ausibi l ity
of a thoughtful and styli stically sophi sticated uti lization of that medi um.
Oshi i' s accompl i shments squarely counter thi s vi ew, and hence i nvi te a
more commodious approach to ani me. It is hoped that the present study
will contribute, however modestly, to furtheri ng thi s very caus e.
I-Background: Developments in Anime 11
+++
Al though manga are conventionally considered as the equival ent of
Western comi c books or graphi c novels, they are actually deeply diferent
from e it her i n both styl i sti c and themati c terms . Manga represent a
si gni fcantl y more commandi ng facet of Japanese cul ture t han comi cs do
i n Western mi l i eus, bei ng hailed as an honorabl e art form and promi nent
consti tuent of popular culture . Japanese manga-ka ( manga wri ters) wri te
for all age groups and cater for a wide range of i nterests, whi ch almost auto
mati cal l y ensures that practi cal l y everybody reads the m. I n assessi ng
manga's specifc vi sual style -t he result of codes and conventi ons that difer
qui te profoundly from those usually associated wi th mai nstream Ameri
can cartoons - it i s cruci al to acknowledge the specifcity of Japanese art
and its tradi ti ons. As argued i n some detail later in thi s section, what is note
worthy for the purpose of the present study i s Japan's ubi qui tous penchant
for styl i zati on. Ri tual masks, Noh theater, Kabuki theater and Bunraku
( "puppet " ) shows exempl i fy that trend. So does Japan's i ntri nsically pi cto
graphi c worldvi ew, encompassi ng calli graphy and the constant col l usi on of
i mage and text , l i ne and meani ng, pai nti ng and poetry.
Ani me is i nti mately connected with manga not sol ely because several
ani me movi es are based on plots recounted and i l l ustrated in manga but
al so by vi rtue of thei r styl i sti c features . The shooti ng techni ques used i n
the ani me world are explicitly i nspired by the pi ctori al style pecul i ar to
manga. Indeed, ani me assiduously embraces the comi c-stri p formul a i nvi t
i ng vi ewers to use thei r i magi nation as a means of nudgi ng or propel l i ng
the narrative along. At the same ti me, the fl ms abound with tracki ng shots,
long-vi ew establ i shi ng shots, pans, uncommon poi nt-of-view camera angles
and extreme cl ose-ups, where Western ani mation tends to capital i ze on an
acti on-driven mi ddl e-di stance. Concurrently, as Gil l es Poi tras points out ,
" [ m] uch of the action i n ani me is framed as if it had been fl med wi th actual
cameras . . . backgrounds are more l ikely to be i n moti on and to change and
turn [ than i n U. S. ani mation] . . . . Not all ani me uses a dynami c background,
but much of i t does, along wi th other ci nematic efects such as pan shots,
angles, di stance shots, scenes where the focus between the foreground and
the background changes" (Poi tras, pp. 57-8) .
Li ke l i ve-action ci nema and the manga behi nd i t, ani me features a
great vari ety of genres, i ncl udi ng sci ence fcti on ( e . g. , mecha- or gi ant
robot - stori es, androi d-based stori es, cyberpunk, war sagas, pol i ti cal
epi cs ) ; fantasy ( e. g. , stori es based on both Asi an and Western tradi ti ons,
tal es of the supernatural , myths and l egends) ; comi c fantasi es; superhero
or super heroi ne-based adventures; comedy ( rangi ng from the quasi - lyri
cal evocati on of fabul ous domai ns to bl unt slapstick) ; romance ( tailored
12 Part One : Oshii's Cinema
for diferent age groups) ; cri me ; action adventure ; hi stori cal drama; hor
ror ; chi ldren' s stori es; humanoi d ani mal tal es; stori es based on marti al arts;
stori es based on sports and team activi ti es; adaptati ons of l i terary classi cs;
medi cal dramas; epi cs; adul t dramas ( often war stori es) ; eroti ca; softcore
porn; and hardcore porn.
Furthermore, ani me's thematic vari ety i s matched by a no l ess ecl ec
ti c approach to the pictorial and ci nematographi cal di mensi ons . As Lee
Server has observed, " [ w] i spy pastel i mpressi oni sm, the dense storybook
look and anthropomorphism" of the Di sney producti ons and "sli ck hyper
real i ty" coexi st, i n a veritable gl ut of "ci nemati c extravagance, " wi th "free
foati ng cameras cl i mbi ng skyscraper wal l s or hurtl i ng i nto space at wi l l ,
and state-of-the-art sonics" endowing the movi es wi th "the abi l i ty to totally
envel op the vi ewer in their sensory spells" ( Server, p. 87) .
Ani me practi ti oners often tackl e i ssues deemed of- li mi ts by Western
ani mators, feel i ng l ess constrai ned than thei r Hol lywood counterparts by
the budgetary i mperative to appeal to the widest possi bl e publ i c , especi al l y
chi l dren. Indeed, ani me producti ons are not , by and large, ai med excl u
sivel y ( l et alone pri mari ly) at t he very young, and even when t hey are , they
frequentl y evi nce a refreshi ng respect for the abi l i ty of buddi ng audi ences
to handl e compl ex themes and pl ot s . Furthermore, whi l e ani me i s
undoubtedl y a phenomenon of popul ar cul ture, i t al so, as Susan Napi er
comments, "cl early bui l ds on previ ous hi gh cul tural tradi ti ons . Not onl y
does the medi um show i nfuences from . . . Japanese tradi ti onal arts . . . but
i t al so makes use of worldwide arti stic tool s of twenti eth-century ci nema
and photography" ( Napi er, p. 4) . Ani me' s vi sual ancestors can be traced
back to the Edo peri od ( 1600-1868) and even further back to medi aeval
Zen cartoons . No l ess profoundl y i nfuenti al have been the themes and
i magery preval ent i n the Bakumatsu and Meij i peri ods ( 1868-1 91 2) , and
speci fcally thei r keenness on the representati on of supernatural occur
rences and tendency to i ndulge the publ ic' s cravi ng for i cons of the bi zarre ,
the grotesque and the macabre . Furthermore, i n spi te of ani me' s basi c
defni ti on as a popul ar cul tural phenomenon, the i ssues i t expl ores by
recourse to characteri sti cal l y convol uted and mul ti l ayered storyl i nes are
often aki n to those tackl ed by the most respected forms of l i ve ci nema.
Nowhere, arguably, is thi s proposi ti on more el oquentl y corroborated than
i n Oshii ' s output .
Ani me' s detractors have tended to focus on three pri nci pal styl i sti c
categori es i n the pursui t of their arguments, mai ntai ni ng that ( 1) ani me
makes excessive us e of static frames that i mpai r t he acti on's dynami s m; ( 2 )
ani me' s character desi gns lack a tangible sense of mass and hence convey
an i mpressi on of vi rtual weightl essness; (3) ani me i s i ncapabl e of commu
nicati ng a sati sfyi ng feel i ng of mi metic i l l usi oni sm and dramatic nat ural -
I-Background: Developments in Anime 13
ism. Ani me' s promul gators, conversely, propose that these cri ti ci sms hol d
a modicum of val i di ty onl y as l ong as Japanese ani mati on i s assessed by the
presumed yardstick of Di sney-ori ented ani mati on, and that the assump
ti on of s uch a referenti al cri teri on i s i tsel f groundl ess and mi sl eadi ng.
Accordi ng to these sympathetic commentators, ani me actual l y consti tutes
an art form sui generis, seeki ng to convey alternative percepti ons of
dynami sm, space and ti me to those fostered by Western ani mation and not,
therefore, a mediocre attempt to emul ate Hol lywood-based approaches to
the rendi ti on of sati sfyi ng moti on.
Withi n thi s frame of reference, ani me' s predi l ection for stati c frames
i s hel d to embody refecti ve procl i vi ti es over and above acti on-dri ven
drama, and i ts i ndiference to the feel i ng of mass i s seen as a corollary of
an aesthetic that posi ts the l i ne, not sculptural three-di mensional i ty, as the
most appropriate vehi cl e for the depiction of movement. As for ani me' s
ostensibl e l ack of real i sm, it may be benefci al to refect that not many real
people move in the way American ani mated characters do-i . e. , in an overly
energetic and famboyantly exaggerated fashi on -and that ani me' s sl ower
sequences, often featuri ng characters merely si tti ng or standi ng whi l e car
ryi ng out a conversati on, are, i n a sense, t ruer to l i fe than fri sky hyperac
ti vi ty.
Ul ti matel y, ani me' s di sti nctiveness can onl y be adequatel y grasped i n
the context of a speci fcally Japanese approach t o storytel l i ng, representa
tion and stagi ng wherei n Western notions of real i sm and dynami sm are
si mpl y i rrel evant . Styl i zati on pl ays a pivotal part i n each and every Japa
nese art form, from l andscape gardeni ng to cui si ne and the graphi c tradi
ti ons of the ukiyio-e ( woodblock pri nt) and the e-maki ( picture scrol l ) ,
from ori gami ( paper-fol di ng) and ikebana ( the art of fower arrangement)
to poetry ( especi ally as exempl i fed by the poeti c form known as haiku)
and theater. The most tradi ti onal Japanese performance arts, such as the
aforementi oned Kabuki theater and Noh theater, operate pri mari l y on the
basi s of hi ghl y styl i zed and i nt ri nsically all usive representati onal codes
rather t han of natural i sm of the Western vari ety for thei r dramati c and
di egeti c efect s . Concurrently, the flow of the acti on is consi dered second
ary to i ts formal features, as borne out by Kabuki ' s emphasis on symbol i c
poses whi ch the l ead actors hol d for an often protracted durati on to the
audi ence' s uttermost gl ee, and on styl i zed sword fghts that are act ual l y
more aki n to dance than to acti on sequences i n the Western sense of the
phrase .
Ani me is hei r to thi s tradition, as evinced by its pri ori tizati on of dra
matic postures and gestures, sometimes i ntensifed to comi cally mel odra
matic extremes. At the same ti me, i t abides by conventi ons which may feel
utterly ali en to a Western spectator but are perfectly commonplace for Japa-
14 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
nese vi ewers. For i nstance, an i ndi genous audi ence would fnd it qui t e
acceptabl e for a sequence dramati zi ng chi l di sh behavi or on t he part of an
adult character to di splay a grotesquely deformed i nfanti l e versi on of said
character, even though many Western viewers would be bafed by such a
vi sual strategy. Before di smi ssi ng it as preposterous, however, we should
remember that Western animation, too, relies on conventi ons whi ch could
be deemed absurd -such as shots of characters hangi ng in mi d- ai r and
only pl ungi ng i nto a preci pi ce once they have real ized that thei r feet have
i ndeed l eft the cl if.
In emphasi zi ng ani me' s cul tural speci fci ty, it is nonethel ess i mpor
tant not to l ose si ght of i ts concurrently i nternati onal di mensi on. Fi rstly,
it shoul d be noted that even though the West' s i ni t i al assessment of ani me
was al most overweeni ngly derogatory, audi ence responses to Japanese ani
mati on have been changi ng qui te radi cal l y i n recent year s . As Mi chael
Arnold has observed, "the ani me-to- Hollywood rati o i n U. S. ci nemas keeps
t i ppi ng toward what you mi ght fnd on a mul ti pl ex screen i n Tokyo, " wi th
ampl e evi dence for the "enthusiastic support of vi ewers of al l races and
genders" ( Arnold) . Secondly, it i s cruci al not to underesti mat e the i mpact
of Western conventi ons on ani me' s themati c choi ces, whereby the medi um
has been i ncreasi ngly deliveri ng hybri d tal es i n whi ch typically Japanese
el ements such as references to l ocal mythol ogy, rel i gi on and l ore fui dly
cri sscross wi th echoes of Western fai ry tal es, cyberpunk novels and flm
nair.
Thi rdly, close attention should be paid to the rol e pl ayed by the West' s
i nterventi on i n distribution deal s, a number of ti tl es havi ng reached Amer
i can and European stores from the early 1990s onwards only thanks to the
assi stance of U. S. -based di stri buti on compani es such as Ani mEi go and
Manga Entertai nment . The proposition that ani me is not an unprobl em
atic expression of national i ndividual i ty is confrmed by the fact that one
of the most pivotal moments i n i ts evol uti on i s marked by a cl ose cul tural
col laboration between East and West . Thi s consi sts of the production of the
weekl y TV seri es based upon Osamu Tezuka's futuri sti c manga Tetsuwan
Atom (Astro Boy), which debuted on New Year's Day, 1963. The show, sty
l i stical l y i nfuenced by Western designs, was eagerly pi cked up by the Amer
i can tel evi si on i ndustry, and Tezuka subsequently worked on producti ons
expl i ci tl y executed with U. S. distribution pri ori ti es i n mi nd. Janguru Tai tei
( 1965, released in the U. S. as Kimba the White Lion in 1966) was produced
i n color specifcally so that i t would appeal to Western audi ences, a domes
ti c rel ease alone bei ng unl i kely to have covered the exorbi tant producti on
costs. I t was the i nfusion of dollars i nto the venture, i n other words, that
enabl ed Ki mba to become the frst Japanese color TV seri es. Followi ng Astra
Boy's phenomenal success, the 1960s witnessed a veri tabl e expl osi on of TV
l-Background: Developments in Anime 15
sci ence-fcti on or acti on-adventure ani me movi es. By the 1 970s, the range
had expanded consi derably and studi os were busi l y churni ng out mystery
dramas, soap operas and Western cl assi cs such as Heidi, Girl of the Alps and
The Di ary of Anne Frank.1
2
Oshii's Creative
Trajector
y
Born in Tokyo on 8 August 1951, Mamoru Oshi i was already an avid
movi e consumer while attendi ng pri mary school , and hence proceeded to
garner an encyclopedic knowl edge of world ci nema, marked by a deep fas
ci nati on wi th di rectors as di verse as Andrei Tarkovsky, Chri s Marker,
Andrzej Waj da, Jeray Kawal erowi cz, Andrej Munk and Ingmar Bergman.
At the same ti me, Oshi i' s fl ms have been i ncreasi ngl y provi di ng i nfuen
ti al sources of i nspiration for numerous Western di rectors, i ncl udi ng Stan
ley Kubri ck, James Cameron and Andy and Larry Wachowski . ( It is hi ghl y
unl ikely, i nci dentally, that The Matrix woul d have come i nto exi stence at
all had the Wachowskis not shown Ghost in the Shell to thei r potenti al spon
sors so as to all ay their skepticism in the face of the brothers' dari ng con
cept . )
Foll owing hi s i nvolvement i n revol uti onary pol i ti cs i n the l ate 1 960s
and early 1 970s-an activity that resulted i n parental opprobri um and i n
hi s eventual ali enation from the student movement -Oshi i graduated from
the Fi ne Arts Educati on School of the Tokyo Li beral Arts Uni versi ty
( Gakugei Daigaku) i n 1 976, and presentl y commi tted hi msel f to sustai ned
experi mentati on wi th photography and ci nematography - even though
l i mited fnances forced hi m, for a whi l e, to shoot without flm.
Oshi i 's frst feeti ng engagement with ani mati on took pl ace in 1 977
wi t h hi s production of t he storyboards for one epi sode of the ani mat ed
seri es One-Hit Kanta (Ippatsu Kanta-kun). Oshi i obtai ned hi s frst actual
j ob i n the ani mation i ndustry at Tatsunoko Productions i n 1 977. His arti s
ti c responsibi l i ti es i ncl uded the creation of storyboards and contributions
to the di rection of several ani me seri es . In 1980, he moved to Studio Pi er
rot , where he worked wi th Hi sayuki Tori umi on the seri es Nils's Mysteri
ous Journey (Nirusu no Fushigi-na Tabi) and met the arti st Yoshi taka Amano
( who had al so previ ousl y worked for Tatsunoko as an ani mator ) , wi th
whom he woul d embark on chal l engi ng col l aborati ons i n later years. Oshi i
soon became i nvolved i n the production of the hugely popul ar TV seri es
16
2-0shii's Creative Trajectory 17
Urusei Yatsura, a romanti c s ci - f comedy based on t he manga by Rumiko
Takahashi , i n a directing role ( 198 1-82). He further di rected the Urusei Yat
sura features Only You (Urusei Yatsura: Onri Yuu, 1 983) and Beautiful
Dreamer ( Urusei Yatsura: Byuutifuru Dori maa, 1984) , where he began to
move away ( particularly in the second producti on) from the TV series' j oc
ul ar mood and slapstick dimension, i n the direction of a more serious explo
rat ion of the relati onshi p between appearance and real i ty.
At thi s stage in hi s career, Oshi i revol uti oni zed the uni verse of ani me
by i nventi ng t he concept of OVA ( Ori gi nal Video Ani mation, also known
as OAV, Ori gi nal Ani mated Video) . Dallos ( 1983-84), a space opera revolv
i ng around facti ons of Moon-based colonists and rebel s, was the frst pro
ducti on created by Oshi i i n thi s format. In late 1 984, wi shi ng to devel op an
origi nal aestheti c vi si on that would transcend the boundari es of the Uru
sei Yatsura worl d to which he had hi therto been committed, Oshi i set hi m
s el f up as an i ndependent di rector. I n t hi s capaci ty, he created t he OVA
Angel 's Egg (Tenshi no Tamago, 1 985) -a mesmeri zi ngl y surreal parabl e
in col l aborati on wi th Amano.
Duri ng the execution of Angel 's Eg, Oshi i met producer Toshi o Suzuki,
a founder of Studio Ghi bl i al ongside Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Suzuki and Studio Ghi bl i would later abet Oshi i in the producti on of Ghost
i n the Shell 2: Innocence (Koukaku Kidoutai 2: Inosensu, 2004). Shortly after
the l aunch of Angel 's Egg, Oshi i encountered Miyazaki hi msel f and the two
arti sts began to work on a movi e provi si onally titled Anchor, which Oshi i
would di rect and Mi yazaki write . Styl i sti c and aestheti c di vergences caused
the proj ect to be aborted j ust after the planni ng stages . ( Arti sti c di sagree
ments between t he two di rectors survive to t hi s day despi te thei r mutual
admi rati on and frequently proclaimed respect : Oshi i fnds Mi yazaki exces
sively ideal i sti c, whereas Mi yazaki believes that Oshi i priori ti zes phi l oso
phy over entertai nment. )
In 1 987, Oshi i di rected hi s frst live- acti on fl m, The Red Spectacles
(Akai Megane) . Thi s was the frst i nstal l ment of a t ri l ogy ( whi ch woul d
eventually al so include Stray Dog and Talking Head) i n whi ch Oshi i sup
pl i es dark critiques of despoti sm and mendaci ty, i nterspersed with el ements
of acti on adventure, romance and moving refecti ons on the rel ati onshi p
between dogs and humans . I n the same year, Oshi i al so created the OVA
epi sode Twilight Q2: Labyri nth Objects File 538 (Towairato Q2: Meikyuu
Bukken File 538), a si mpl e yet subtle dramatization of t he i nextri cabi l i ty of
the i l l usory from the actual .
As i nvestors and sponsors became l ess and l ess i ncl i ned, throughout
the 1980s, to work wi th i ndi vi dual di rectors and i ncreasingly i nterested i n
studios, the ani me team " Headgear" was formed, and Oshi i was i nvi ted by
the screenwriter Kazunori Itoh to joi n i t i n the posi ti ons of di rector and
18 Part One: Oshii's Ci nema
writer. The resul t was the Patlabor franchi se and attendant elaborati on of
a compl ex technopol itical saga compri si ng several OVA and TV epi sodes
as wel l as feature-l ength movi es. Oshii contributed si gni fcantly to this proj
ect wi th the direction of the frst Mobile Police Patlabor (Kidou Keisatsu
Patoreibaa) OVA seri es ( 1988) and of the two feature-l ength productions
Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police (Kidou Keisatsu Patoreibaa, 1 989) and Patla
bor 2: The Movie ( Kidou Keisatsu Patorei baa 2 The Movie, 1 993), as wel l as
the script for a number of TV episodes ( 1989-90) and for parts of the sec
ond OVA ( 1 990-92). I n the "Headgear" phase , Oshi i also di rected a pre
quel to the aforementioned l i ve-action movi e The Red Spectacles, namely
Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (Stray Dog Keruberosu Jigoku no Banken,
1 991), and a further l ive-action fl m entitl ed Talking Head ( 1992), centered
on the mysteri ous disappearance of an ani mation di rector duri ng the pro
duction of a heavily anti ci pated release .
The turni ng-poi nt in Oshi i ' s career was Ghost in the Shell (Koukaku
Kidoutai, 1995), an irrefutably unique i nterpretation of cyberpunk that con
stitutes both a ground-breaki ng i ntervention in the devel opi ng art of CGI
and a narratively and phi l osophically enterpri si ng adaptation of Masamune
Shi row's popular manga. The fl m was released simul taneousl y in Japan, the
u.s. and Europe, and al though its domestic reception was i ni ti al ly luke
warm, i t was i mmediately successful everywhere el se, hitti ng the top of the
u.s. Bi llboard Video Chart i n 1996. Havi ng gai ned global recogni ti on, Ghost
i n the Shell rapidl y rose to the status of a cul t movi e and was i ndeed hai l ed
as very possi bl y the most semi nal sci -f production of the l ate twenti eth
century. ( The ethos and aesthetics of cyberpunk are exami ned i n some detail
in Chapter 3. )
Oshi i 's unrel enti ngly i nnovative and thought-provoki ng movi es have
conti nued to attract both professional s and amateurs the world over, as
demonstrated by the screeni ng of a retrospective of the director' s work at
the Rotterdam I nternational Fil m Festival ( 2000), by the proj ecti on of the
l i ve- action and digital ani mation hybri d Avalon ( 2001 ) at the Cannes F il m
Festival i n t he year of its release and, as noted, by t he sel ection of Ghost i n
the Shell 2: Innocence (Koukaku Kidoutai 2: Inosensu, 2004) for the Palme
D'Or. Avalon ofers a chi l l i ng dramatization of the aberrations spawned by
the unchartered virtual ization of the real with reference to a l ethal VR game
and its hapl ess players, deftl y i nterweavi ng throughout the l udi c and the
uncanny.
Innocence, a daunti ng refection on peopl e's endl ess quest for the gen
esi s of their i denti ti es and memories, consti tutes both a probl ematization
and a compendi um of Oshi i 's most i nveterate techni cal and thematic con
cerns . The cyberpunk component already pivotal t o Ghost i n t he Shell i s here
retai ned but Oshi i 's preoccupation with t he meani ng ofhumani ty and wi t h
2-0shii's Creative Trajectory 19
the pl ausibi l i ty of love i n an exhausti vel y technol ogi zed worl d reaches
utterl y novel l evel s of compl exity. Innocence' s standi ng as one of the onl y
fve ani mati ons ever nomi nated at Cannes el oquentl y attests to i ts i nterna
ti onal recogni tion, maki ng i t an i ndi sputably momentous phenomenon i n
the history of not merely Oshi i ' s ci nema but ani me at large . '
Oshi i has also suppl ied t he screenpl ay for Hiroyuki Oki ura's Jin-Roh:
The Wolf Brigade ( 1 998)-a superbly ani mated rendi ti on of the " Kerberos"
universe al ready brought to the fore by the l ive-action features The Red
Spectacles and Stray Dog-and the visual concepts for Hiroyuki Kitakubo' s
Blood: The Last Vampire ( 2000), a l usty horror story set agai nst the back
drop of the Vi etnam War, as well as a pi oneeri ng experi ment with di gi tal
ci nematography. Just pri or to the rel ease of Innocence, Oshi i' s pri nci pal
proj ects i ncl uded the production of the scri pt for Mi niPato ( 2001), a seri es
of sel f-parodyi ng shorts set i n the Patlabor uni verse di rected by Kenj i
Kamiyama ; t he direction of a segment of t he l i ve-action thri l l er anthol ogy
Killers, namely Killers: .50 Woman ( 2002). I n the post-Innocence phase,
Oshi i has engaged in the design of an i nteractive pavi l ion for the Japan Expo
2005, combi ni ng state-of-the-art technology with a trenchant ecopol i ti cal
statement , and i n the di rection of the fl m Tachigui - The Amazing Lives
of the Fast Food Grifters ( Tachiguishi Retsuden, 2006), based on hi s own
novel of the same ti tl e .
It is Oshi i ' s uni que di recti ng style that renders hi s worlds acutel y res
onant , yet worthy of repeat viewings . Thi s factor exhi bi ts i tsel f most stri k
i ngly when one assesses some of Oshi i 's best-known producti ons to
date -e. g. , Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer, the two Patlabor
features and the Ghost i n the Shell movi es-agai nst the ani me and manga
texts upon whi ch they are based. Thus, whi l e the origi nal Urusei Yatsura
producti ons tended to capital ize on fast-paced farce, Beautiful Dreamer i s
pervaded by a latently omi nous-though not uni formly tenebrous -atmos
phere . The Patlabor fl ms are l ikewise permeated by bal eful premoni ti ons .
The Ghost i n the Shell movi es, fnal l y, margi nal i ze the humorous banter and
overall conviviality that characteri ze Shi row' s manga ( despi te the l atter 's
undeni abl e engagement with seri ous phi l osophical , political and economi c
i ssues) i n order to evoke a mood of concurrentl y i ntri gui ng and forbi ddi ng
ambi gui ty remi ni scent of Kubri ck at hi s most chal l engi ng.
3
Themes, Ima
g
ery
and S
y
mbolism
I n her essay " Myths for the Mil lenni um: Japanese Ani mation, " Anto-
ni a Levi mai ntai ns that
Japan . . . never abandoned its my thology . . . . This was not necessarily a good
thing. The Meiji government which came to power in 1868 j ustifed the over
throw of the Shogun through the use of ancient Shinto my thology, and twisted
its creation my ths to justify an imperialistic, ultra-nationalist autocracy that ter
rorized Asia and nearly led to Japan's destruction in World War Two . . . . The mis
use of Japan's creation my ths did have one positive aspect, however. It kept alive
not only the my ths themselves, but also an understanding of what my thology
was. Even at the height of Japanese ultranationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan
never confused mythological truth with rational truth. Shinto creation my ths
were taught as fact in the public schools, but Darwinism was also taught. . . .
[ MJ anga and anirn e . . . resurrect ancient my thologies and use them to create
new my ths, my ths better suited to the needs and realities of postmodern Japan
and, it would seem, most of the world [ Levi, pp. 33-4J .
Oshii's fl ms fully corroborate Levi' s hypotheses i nsofar as they abound
wi t h i mages and symbol s drawn from diverse mythological traditi ons
i ncl udi ng Shi nt o, Buddhi sm, Chri sti ani ty, anci ent Japanese l ore and
Arthuri an l egends -as well as with reconfgurati ons of such materi al s i n
the light of contemporary exigencies and experi ences. Numerous vari ati ons
on the i nseparabi l i ty of illusion and reality, vi rtual i ty and actual i ty, facts
and dreams are arguabl y the most i nsi stentl y recurrent compone nt of
Oshi i ' s si gnature . Mythol ogi cal references contri bute cr uci al l y t o t he
dramatization of thi s domi nant idea, as do symbol i c i ncarnations of the
di rector' s existential, psychological and afective concerns. These i ncl ude
i mages of feathers, bi rds, angel i c beings and gi ganti c fsh whi ch are persi st
ently employed as metaphors for spi ri tual el evati on, and i mages of trees and
pl ants which, conversely, are meant to convey the sense of a creature' s griev
ous anchoring to an earth-bound and determi ni stic univers e.
I n eval uati ng Oshi i ' s us e of t he dream topos i n hi s fl ms , i t ought t o
be borne i n mi nd that Japanese ci nema dramatizes t he onei ri c di mensi on
20
3-Themes, Imagery and Symbolism 2 1
with al most obsessi ve regul ari ty, and wi th dozens o f vari ati ons o n the
themes of escape and haunti ng. Dreams, accordi ngly, are used to symbol
ize alternately an allegorical transcendence of existential or societal mal ai se,
and an occasi onal i mmersion in portentous situations . I n both cases, the
experi ence i s posited as temporary ( and, ideally, catharti c) . In Oshi i ' s oeu
vre , t he onei ri c acqui res novel resonance si nce i t i s presented as a perma
nent ( and by no means unequivocally enl ighteni ng) condition. Nobody can
ever be certai n, withi n the parameters of Oshi i ' s universes ( be they l udi c
as i n Urusei Yatsura, surreal as i n Angel 's Egg, pol i ti cally engaged as i n the
Patlabor franchi se or metaphysically di sposed as i n the Ghost i n the Shell
producti ons ) , that what one perceives as the real world actually obtai ns in
an empi rical sense .
A n umber of mediaeval Japanese legends, such as the col l ecti on of tal es
known as Uji Shui Monogatari, utilize dreams consi stently i n ways that are
more or l ess overtly echoed by Oshi i' s fl m plots . Hayao Kawai proposes
that the treatment of onei ri c experi ence i n Japanese folk l i terature and
mythology features three pri ncipal recursive el ement s: "the free i nterpen
etration of t hi s world and t he dream world" ( Kawai , H. , p. 15); t he under
taki ng of a j ourney to "the l and of death" ( p. 1 7); and the notion of "multiple
realities" (p. 19), whi ch conceives of the world as many-layered and there
fore hi ghl y variabl e, dependi ng on the nature of the layer i nhabited at any
one poi nt i n ti me . Oshii ' s suspension of the boundary between the empi r
ical and the hypothetical gai ns considerable momentum from the portrayal
of mutually permeati ng di mensi ons, whereby his characters' grasp of thei r
spati al and temporal coordi nates becomes pai nful l y t enuous . Accorded
absolute promi nence i n Beautiful Dreamer, thi s approach i s al so employed,
i n varying degrees, i n the "Kerberos, " Patlabor and Ghost i n the Shell movies .
Kawai al so posi ts the coalescence of sel f and others as a key feature of
dream-centered Japanese narratives . Thi s el ement fnds expressi on i n the
Japanese l anguage i tsel f due to its disti nctive -and at ti mes bafi ng - des
ignation of i ndividual and col l ective identiti es : "[ t l here are many t erms for
the frst person si ngul ar, such as watakushi, boku, ore, and uchi. The choi ce
depends entirely on the ci rcumstance and the person bei ng addressed. I n
thi s respect i t can be sai d that the Japanese fnds ' I ' sol ely through the exi s
tence of others" ( pp. 23-4) . However, what we are presented wi th i s not a
scenari o that utterly negates the possibility of i ndividual autonomy, si nce
relati onal i ty i s actually bel i eved to require an active understandi ng of one' s
i nner sel f. Hence, i t only operates adequately when the i ndividual subj ect
forsakes passivity and endeavors to i nternal i ze the pri nci pl es of respect ,
honor and memory through actions.
The relationshi p between the i ndividual and the group is an axial com
ponent of Oshi i 's opus . Oshi i ' s characters typically operate wi thi n a group
22 Part One: Oshii's Ci nema
regulated by particular rul es- e. g. , the Special Vehi cl e Di vi si on 2, Secti on
2, i n the Patlabor fl ms, the VR game i n Avalon, Secti on 9 i n Ghost i n the
Shell. Thi s aspect of the director' s work could be seen as a refection of a
defni ng component of Japanese tradition and cult ure, namel y thei r empha
si s on the i mportance of group afliation from chi l dhood onwards, and on
the rel ated i mperative of loyalty. At the same ti me, however, Oshi i' s take
on the notion of the group carries global , rather than merel y regi onal , rel
evance i nsofar as i t also consti tutes an i mpl i ci t cri ti que of postcapi tal i st
di spensations wherei n groupi ng peopl e together by recourse to homoge
ni zi ng strategies such as the fashion system and commodi ty feti shi sm bel i es
peopl e' s actual atomization and di sconnection. I ndeed, Oshi i ' s protagonists
are i nvariably i solated and solitary i ndividuals even as they appear to occupy
technological networks characterized by rampant communicational satu
ration. I n order to convey a palpabl e impression of the i ndividual' s i sol a
ti on i n contemporary soci ety by ci nematographi cal means, Oshi i has
developed a characteristic approach to the i ssue of eye contact. I n an i nter
vi ew with Fluctuat. Net, the di rector has elaborated thi s idea wi th speci fc
reference to hi s frst epoch- making feature :
In Patlabor . . . the characters converse but never look at one another. They are
never facing one another but always face the viewer. The characters only com
municate to a screen. I have found this device to express my idea of people's lone
liness. I believe that throughout history, intersubj ective communication has been
far too often privileged. We have never explored the relationship . . . that may
obtain between a human and a dog, or a human and a machine. If humans do
not yet know themselves, it may be because they have always approached the
human person in relation to other human beings. I am concerned with other
types of relationships [ Oshii 2002 ] .
The tensi on between the concept of l oyal ty to a group, on the one
hand, and the notion of subj ectivity as cotermi nous wi th a state of exi s
tenti al disconnectedness, on the other, tends to remai n unresolved. More
over, the groupi ngs portrayed by Oshi i are themselves marked by a sense
of i solation in vi rtue of thei r adoption of team- speci fc rul es that often
come i nto confi ct wi t h the demands and sense of decorum treasured by
the wi der social web. For exampl e, Patlabor' s Section 2 are frowned upon
by the general public and the Metropolitan Police alike due to both thei r
personal idiosyncrasi es and to the rather unpalatable nature of thei r l aw
enforci ng missi ons .
An analogous fate befalls the Kerberos Panzer Cops i n t he l i ve- acti on
fl ms The Red Spectacles and Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops and i n the ani
mation Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. The game players i n Avalon, for thei r part,
are unequivocally ostracized as cri mi nal s. At the same ti me as dramati zi ng
t he ordeals of i ndividuals doomed t o a desti ny of lonel i ness even t hough
3-Themes, Imagery and Symbolism 23
they belong to a group, Oshi i al so portrays t he predi cament of characters
who are repeatedly forced back i nto communal structures even as they actu
al l y yearn for sol itude . Maj or Kusanagi and Batou of Section 9 i n the Ghost
i n the Shell features, Ash i n Avalon, Captai ns Nagumo and Gotoh in the
Patlabor movi es, Fuse i n Jin-Roh, Ash i n Avalon and Saya i n Blood: The Last
Vampire appear to i ncarnate thi s modality i n varyi ng degrees. We are thus
presented wi th the doubl e paradox of i sol ati on- i n- commonal i ty and
commonal ity- i n- isol ation.
I n order to grasp the cul tural i mport of these thematic preoccupati ons,
i t i s vital to remember that i n Japanese society, togetherness plays a key
rol e. The reason for thi s i s, to a certai n extent, straightforwardly demo
graphi c, Japan bei ng a country where approximatel y the equival ent of hal f
the popul ati on of the enti re U. S. A i s concentrated i n the terri tori al breadth
of Cal i forni a, Washi ngton and Oregon al one. Hence, the very notion of
privacy has tradi ti onal ly carried connotations that are profoundl y diferent
from those i t habitual l y carri es i n the West, and the feel i ng that one i s never
quite alone has accordi ngly preserved psychol ogical and emoti onal domi
nance for the Japanese . Traditional architecture corroborates thi s proposi
ti on through i ts extensive use of parti ti ons ( e . g. , sl i di ng doors between
rooms or closets -fusuma-and wood or paper screens) that represent more
of a connecti ng tissue withi n the household than actual dividers. The afore
menti oned predi l ecti on for the concept of i nterpenetrati ng worl ds i n Japa
nese lore and even contemporary fcti on and ci nema coul d be sai d to mi rror
this very mental i ty.
Where the theme of relationshi ps is concerned, Oshi i ' s representation
ofl ove i s no doubt one of the most remarkabl e ( al beit almost undi scerni bl y
so) traits of hi s enti re register. So unobtrusive is hi s approach to thi s theme
that many vi ewers have tended to assume that Oshi i si mply steers cl ear of
romantic pl ots altogether. I n fact, the di rector' s works do deal wi th love
assiduousl y and, once the spectator has grown accustomed to his very per
sonal ci nematic language, i n a very touching fashion. Thi s i s clearly evi nced
by the awkward and unresolved relationshi ps i nvolvi ng Captai ns Nagumo
and Gotoh i n the Patlabor fl ms, Kei and Fuse i n Ji n-Roh and, most eni g
matically, Maj or Kusanagi and Batou i n the Ghost i n the Shell features . An
aura of mel anchol y and a pervasive sense of mi ssed or l ost opportuni ti es
( "al l the years we have wasted, " as the theme song of Innocence, "Fol l ow Me, "
puts it) surround the love element at al l ti mes, yet do not render i t any less
warm or poi gnant . Oshi i ' s senti mental pl ots come across as el usive because
they do not pander to the di ctates of either romanti c or courtl y adoration,
to ei ther eroti c titil l ation or brazen carnality, but cel ebrate i nstead t he pri n
ciples of respect and fri endshi p, as corol l ari es of bot h devoti on and sel f
awareness .
24 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
Accordi ng to Kawai , Japanese lore also repeatedly suggests that there
i s "no distinct demarcation" between "man and Nature":
Throughout European history, Nature has been a concept which stands i n oppo
sition to culture and civilization, and continues to be obj ectifed by human
beings. The word "Nature" was translated into Japanese as shizen. Prior to this
we did not have a concept of Nature. When we Japanese wish to talk about
"Nature," we use such expressions as sansensomoku, which literally means "the
mountains, rivers, grasses, and trees" . . . before the encounter with the West . . .
[ shizen ] is not even a noun . . . [but rather] an adverb or adjective . . . that expresses
a state in which every thing fows spontaneously. There is something like an ever
changing fow in which every thing -sky, earth, and man -is contained. Because
it is like a continual process, it can never be grasped spatio-temporally, and strictly
speaking, cannot be named [ pp. 25-7 ] .
The cul turally specifc approach to the humanity- Nature dyad posi ted by
Kawai shoul d be borne i n mi nd when assessi ng both Oshi i ' s treatment of
ecological i ssues and his take on the ceasel ess cycl es through whi ch i den
ti ti es materi al i ze and di ssolve i n society and Nature al i ke .
Already evi dent in a few Urusei Yatsura epi sodes, Oshi i 's concern wi th
technology's i mpact on the environment acqui res i ncontroverti bl e central
i ty i n the frst Patlabor fl m, whose plot unfolds agai nst the backdrop of the
rampant urbani zati on of Tokyo Bay. Throughout the Patlabor saga, Oshi i
makes sustai ned references to envi ronmental i st protests, and Secti on 2
i ncl udes two characters who harbor passionate ecol ogi cal agendas : Noa,
who repeatedly fghts for ani mal ri ghts, and Hiromi , who tends a smal l
greenhouse and breeds chickens. These themes are compl emented by recur
ri ng i mages of numerous non- human speci es : dogs, cats, birds, fsh and, i n
a coupl e of OVA epi sodes, even an al bi no al l i gator who l ives i n the sewage
system underneath the Section's bas e.
Oshii' s preoccupation with the rol e played by technol ogy i n t he shap
i ng of both personal and coll ective defni ti ons of humanity, senti ence and
responsibility i s located withi n a nexus of pri mari l y phi l osophi cal and i de
ol ogi cal consi derati ons . Like many sci ence- fcti on authors, the di rector
exhi bi ts an ambivalent attitude towards technology, critically acknowl edg
i ng its i mpl ementations as si multaneously benefci al and detri mental . He
captures thi s uncertai nty i n images that at ti mes poi nt unequivocally to the
evi l s of technol ogy, and at others all ude poetically to its mi xed bl essi ngs .
The i mage of the tank is particularly promi nent as a fagrant i con of bel l i
cosi ty -for i nstance, i n Beautiful Dreamer, Angel 's Egg, Patlabor 2, Ghost
i n the Shell and Avalon. The image of the screen is no l ess conspicuous . Thi s
mani festation of technology frequently epi tomi zes the strategi es of mani p
ul ation, di storti on and semiotic vi ol ence rel entl essly perpetrated by the
medi a i n thei r di ssemi nation of adul terated i mages ( thi s theme i s axi al t o
Patlabor 2) . Nonetheless, t he screen concurrently carri es posi tive con nota-
3-Themes, Imagery and Symbolism 2S
ti ons, i nsofar as i t may function as a remi nder of the ubi qui tousl y hal l uci
natory nature of the worl d we i nhabit at all ti mes, and hence as a poten
tial l y i nvi gorati ng awakener of otherwise dormant psyches .
The i mages deployed by Oshi i i ncl ude both l i teral screens ( e . g. , tel e
vi si on moni tors and computer termi nal s) and metaphori cal ones ( e . g. ,
refective or semi -refective surfaces such a s mi rrors, wi ndows, fs h tanks
and glass cages ) . The l atter serve to present the characters themsel ves with
quasi -ci nemati c rendi ti ons of thei r acti ons and setti ngs, thereby maki ng
them not onl y the actors but al so the spectators i n the l usterl ess spectacl e
of thei r dai l y experi ences . At the same ti me, these symbol i c screens repeat
edly doubl e, spl i t and i ndeed dismember, i n a psychological sense, the char
acters' identities, erodi ng any consolatory sense of whol eness to which they
may strive to hol d on. It shoul d al so be noted, however, that Oshii' s reser
vati ons about t echnol ogi cal advancement does not prevent him from
i ndul gi ng wi th a refreshi ngly chi ldlike gusto i n t he meti cul ous representa
ti on of mi l itary hardware, survei l lance mechani sms and i ntricate cyber
neti c equipment.
To the theme of technol ogical abuse Oshi i often al l i es that of terror
i sm. Hoba i n the frst Patlabor feature, Tsuge i n the second, the Puppet
Master i n Ghost in the Shell and Ki m i n Innocence are al l , i n varyi ng degrees,
portrayed as terrori st s i nt ent on undoi ng the soci opol i ti cal fabri c by
recourse to cybertechnology and to the raw urban chaos to whi ch i ts reck
l ess deployment i s capabl e of l eadi ng. Blood: The Last Vampire al so all udes
to terrori sm, despi te i ts generi c afl iation wi th the cl assi c vampi re tal e ,
si nce the squad of u.s. special agents sent t o Japan t o vanqui sh t he bl ood
suckers tend to regard thei r enemi es as political trai tors hel l -bent on pre
venti ng troops from bei ng conveyed to Vietnam. Whi l e anarchi c tendenci es
are undoubtedly one of the defni ng trai ts of Oshi i ' s terrori sts, i t i s note
worthy that anal ogous procl i vi ti es may also be detected i n characters puta
tively committed to the mai ntenance of l aw and order. Captai n Gotoh from
the Patlabor fl ms, in particular, repeatedly urges his col l eagues not to worry
excessively about rul es, and Section 2 itself i s somethi ng of a world-wi th i n
a-world governed by its own rather i di osyncratic code .
Ani mal s are pi votal to Oshi i' s symbol i c repertoire . Dogs are repeat
edl y brought i nto play as unprej udi ced wi tnesses, capabl e of observi ng
human behavior wi t h i mpartiality and candor. Thi s topos reaches a crown
i ng achi evement in Innocence, where the dog is a genui nel y pivotal charac
t er and the world i s perceived largely through hi s eyes. I n t he i ntervi ew
with Fl uctuat. Net referred to earl i er, the di rector has commented thus on
hi s fasci nati on with dogs: " [ the dog] i s the greatest mystery i n my vi ew. I f
I could fathom thi s mystery, I might di rect a n actual movi e about dogs . But
si nce the answers I have are onl y partial , I am sati sfed wi th i nserti ng dogs
26 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
in my fl ms in supporting roles . Thus far, fl ms that deal with dogs have
merely humani zed them, which i s not a proper way of doi ng them j usti ce"
( Oshi i 2002) . At a broader level , Oshi i ' s tendency to al l ot key rol es to ani
mal s ( and i ndeed to other non-human or onl y partially human speci es such
as dolls and cyborgs) attests to hi s deep aversion to anthropocentri sm as
an arrogant, concei ted, and ultimately quite fal l aci ous creed that barely
assuages human bei ngs' deep-seated uncertai nti es and doubt s.
Other recurrent i mages and styles that have come to be regarded as
Oshi i 's trademarks i ncl ude characters' refections on watery surfaces -gen
erally employed to al l ude to moments of i ntrospecti on; desaturated ( i . e . ,
nearly black and white) palettes i n the depiction of spaces of stri fe and peri l ;
and crushed perspectives as means of evoki ng a sti fl i ng atmosphere . An
i mportant aspect of Oshi i's architectural i magery resi des wi th hi s empha
si s on rui ns. Ponderi ng the metaphorical i mpl i cati ons of ci nemati c i mages
of crumbl ed bui l di ngs and even whole conurbations, i t coul d be argued
that such i mages evoke a Gothic fasci nation with decay whi ch substanti
ates William H. Fox Talbot' s comments concerni ng "the camera' s speci al
aptitude for recordi ng ' the i nj uri es of ti me' " -and specifcal ly, as Susan
Sontag has observed, the i nel uctable desti ny of "buildi ngs and monuments"
( Sontag, p. 69) .
Oshi i ' s take on the themes of devastation and degeneration also cor
roborates Jonathan Jones' s account of maj or hi stori cal shifts i n the percep
ti on of wreckage : " [ i ] n the ei ghteenth cent ury, r ui ns were obj ects of
contemplati on, reveri e and sober enjoyment . They were an opportunity to
refl ect on the passi ng of empi res and the vanity of human efort . Yet i n an
age abandoni ng its reli gion, they were also reassuri ng i mages of what sur
vi ves, what remai ns of us . . . . [ A] rtists took del ight i n rui ns. They drugged
on decay" and were acutely drawn by "the broken sensual i ty of the past . "
I n t he twenti eth and twenty-frst centuri es, by contrast , r ui ns carry sub
stantially diferent connotations due to the very means by whi ch they tend
to come about : "there' s a diference between a rui n that i s the product of
slow centuri es, the ri chl y rotti ng frui t of ti me, and a bui l di ng whose rui n
takes place i n a moment : t he diference between dyi ng of ol d age and mur
der" ( Jones, pp. 1 2-1 3) . What Oshi i ' s movi es emphasi ze i s not merel y the
i l l umi nating potential of peopl e' s confrontation with di l apidated structures
but also the iconic signifcance of rui ns as tenacious mementos of the human
propensi ty for both ideol ogically triggered and utterl y gratui tous destruc
tiveness.
No l ess noteworthy i s the director' s assiduous deployment of themes
and i magery associated wi th cyberpunk, a cul tural movement that found
i nception i n the mid- 1980s ( primarily through the writi ngs of Wi l l i am Gi b
son and Bruce Sterl i ng) and sti l l si gnal s a drasti c shi ft from ol der sci ence
3-Themes, Imagery and Symbolism 27
fcti onal modal i ti es . In cyberpunk, the shi ny hardness of metal , of sturdy
and i mposi ng machi nery and of i ndustrial technol ogy at large ( hardware )
favored by traditional sci - f ci nema and l i terature gives way to the murky
softness of j unk-i nfested urban settings and of often undependabl e post
i ndustri al technol ogy ( software) . Furthermore, if i n the 1960s and 1970s fan
tasti c texts mai nl y tended t o depi ct squeaky-cl ean and decontami nated
worl ds i n whi ch human minds were control l ed by machi nes, i n the 1980s
and 1 990s the emphasi s fal l s on the eternal night of the apocal ypti c mega
l opol i s wherei n abj ection and monstrosi ty are written on the body. I ndeed,
cyberpunk ofers i nsi stent i nti mations of the greater and greater confuence
of machi nes and bodi es ( largel y due to the i ncreasingly mi niaturized di men
sions of cybernetic apparatuses ) , whereby the human organism i s both phys
i ol ogi cal l y and psychol ogi cal l y reconfgured by i nvasi ve forms of
bi otechnol ogy.
In thi s respect, Oshii' s ci nema subtly documents the transi ti on from
pre- cyberpunk sci ence fcti on to full -fedged cyberpunk : i n the Patlabor
movi es, technol ogy compl ements and augments the human body i n an
essential l y prosthetic manner, remai ni ng palpably separate from the fesh
i tsel f i n the gui se of an exoskeleton; i n the Ghost i n the Shel l fl ms, con
versely, technol ogy i ncreasi ngly i nfltrates the characters' l i vi ng ti ssues to
the poi nt that ascertai ni ng thei r humanity becomes wel l - nigh i mpossibl e .
A vari ati on on the l atter modal i ty is suppl i ed i n Aval on, where a l udi c
confguration of cybertechnol ogy penetrates the sensori um i n its enti rety,
and the travel ers i n hyperreal i ty may become so utterl y engul fed i n the
technol ogi cal si mul ati on as to be unabl e to return to the so-cal l ed real
worl d. Technol ogi es i ni ti al ly i ntended to guarantee i ncremental degrees of
both afective and materi al returs actually end up transformi ng thei r users
i nto non-returners.
Oshi i 's ci nema further embraces a world view typi cal of Gi bsoni an
cyberpunk by underscori ng the provisional status of many convent ional
defni ti ons of val ue, rati onal i ty and truth in a radi cal rej ecti on of the
Enl i ghtenment ethos. Moreover, it amalgamates i n frequentl y crypti c ways
the rational and the irrati onal , the new and the ol d, the mi nd and the body,
by i ntegrati ng the hyper-efci ent structures of hi gh technol ogy with the
anarchy of street subcul tures. I t is i mportant to remember, i n thi s regard,
that i f the cyber- component i n the term cyberpunk alludes to the fact that
the poi nt of reference of this branch of science fction i s cyberneti cs rather
than spaceshi ps and robots, the -punk element, for its part, hi nts at a defant
attitude based in urban street cul ture . Cyberpunk's characters are peopl e
on the fri nge of soci ety: outsiders, mi sfts and psychopaths, struggl i ng for
survival on a garbage- ( gomi - ) strewn pl anet whi ch is always on the verge
of dissolvi ng i nto a quagmire of muddy dreams .
28 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
On one l evel , ash ii' s ci nema could be seen to consi st pri mari l y of si t
uati ons and envi ronments pervaded by dense lyri ci sm and crypti c i ntro
specti veness through whi ch the di rector seeks to capture the float i ng
substance of reality and chi l l i ngly toylike nature of the human. On another
l evel , and i n a fashi on remi ni scent of Davi d Lynch' s ci nema, the medita
tive and i ntensely symbol i c di mensi on of Oshii' s uni verse i s counterbal
anced by rapi d-fre action sequences, and the el usively onei ri c component
by a l ucidly dispassionate dissection of ideological , metaphysical and eth
i cal preoccupati ons . Averse to the contemplati on, l et al one promoti on, of
totalizing vi si ons, Oshi i' s fl ms consi stently return to the representation of
worlds permeated by not merely pluralism but al so, at ti mes, skepti cal rel
ativi sm.
4
Cinemato
g
ra
p
hy and
Animation Techniques
Oshi i' s ci nematographical style evi nces a marked preference for long
takes. The l ong take designates a shot produced by one uni nt errupted run
of the camera that conti nues for an unusually l engthy ti me . Rare i n si l ent
ci nema, the l ong take became more si gni fcant i n the 1 930s and 1 940s,
notably as used by J ean Renoi r and Orson Welles . I t soon asserted i tsel f as
a common technique i n fl ms throughout the worl d. (Thi s techni que i s ger
mane to the so-cal l ed plan-sequence [ sequence shot ] , a French term for a
scene handled in a si ngle shot, usually a long take . ) Oshi i makes most mem
orabl e use of thi s techni que i n sequences-such as the ones punctuati ng
the Patlabor and the Ghost in the Shell movi es-that evoke an i nt ensel y
al l usive sense of space by methodically trai ni ng the camera across al ter
nately bustl i ng and subdued cityscapes repl ete wi th l egi on atmospheri c
detail s .
Os hi i i s al so an assi duous pract i ti oner of t he cut-back- namely, a
return i n ti me to an earl i er event i n the story -and of the cut-i n-that i s,
the i ntermi ngl i ng wi th cutti ng moti ons ( i ntercutti ng) of di sparate porti ons
of a story occurri ng i n diferent locati ons. Both Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence exploit these techni ques to maxi mum
efect i n order to dramati ze thei r protagoni sts' changi ng percepti ons, as
thei r so-cal l ed real i ti es are i ncrementally i nfri nged upon by halluci nati ons
and mi rages i nduced by sel f-persecutional gui l t, i n one case, and by cyber
netic brai n- hacki ng, i n the other.
Most i mportantly, both the ani mated and the live- acti on flms employ
a number of i magi natively varied shots to muster up momentum and i mpart
a particular sequence with a characteri sti c vi sual and afective atmosphere .
Especially noteworthy, i n thi s regard, are the devi ces deployed i n the more
dynami c sequences, such as those depicting battl es, chases and i nstances of
physical confict i n general . Although Oshi i introduces such sequences spar
i ngly and somewhat prudently, their ci nematographi cal di sti nctiveness is
unmistakabl e and i nstantly recognizable, regardless of whether they dram-
29
30 Part One : Oshi i's Cinema
ati ze comical confrontations in the characteri sti c Urusei Yatsura vei n or
whether they depict gri sly onslaughts as they tend to do i n Innocence. I n al l
cases, the di rector typi cally resorts to the swish pan ( a. k. a. fash or zip pan,
namel y a very rapid horizontal move of the camera produci ng a bl urri ng
efect ) ; rack focusing ( a. k. a. selective focusing, namely a di mmi ng of focal
planes i n sequence that compels the spectator's eyes to travel with the i mages
which remai n in sharp focus ) ; and someti mes reverse motion ( the photo
graphi ng of i mages wi th the fl m reversed) for recapitulative purposes.
I n such scenes, tension i s built through subtly choreographed soft
focus shots whi ch serve to suspenseful l y ecl i pse everyt hi ng except one
desi red pl ane of a shot -normally the plane where some cl i macti c or di s
turbi ng action will occur. Suspense is al so conveyed through i mages whi ch
suggest that somethi ng i s going on i n a portion of space whi ch the audi
ence cannot see at that poi nt or, conversely, show the audi ence a source of
danger or cause of i mpendi ng surprise of which the pivotal character i n the
scene i s not aware, thus emphasizing hi s or her vul nerabi l i ty.
Close-ups are used discri mi nately in order to draw the viewer i nt o the
acti on and extreme close-ups, i n particular, are extremely useful - mai nl y
i n the handl i ng of facial expressions-to convey through a succi nct and
i nstantl y recogni zable pictorial code feel i ngs of urgency, apprehension or
sol ace . ( A cl ose-up of Noa's face at a cl i macti c j uncture i n the frst Patla
bor feature, for exampl e, i s capabl e of communi cati ng the si tuat ion' s over
al l pat hos more el oquentl y than an enti re acti on sequence concei vabl y
coul d. ) Concurrently, establishing shots help the vi ewer form an overal l pi c
ture of who i s where ( and perhaps also why) i n a given scene, whi l e cut
aways are employed to isolate shots of smal l details, such as ornamental
obj ects defni ng the styl e of a setti ng, or of movement focusi ng on an i ndi
vidual part of t he body. These shots often succeed i n conveyi ng more vi sual
i nformation and emotional momentum than protracted stretches of di a
l ogue ever do.
Oshi i' s ci nematographical styl e also emphasi zes Po V ( poi nt-of-view)
shots whi ch show the audience what characters perceive from parti cul ar
angl es (both spatial and afective) and consistently motivates such shots by
supplyi ng some premonition of what it is- or might be -that i s holding the
characters' attention, drawi ng them into the action or repel l i ng them from
i t . Often, several of the elements outlined above operate in mutually sus
tai ni ng ways . For i nstance, the arti st may present us with somethi ng whi ch
a character cannot i mmediately see and then use a Po V shot which shows
how the character is reacti ng to what we have already been fami l i ari zed with.
In such a case, the audience' s and the character' s perceptions are encour
aged to follow parallel traj ectories -which may or may not , eventually, coa
l esce -i nstead of bei ng forced together by a domi nant authorial hand.
4-Cinematography and Animation Techniques 3 1
Oshi i 's approach to space gai ns much from the use o f i ntrepi d camera
angl es that depart from the customary tendency to make the camera's poi nt
of vi ew level with the human eye and show an even hori zon, and experi
ments i nstead wi th di sori enti ng and mystifyi ng perspectives . These are cre
ated by recourse to extreme high-angle and low-angle shots that capture
characters and settings from above or below respectively, i n preference to
vi sually and psychologically stabi l i zi ng eye- level shots; deep-focus shots that
allow all the distance pl anes of a setti ng to remai n in equally sharp focus,
and accordi ngly unsettle the spectator by investi ng di sparate l evel s of real
ity at once with perpl exi ng cogency; oblique-angle (or til t) shots, whereby
the capture of a subj ect by a tilted camera wi l l make the subj ect itself appear
sl anted across a di agonal plane when the fl m i s proj ected; wide-angle l enses
that enabl e the camera to photograph a wider area than a normal l ens would
aford and hence convey the i mpression of an exaggerated perspective ; and
zoom l enses that permit the transition from wi de-angle shots to telephoto
shots i n whi ch the l ens literally operates l i ke a tel escope, magni fyi ng the
si ze of obj ects situated at a great distance from the foreground.
Al ready evi dent i n embryoni c form i n t he vertigi nous archi tectures
profered by Dallos and Angel 's Egg and i n the constellation of the onei ri c
ambi ence wherei n Beautiful Dreamer unfol ds, the techni ques descri bed
above gai n i ncreasi ng promi nence i n the Patlabor movi es, and come to
l i terally domi nate the screen i n the Ghost i n the Shell productions . The lat
ter, moreover, maxi mi ze the overall sense of spatial dislocation by consi s
tently resorti ng to depth-of-feld efects, namel y shi fts of focus between the
foreground and background that serve to emphasi ze the features of diferent
and often contrasti ng portions of a scene -e . g. , idyl l i c peaceful ness and
i nti midati ng magni fcence, al l usi ons to the picturesque at i ts dreami est and
tamest and to the subl i me at its most harrowi ngly awesome, bal eful embod
i ments of a cal l ous and exploitative technology and gl i mpses of a nurtur
i ng and regenerative Nature . Feel i ngs of hesi tation , apprehension, fear or
grief are frequentl y communicated by means of freeze-frame shots ( shots
composed of a si ngl e frame repeated several ti mes on the fl m stri p to con
vey the i l l usion of sti l l ness ) , whi l e di sori entation i s often marked by jump
cuts, namely abrupt transi ti ons between shots .
Throughout Oshi i' s opus, changes i n the weather and other atmos
pheri c vari ati ons are efectively conveyed by ani mati ng the natural envi ron
ment by recourse to techni ques that vibrantly emphasi ze i ts vi tal i ty and
dynami sm, such as the wave and whip efects . These are based on two sets
of drawings executed separately and then i nterleaved i n order to evoke wob
bly, quiveri ng or shaki ng patterns of motion. Such pictures may consi st,
for i nstance, of a set of curves ori ented from ri ght to l eft i nterleaved with
another set of curves ori ented from left to right . Alternatively, they may
32 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
consi st of a set of drawi ngs si mul ati ng the l i nes traced by a whi p as it i s
rai sed and another simulating t he l i nes traced by a whi p as i t descends.
One of t he most i nstantly recognizabl e aspects of Oshi i' s ci nemato
graphi cal styl e resi des wi th hi s i ncl i nation to l i nger on appeal i ng i mages i n
montages ( sequences of rapidly edited i mages) where no overtly si gni fcant
event takes pl ace . These images, which i ncl ude recurri ng shots of focks of
bi rds and of basset hounds aki n to Oshii' s own ( Gabri el ) , are not i ntended
to contribute dynamically to a fl m's narrative but rather consti tute under
scori ng pauses whi ch allow the audience moments of refecti on i nstead of
rushi ng them relentlessly from one action sequence to the next . Thei r vi sual
function i s to efect a deli berate suspensi on of the text' s momentum. Such
sequences fully validate Roger Ebert' s contenti on that one of the most spe
cial formal features of ani me consi sts of its employment of the graphi c
equivalent of the pillow words used i n Japanese poetry. As the cri t i c explai ns,
a pi llow word "represents al most a musi cal beat between what went before
and what comes after. " Its ci nemati c correlative i s the "pillow shot" so typ
i cal of Japanese ci nema -as borne out, for exampl e, by the fl ms of Yasu
j iro Ozu. I n Ebert' s terms, thi s i s a transitional , often qui t e unexcepti onal ,
i mage si tuated at the end of a "phase" before the next segment of the action
commences . I t thus functions as a kind of "punctuati on, " as wel l as "a form
of si l ence, " whi ch i s fundamentally a way of sayi ng "let' s not rush head
long from each scene to the next scene. " When i mpl emented in the speci fc
context of ani mation, pi llow shots i nvest this form with a sense of "thought
fulness. " Furthermore, i nsofar as the i mages on which they pivot are fre
quently " inconsequenti al " i n plot terms, t he fact that Japanese ani mators
shoul d be "wil l i ng to go to the troubl e" of drawi ng and ani mati ng such
moments wi th no l ess care than mai n sequences ful l y attests to thei r total
dedication to thei r art ( Ebert) .
No l ess conspi cuous, where ci nematography is concerned, is Oshi i' s
use of action sequences i n the openi ng segments of hi s movies, oft en si tu
ated ahead of the openi ng credits . By and l arge, such sequences dramati ze
a past occurrence that will l ater be reveal ed to be axial to the fl m's narra
tive present ( e. g. , Only You, Ghost in the Shell) , or el se serve to i nt roduce
the vi ewer to an i magi nary domain entirely of the director' s conception
( e . g. , Angel 's Egg, Stray Dog) .
Oshi i also handles with remarkable sensi ti vi ty the dialogical sequences
of a fundamentally phi l osophi cal nature, of whi ch one encounters a veri
tabl y cornucopian profusion throughout the director' s career. Aware that
thei r content and al l usi ons are compl ex, mul ti -accentual and someti mes
qui te unpal atabl e, the di rector constel l ates the fl mic narrati ve so as to
ensure that those speculative di al ogues are followed by sl ow- paced and
vi sual l y lyri cal sequences that aford the spectator ti me to take i n t hei r
4-Cinematography and Animation Techniques 33
i mport and ponder thei r i mpl ications. Kenj i Kawai' s soundtracks contribute
vitally to the overall efectiveness of these poetic passages through thei r con
currently haunti ng and soothi ng mel odies. Moreover, the soundtracks are
i ngeni ousl y harmoni zed with other sound efects, wi th the resul t that the
cumulative aural ensembl e pl ays a pivotal part i n i nvesti ng Oshi i 's movi es
wi th unmi stakabl e ci nematographi cal qualiti es . Si multaneously, acousti c
efects are i ndustri ously correl ated and j uxtaposed with dynami c and chro
mati c el ements, both the musi c and cognate sounds bei ng repeatedl y
deployed i n order to ampl i fy the i nscrutable l ure of natural and urban set
ti ngs alike .
The ani mati on is also characterized by a keen sensi ti vi ty to the i mpor
tance of combi ni ng speci fc types of action and movement with appropri
ate chromati c palettes. Thus, a peaceful and reflective mood tends to be
matched by a suitably restrai ned, cool range of hues. By contrast, vi ol ent
acti on sequences are customari ly accompanied by aggressively hot, bright
col ors . Interesti ngly, however, the contrast between the two types of action
and correspondi ng moods i s not abrupt but emerges gradually by means of
gentl e col or gradati ons, l i ght modulations and subtle moments of transi
ti on.
Ani mal s pl ay a cruci al part i n several of Os hi i ' s most memorabl e
sequences, and exhaustively attest to the director' s devoti on to the achi eve
ment of a seaml ess fusion of real i sm and fantasy. Moreover, Oshii' s approach
to the representation of ani mal moti on fully confrms Ri chard Wi l l i ams' s
proposi ti on that even though "cartoon ani mals" are essentially "desi gns,
mental constructs, " thei r efectiveness depends on the ani mator' s commi t
ment to the study of the "ani mal fgure to understand i ts structure and
movement" for the purpose not of "realism" as such but of "bel i evabi l i ty"
( Wi l l i ams, p. 34). Oshi i ' s ani mal s work convi nci ngl y preci sely because of
hi s pai nstaki ng grasp of ki nesi ology -t he di sci pl i ne devoted to the study
of movement accordi ng to a body's i ndi vi duati ng structure - and deep
awareness that ul ti mately no amount of CGI can replace the ani mator' s
hands . Thus, even as the mouse and monitor come to pl ay i ncreasi ngly pi v
otal rol es, enabl i ng the production of photorealistic renders that are prac
tically i ndi st i ngui shabl e from real i ty, paper and penci l s remai n vi tal l y
i mportant .
Ani mal motion i n Oshi i's fl ms bears witness to a rigorous understand
i ng of each body' s structural pivots and resulti ng twists, t urns, ki nks and
qui rks . Furthermore, met i cul ous attenti on i s pai d to each ani mal ' s
specifcity -to t he very factors that make i t a dog, seagul l or wolf, say, and
cause its movements t o be j ust as they are . Fi nally, Oshi i ' s ani mal s potentl y
remi nd us that the term ani mation i s etymol ogi cal l y rooted i n the Lati n
ani ma-"soul , " "spi ri t" -and that the power to ani mate resi des exactly wi th
34 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
the abi l i ty to i nsti l l a sense of aliveness i nto even the most obdurately i nan
i mate entity.
Another pivotal aspect of Oshii' s style of ani mation consists of hi s han
dl i ng of facial fexi bi l ity. The fl ms earnestly demonstrate how i mportant
i t i s, in the frame-by-frame orchestration of a change of expressi on, to stag
ger the modifcations i nstead of going from A to Z, as i t were, in one si n
gl e transiti on. Facial ani mation i n Oshii' s producti ons exempl i fes thi s tenet
by concentrati ng on facial sections -eyes, nose , mouth, ears, hai r - and
creati ng frames wi th overlappi ng el ements, securi ng that no stage of the
change i s hurri ed or out of synch wi th the overall pattern of motion. Accord
i ng to Wi l l i ams, the overlap "gives us action withi n an action . . . movement
withi n a movement" ( p. 222), refecting t he natural mechani sms whereby
" everythi ng does not happen at the same time" but some part s actual l y
" ' drag' " i n the wake of the "mai n action" (p. 226). I n thi s regard, i t i s most
important to focus on the follow through, i . e . , the staggeri ng of the termi
nati ng portion of an action. Diferent parts of the face or body compl ete
thei r parts of an action at diferent ti mes and at diferent rates: for exam
pl e, i n a wal k, the hi p tends to lead, followed by the l eg and then by the
foot. As the part of the action performed by the hi p i s completed, other parts
lag behind and move further. To have all components come to a halt si mul
taneousl y woul d i nevi tably produce an i mpl ausi bl e pattern of motion .
Applyi ng the pri nciple of segmented fragmentation, it is possi bl e for
the ani mator to have an action work its way down or up the face, as wel l as
capitalize on i roni c contrasts by havi ng the two halves of the face appear to
convey confi cti ng emoti ons . The efects achi evabl e by thi s method are aes
thetically more satisfyi ng, as wel l as more convi nci ng, than any obtai nabl e
by havi ng a character switch i n the space of j ust two frames from a cal m to
an agi tated state, say. For i nstance, to shi ft elegantly from a j oyful smi l e to
a cheerl ess expressi on, the ani mator may opt, in the transitional stages, for
anythi ng from surpri se to fal se confdence, di sappoi ntment to revul si on,
or resignation to ire . At the same ti me, by accommodati ng the possi bi l i ty
of capturi ng antagonistic moods si multaneously, segmented fragmentati on
allows for the communication of a graphi cal l y wi der and psychol ogical l y
more compl ex range of emotions .
Preemi nently useful , as a means of evoking compelling emoti ons whi l e
also avoi di ng formul ai c shifts from one expression to another, i s the elon
gated i n-between-an i ntermediate drawi ng between two keyframes that
deliberately di storts the character' s face by l engtheni ng it unnaturally i n
the travel i ng position, s o a s t o impart a smoother and more real i sti c pace
to the motion. One of the forms of elongation whi ch Oshi i 's ani mati on
employs most profci ently i s the zip turn, where the transi ti onal drawi ng
between t he i mage of a head faci ng right and that of t he same head faci ng
4-Cinematography and Animation Techniques 35
left is a grotesquely distorted vi sage i ncorporating el ements of both of those
i mages as well as a frontal vi ew of the face. Equal l y efecti ve i s the movi es'
use of over-extension i n the ani mation of vari ous parts of the body. Thi s
refers to a t echn i que whereby the drawi ng connecti ng two i mages of a
normal - si zed hand or foot, for i nstance, lengthens said hand or foot to an
i nt enti onally anomal ous extent so as to make the movement appear more
fuid and, i f appropri ate to the sit uation, even sol emn.
The techni que j ust menti oned underscores t he i mportance of the
transitional frame ( al so known as passing position, middle position, i nter
mediate position or breakdown drawing) between any two extremes and,
speci fcal ly, i ts profound i mpact on characters and act i ons al i ke . Even
though, strictly speaki ng, thi s position remai ns unseen, any understand
i ng of the art of ani mation and abi l i ty to genui nely appreciate the visi bl e
resul ts of both facial and bodi l y motion will depend preci sely on the abi l
i ty to recogni ze i ts val ue . Generally, the i nterest generated by a sequence
i ncreases i n proportion to the i ntensi ty of the sense of change efected by
the transitional frame.
Segmentation i s also dexterously employed i n t he dramati zati on of
changes that engage not j ust t he face but t he enti re body i n order to l i mber
up and add verve to a character's performance wi thout, however, sacri fci ng
the fgure's overall sol i di ty and stabi l i ty. Once agai n, Oshi i ' s fl ms show
how cruci al i t i s, i n thi s respect, to decide carefully where to pl ace the pass
i ng posi ti ons between keyframes, for it is i n these l i mi nal pl aces that a char
acter' s movement comes to l i fe as i ndividualized and uni que, and i t i s here
that suppleness is i ntroduced without the character' s gestural and physical
consi stency bei ng compromi sed. To achi eve thi s aim, the ani mati on uses
i n tantali zi ng ways what practitioners refer to as the breaki ng of joi nts
namel y, the del i beratel y exaggerated arti cul ati on of el bows, shoul ders,
wri sts, hi ps, knees and ankles i n order to suggest a hei ghtened i mpressi on
of fexi bi l i ty. Thi s technique enabl es ani mators to create supple and pl as
tic bodies by efecti ng curvi l i near motion on the basi s of i ncremental cl ock
wise and anticlockwi se rotations of strai ght l i nes around a ful crum ( e . g. , a
character' s el bow) , rather than through the use of arcs -whi ch woul d
i nevitably end up conveyi ng the i mpression that the character is not actu
al l y l issome but rubberized. Wal ks, moreover, are used most efectively as
a means of i nvesti ng t he characters with unique personal i ti es and to evoke
parti cul ar emoti ons, states of mi nd and proclivi ti es .
A vi tal rol e, concurrently, is pl ayed by accents and takes. The term
accent generally refers to the moment i n a shot at whi ch a character con
veys an extreme emoti on. Thi s i s not , ideally, a sudden and totally unex
pected occurrence but i s actual ly prepared for, and made part of a gradual
-however bri ef-process. "A 'take , ' " as Wi l l i ams explai ns, " is an anti ci -
36 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
pation of an accent which then settles" ( p. 285). For i nstance, it is possi bl e
to di spl ay the transition of a character' s whol e body from a feel i ng of mil d
surpri se, through an anti cipation suggesti ng bewi l dered di sbel i ef, to an
accent showi ng utter shock or alarm, whi ch may then settl e once the char
acter has had a chance to take the scene in. The settl i ng posi ti on i s often a
stationary and relatively relaxed version of the attitude di spl ayed i n the
anti ci pati on, and i ndeed conveys in a composed fashi on what the anti ci pa
ti on conveyed i n dynami c form.
Takes are a truly i nvaluabl e way of bui l di ng up momentum, creati ng
suspense and varyi ng the rhythm of an acti on. The extent to whi ch the
manipulation of takes, anticipations and accents yi el ds efect ive outcomes
wi l l depend largely on the ani mator' s skill at delayi ng actions and i ntensi
fyi ng thei r "vitality" by i ncorporati ng an apposite number of passi ng posi
ti ons between extremes without, however, "overani mati ng" for the sake of
i t ( p. 292). Moreover, as borne out by the zip turn techni que di scussed ear
l i er, ani mators "shouldn' t be afraid of distortion i n the i nterior of an action.
Our drawings or i mages may look strange, but we onl y really see the start
and end positions . We feel the di stortion wi thi n and that' s what counts" ( p.
290).
The evocation of credible movement requi res great dexteri ty in the
handl i ng of a character's or obj ect' s mass wi t hi n an action. All manner of
bot h l i vi ng and i nani mate enti ti es are likely to misshape as they move
e. g. by fatteni ng if squashed or stretchi ng if extended -and i n conveyi ng
these deformati ons i t i s vital to conserve the enti ty' s i ni ti al vol ume and
resi st the i nsti nctive temptation to make it l ook smal l er when squashed, say,
or longer when stretched. The rendition of coherent and pl ausi bl e moti on
i s further abetted by the defnition of arcs that cl earl y del i neate the vi sual
paths traced by an action over a number of frames, and by a l uci d grasp of
tension, namely t he cumul ative moment um that control s the pace of an
acti on through pri nci pl es of conti nuity or disconti nuity dependi ng on the
desi red efect ( for exampl e, smoothness as opposed to abruptness, a grace
ful fow as opposed to a staccato cadence ) .
The techni ques descri bed above, whi ch Oshi i ' s fl ms ubi qui tousl y
deploy i n order to evoke both facial and bodily flexi bi l i ty by means of seg
mentation, di stortion, el ongation, fragmentation and a dari ng handl i ng of
mass, are i nstrumental to t he i nfusion of a di sti nct personality i nto each of
hi s characters. Thi s i s equally t rue of relatively caricatural types such as the
monk Cherry i n the Urusei Yatsura fi l ms and the parental fgure i n Twi
light Q2: Labyri nth Objects File 538, of the naturalistically rendered adults
featuri ng i n the Patlabor movies and i n Jin-Roh, and of the palpably arti fci al
yet engrossi ngly senti ent cyborgs of the Ghost in the Shell producti ons .
At the same ti me, Oshi i' s works potently confrm the hypothesi s -cen-
4-Cinematography and Animation Techniques 37
tral to numerous practi ti oners' take on thei r art -that the mani pul ati on of
ti me consti tutes the truly pivotal factor among the defni ng trai ts of ani
mati on. I ndeed, i t i s at t hi s level of t he creative process that one may fully
capi tal i ze on ani mat ion' s irreverent di sengagement from the laws of not
onl y gravi ty and i nerti a but also, ultimately, logi c . Ani mators are under no
obl i gation whatsoever to mi mi c normal ti me . For exampl e, they may del i b
erately accelerate the moti on i n order to evoke a franti c sense of acti vi ty or
sl ow i t down to convey feel i ngs of di gni ty and ponderousness . I n the ti m
i ng of action sequences, specifcal ly, Oshi i consi stently evi nces a tendency
to avoi d ordi nary beats and experi ment i nstead wi th i ntenti onally accen
tuated i mpressi ons of ei ther cel eri ty or sl uggishness. Additionally, the fl ms
i ndustriously j uxtapose superdynami c scenes -breakneck runs, adrenali ne
pumpi ng chases and explosive cl i maxes-and meditative moments, i nclud
i ng l oft y panoramas of dri fti ng cloud banks and maj estic water expanses.
Some of the most memorabl e sequences, moreover, are qui t e dialogue- free,
thus fai thfully embodyi ng anime's emphatically un-Western tendency to
accord si l ence a vi tal rol e and hence i ncorporate numerous scenes that con
tai n no human voi ces whatsoever.
On the technical plane, an i ncreasi ngly important component of Oshi i's
ci nemati c uni verse resi des in the deployment of numerous computer
centered tool s and methodologies, i ncludi ng digital composi ti on and lay
eri ng, 3D renderi ng, morphi ng, particles systems, texture mappi ng, di gi tal
pai nti ng, ray traci ng and computer-generated atmospheri c efects . How
ever, they are unfi nchingly committed to the j udi ci ous i ntegration of tra
ditional ani mati on and CGI, demonstrati ng that Japanese ani mati on sti l l
regards pens and pai ntbrushes as pivotal tools of the trade . The technowiz
ards behi nd the digital marvels of Oshi i's flms are Producti on LG, the stu
di o founded in 1 987 by Mi tsuhi sa Ishikawa and Takayuki Got oh and
si tuated i n the Kokubunj i di stri ct of Tokyo t hat achi eved i nt ernati onal
recognition i n the wake of Oshi i's Ghost i n the Shel l . Over the past ffteen
years, the company has created a number of acclai med feature fl ms, TV
seri es, OVAs and vi deogames, i ncluding -beside several of the fl ms here
exami ned -the movi es Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and
The End of Evangelion ( dir. Hideaki Anno, 1 997) , as wel l as Sakura Wars:
The Movie ( di r. Mi tsuru Hongo, 2001 ) and the ani mated segments of Kill
Bill, Vol. 1 ( di r. Quenti n Taranti no, 2003) .
Ul ti mately, Oshi i ' s works eloquently proclaim that although the ani
mati on process i nvolves hi ghl y demandi ng and labor- i nt ensive schedul es
(as evi nced by several document ari es coveri ng the maki ng of Os hi i 's
movi es ) , the rewards it yi el ds are considerabl e . As Jenny Roche poi nts out ,
"the visual challenges of ani mation are i mmense, " yet the freedoms it afords
are potentially l i mi tl ess for "there is no set which i s too expensive or exot i c;
38 Part One : Oshii's Ci nema
there i s no stunt which i s too difcult . . . the sci enti fc l aws of physics, bi ol
ogy and chemi stry are no restriction either" ( Roche, pp. 137-8 ) . The j oy of
ani mation l i es preci sel y i n i t s fouting of t he conventi ons and expectati ons
of mi meti c art .
Ani mati on is famousl y divorced from the aestheti c and i deol ogical
demands of mi metic real ism. I ndeed, it has a unique adeptness at creati ng
its own worlds i nstead of passi vel y recordi ng exi sti ng ones . Moreover, it
often accompl i shes thi s tantalizing task by recourse to strategi es that enabl e
characters to emote much more expansively than i s commonl y the case wi th
l i ve- action ci nema. In Oshi i' s domai n, this i s most true of ani mal s, i nso
far as these creatures are i nvested with a much greater -and ul ti matel y
even more convi nci ng -acti ng potenti al than real ones ever coul d be. Ani
mation, therefore, coul d be sai d to shun the restrai nts of real i sm as a rep
resentational agenda not i n order to escape real i ty but rather to supply a
metadiscourse, a seri es of critical refections upon real i sm and real ity alike .
As Paul Wel l s poi nts out, i n this respect, " [ al ni mati on . . . pri ori ti zes i ts
capaci ty to resist ' real ism' as a mode of representation and uses i ts vari ous
techni ques to create numerous styl es whi ch are fundamental l y about ' real
ism' " ( Well s, p. 25; emphasis added) .
Thi s sal i ent feature o f the medium o f ani mation deserves special atten
tion i n the present context si nce both ani me general l y and Oshi i ' s ci nema
specifcal l y tend to take the suspensi on of real i sm -at l east i n the sense
accorded to thi s term withi n Western cul tures-to arguably unparall el ed
and undeniably compel l i ng extremes. Oshi i's fl ms emphatically remi nd us
that neither i mages nor propositions nor thoughts represent real i ty i nt ri n
si cal l y: as Ludwig Wittgenstei n once remarked, a pi cture of a man wal ki ng
uphi l l coul d al so be a pi cture of a man sl i di ng backwards downhi l l
( Wittgenstei n ) . Nothi ng i nherent i n t he pi cture per s e makes ei ther read
i ng more val i d than the other. Hence, a representation is onl y capabl e of
representing to the extent that it i s available for i nterpretation, and can ul ti
matel y be said to depi ct absolutely anything whi ch it has the power to evoke
or even merely i nti mate -that i s to say, i t carri es an i ndefni te repertoi re
of potenti al representati onal messages . The concept of repres entat ion,
moreover, is i nextricably i ntertwi ned with that of repetition i nsofar as both
verbal and non-verbal si gns are representations which onl y manage to gar
ner certai n meani ngs i nsofar as they may be recursively deployed, l i teral l y
re- presented.
These i deas have been i ncreasi ngl y advocated, i n recent years, by
numerous visual artists and fction writers, hi storians and geographers, l i n
guists and anthropol ogists, sociologists and psychol ogi sts, fl mmakers and
desi gners, eager to emphasize the ubiquitous feel i ngs of uncertai nt y and
unease that promi scuously consort with our perception of thi ngs and, con-
4-Cinematography and Animation Techniques 39
comitantly, with our orchestration of what we perceive i n the gui se of vi sual
or verbal text s. Withi n thi s world vi ew, so-called reality cannot be repre
sented accurately and neutrally for the reason that i t i s not a fact but rather
an efect of how i t i s experi enced from disparate perspectives. The real as
s uch i s arguably unattai nable beyond the mediating agency of texts, i mages
and stori es and these, i n turn, never mi rror reality transparently and obj ec
tively but actually represent i t accordi ng to the codes and conventi ons of
particular cul tures . By and large, these pri nci pl es are so deeply embedded
i n a society' s fabri c that their constructed and fundamentally arbitrary sta
tus i s no longer recogni zed, and they are therefore adopted as though they
were natural tools rather than the products of context-bound ideological
deliberations .
The representations conceived through the deployment of those codes
and conventi ons are accordingly naturalized as thei r status as constructs is
squarely efaced. I n the vast majority of Western cultures, the process of
naturalization has been assi duously sustained by the logic of real i sm as the
domi nant philosophy of representation. Indeed, realist techniques ensconce
the process of construction of an image or text so as to lure us i nto unprob
l ematically accepti ng that representations simply refect the worl d, that they
provide a keyhol e vi ew on a sol i d and consi stent reality shared and recog
ni zed by each si ngl e member of the same cul ture . Representati ons thus
serve to bol ster the di sti nctive ideologies concocted by that cul ture i n order
to assert i ts l egi ti macy and regiment its subj ects in the name of ideological
stabi l i ty.
The cardinal message conveyed by the realist ethos is that real i ty i s
i mmutabl e, for negati ng the noti on that somethi ng has been made i n the
frst pl ace amounts to denyi ng that it coul d ever be unmade . Norman Bryson
terms this stance the "natural attitude": a suppression of " hi story, " of the
possibility of change, and of the specifc cultural mi l i eus withi n whi ch rep
resentations are created and consumed which can only be challenged once
"the real" i s "understood not as a transcendent and i mmutable given, but
as a production brought about by human acti vi ty worki ng wi thi n speci fc
cul tural constraints" ( Bryson, p. 5). Simultaneously, i t i s necessary to ques
tion the assumption that "vi sual experi ence" i s "universal and transhi stor
i cal " ( p. 10) , for the ways i n which we receive and perceive representati ons
are no l ess hi storically conti ngent than the representations themselves. A
recogni ti on of the i mmanently cultural and social character of all represen
tations, therefore, also i mpl i es a n acknowledgment of the vi ewi ng subj ect' s
own cul tural situation.
The posi ti ons outl i ned above hopeful ly demonstrate the validity of the
postulate that real i sm i s not an i nnocent representational mode but an ide
ol ogically determi ned and cul ture-bound phenomenon . When appl i ed
40 Part One: Oshii's Cinema
specifcally to the sphere of ani mation, thi s contenti on is confrmed by the
fact that thi s art form is not i ntri nsically espoused to the real i st ethos . In
fact , real i sm came to be regarded as ani mation' s pri mary ai m i n a very
speci fc ti me and pl ace, and for particular cul tural reasons -namely, as a
consequence of Di sney' s endeavor, from the 1930s onwards, to attract large
audi ences to ani mated movi es by competi ng di rectly with live- acti on ci n
ema. To achi eve thi s ai m, Di sney Studi os sought to emul ate as fai thful ly as
possi bl e the three-di mensional solidity i nsti nctively associated by specta
tors with l ive-action productions, striving to choreograph deep- focus efects
i n the rendi ti on of space, to pai nt backgrounds that woul d resembl e fl m
mattes ( i n contrast with the panel -l ike look of comi c stri ps) and to exhi bi t
the characters' exposure to the i mpact of gravi ty wi th often spectacular
results . ( Thi s approach was i n sharp contrast with the New York Style dom
i nant i n the 1920s, epitomized by Otto Messmer' s Felix the Cat. ) Hol ly
wood' s i dol i zati on of real i sm does not , however, make i t a uni versal l y
treasured goal : as observed earlier, i t i s by no means as pivotal to Japanese
aestheti cs as it i s to the West , and Oshi i's ci nema fully exempl i fes thi s cul
turally i ndividuati ng factor.
Fi nally, all the technical and stylistic components di scussed in the pre
cedi ng paragraphs are i nstrumental to the overarchi ng i mperative of the
mise-en-scene, namely, the means by whi ch the director communi cates hi s
vi si on through performance, lighti ng, setti ng, costume and camera place
ment ; the mise-en-cadre, namely, the organi zati on of vari ous el ements
wi thi n any one frame; and, more generally, what Davi d Bordwel l terms the
staging: that i s to say, "a perspectival proj ection of space" through whi ch
the director "can gui de our attenti on across a compl ex vi sual fel d, pl ay
hi de-and- seek wi th our expectations, summon up expressive qual i ti es l i ke
del i cacy or dynami sm, and participate i n a broader narrative patterni ng"
( Bordwel l , p. 16) . Throughout Oshi i's output , the di rector' s stagi ng strate
gi es evi nce a marked predilection for temporal di stensi on, structural rep
etition, long takes, the subtle alternation of harmony and di ssonance, and
sustai ned tracki ng shots and cut -i ns that enabl e hi m to orchestrate uni que
poeti c patterns of vi sual ity by means of spatial , composi ti onal and chro
mat i c rhymes and rhythms of arresti ng vigor.
Part Two
OSHII AND THE
CARNIV ALESQUE
What is suspended [ in carnival ) frst of all is hierarchical struc
ture and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette
connected with it. . . . During that moment the normal constraints
and conventions of the everyday world are thrown of . . . com
moner and aristocrat rub shoulders in the marketplace and all
social distinctions are erased . . . . The fool reigns . . . . Essentially,
the carivalesque . . . aims at social change by uncovering the
truth about the emperor's new clothes: the diference between
king and peasant is arbitrary, relative, and merely an accepted
convention. But, of course, in reality, such conventions of
diference are enforced with a variety of powerful means, from
public opinion to actual weapons, which often make the egali
tarian urge at the core of the carnival nothing more than an idle
daydream. Nevertheless every representation produced by the
carnival spirit shows traces of the utopian ideal of a democratic
society that lies at the heart of the urge to ridicule authority,
even when literally no chance of unseating such authority exists.
- Torn Sobshack
. . . false beliefs and superstitions are rejected by the critical side
of the SF [ science fction] intellect, but on the other side SF writ
ers and fans are attracted to magic because it presupposes as yet
unknown and unpredictable changes in our reality system.
- Casey Fredericks, p. 153
5
Concepts of the Carnival
The term carni val generally designates a topsy-turvy world wherei n
everyday rul es and norms are more or l ess flamboyantly transgressed, yet
the notion of order i s not enti rely obliterated i nsofar as the transgressi on
i s i tsel f cal endarized and hence societally sanctioned. The world of Urusei
Yatsura may be described as carnivalesque on two counts: as a literal drama
tization of varyi ngly extravagant festivals, parti es and revel ri es, and as a
metaphorical refection upon the el usi veness of the boundari es separati ng
the real from the dream, responsi bi l i ty from escapi sm, duty from i ndul
gence i n the Pl easure Pri ncipl e.
Oshi i' s constellation of the carnivalesque echoes Mikhail Bakhti n' s the
ori es on t he subject as advocated i n Rabelais and His World and Problems
of Dostoevsky's Poetics. For Bakht i n, the carni val is not j ust an event wi thi n
the domai n of fol klore but actually an elaborate textual formation whose
language and rhetoric are i nformed by the i nterrelated di scourses of cor
poreal i ty, the burl esque and collective senti ment. Thus, the carni val esque
does not merely manifest itself at the l evel of ri tual spectacl es such as pag
eants, masquerades, fairground curiosities and street theatre but also at the
l evel of disparate l i nguistic constructs -for i nstance, humorous verbal com
posi ti ons such as sati res, parodi es and pasti ches, popul ar oaths, curses,
proverbs and blazons -and, by extension, the witty repertoi res and word
games to be habi tually found in both stage-based and screen-based comedic
forms . Concurrently, the carni val esque erodes conventional hierarchies and
attendants notions of propri ety by encouragi ng i nteractions among people
who would normally operate i n quite distinct sectors of soci ety. This break
down of etiquette i s paralleled by flamboyant mi salliances that aford scope
for the coal escence of the subl i me and the ri di cul ous, the sacred and the
profane, the l ofty and the humbl e, the wise and the drol l .
These suspensi ons of honored behavioral codes no doubt consti tute
somethi ng of a debasement of a cul ture's domi nant val ues, yet i t must be
stressed that they occur at agreed ti mes and i n agreed locati ons and do not ,
therefore, belong i n the league of anarchically random perversi ons of the
norm. I n other words, they represent ri tualized forms of parti ci pation i n
43
44 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
disruptive acts whi ch may ultimately contribute to the legiti mati on and
consol i dation of t he status quo. It is by allowi ng temporary suspensions of
order that the system most efectively asserts its stabi l i ty, permanence and
i nvul nerability to transgressi ve forces. Moreover, whenever the val ue of an
exalted object or concept i s debunked wi thi n the l ogi c of a pl anned event ,
one i s concomitantly remi nded of i t s privileged status by i ts abi l i ty not
merely to tolerate profanation but also to survive i t unscathed. At the same
time, the carni val serves to bolster an overarchi ng sense of cont i nui ty, even
as it appears to foster disconti nuity, by evoki ng the enduri ng rhyt hms of
exi stence: primarily, the recurrence of l i fe-and-death cycl es, t he alterna
tion of the seasons and even the human body' s recurrent functi ons, down
to thei r most blatantly scatological .
Ambi val ence is pivotal to the carni val: what is permi tted i nsi de i ts
boundaries i s l i censed only i nsofar as it i s couched i n l udi c terms . Never
theless, there i s somethi ng i ndubitably refreshi ng about the carni val , and
thi s resides, ul ti mately, wi th its status as a di scursi ve chal l enge to i deol o
gies that thrive on the valorization of sealed systems of bel i ef and concl u
si ve outcomes. By contrast , the carni val celebrates becomi ng, renewal and
ongoi ng metamorphosi s, thereby shunni ng any crystall i zed noti on of
fnitude or i mmutabi l ity. Grotesque i magery consi stently rei nforces thi s
di srupti ve thrust by mocki ng the authority of bal anced, pol i shed and
rational forms of expressi on and performance through t he foregroundi ng
of visual si gni fers of both physical and psychol ogi cal di slocati on.
I n assessi ng Oshi i ' s arti culation of these i deas i n the Urusei Yatsura
uni verse, i t is noteworthy that emphasis is persi stently placed on the noti on
of the carni valesque as a compl ex textual construct -not si mpl y a matter
of festi vi ti es and parti es, even though these pl ay an undoubtedl y axi al and
hi ghl y entertai ni ng dramatic rol e . Especi al ly memorabl e, i n thi s context ,
are the sumptuous ( and repeatedly aborted) nupti al s depi cted i n Only You;
the annual school festi val , the freworks parti es and ritual summert i me
events pi votal to Beautif ul Dreamer's pl ot ; and the majesti cal l y staged
hanami ( blossom- viewing party) , costumed pageant, and ceremoni al jour
ney to the underworl d presented in Lum the Forever. Thi s i s ful l y borne
out , as argued i n depth in a subsequent section, by the structural sophi s
tication and gamesome handl i ng of mul ti pl e twi sts and turns evi nced by
Beautiful Dreamer's prismatic plot. The post-Oshi i feature Lum the For
ever wi l l embrace thi s stylistic approach and del i ver a no l ess unsettl i ng
storyl i ne. By contrast , and i n consonance with i t s generally l es s seasoned
outl ook, Only You gi ves precedence to the content l evel of carni val esque
occurrences over the formal subversi on of di egeti c l ogi c . Thi s i s ful l y
evi nced by i ts keenness on comedically exaggerated ceremoni al spectacl e s .
I n al l three fl ms , si gni fcantly, conventi onal hi erarchi es are fagrant l y
5-Concepts o/the Carnival 45
fouted as unorthodox col l usi ons of the grand and the bizarre come i nto
pl ay.
The concept of order is not totally suspended, insofar as both the visual
and the discursi ve forays i nto the carnivalesque ofered by the Urusei Yat
sura fl ms are somewhat sanctioned by the parti cul ar societal context i n
whi ch they take pl ace, and t he characters, accordi ngl y, are ongoi ngl y
restrai ned by specifc codes of conduct . Thus, even when l ogi c appears to
have forsaken thei r worl ds al together - most portentousl y i n Beautiful
Dreamer-they react t o their predicaments by assuming subject positi ons
that are ul ti mately congruous wi th their basi c rol es withi n the Urusei Yat
sura real m. Furthermore, the disruptions they experience are eventual l y
contained by thei r l ocati on withi n an i ntel l i gibl e , though possibl y per
verted, structure of meani ng: a l i e in Only You, a nightmare i n Beautiful
Dreamer, a myth in Lum the Forever. However, the carnival ' s invigorating
di spl acement of rigid ideologies i s ul ti mately kept alive by the fl ms' vary
i ngl y radical erosi ons of traditional reality markers, and related i naugura
ti on of scenarios of potentially unl i mited change which no recuperati ve
gesture may reliably control . As a resul t, audiences are i nvited to ponder
the afective implications of any temporary suspension of the real -both
within and outside the auditorium -and the potentially energizing import
of their own exposure to imaginary obfuscations of the empi rically veri fabl e
of preci sel y the ki nd to be consistently encountered i n Oshi i ' s ci nema i n
its enti rety.
+++
From a sociological poi nt of view, the carni val coul d be seen as a pred
ecessor of the modern hol iday cul ture, even though the unbri dl ed expl o
sions i n whi ch folk humor was capabl e of i ndul gi ng from Roman ti mes
through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance were doubtlessly wel l i n excess
of today's average manifestations of calendarized fun. I ndeed, nowadays t he
carni valesque spi ri t appears to have been watered down and rendered vir
tually anodyne by its chemical di spersion through the enti re cocktai l that
consti tutes, cumul ati vely, the so-called experiential or adventure soci ety.
Following the sociologist Gerhard Schulze, Regi na Dahmen- I ngenhoven
has described this t ype of societal organization as a structure "subj ect to a
ki nd of experi enti al i mperative . To be deemed contemporary, you must
experi ence somethi ng. Those who do not experi ence anythi ng have only
themselves to bl ame . "
The willingness and ability t o experience are hence considered absolutely
vital attributes in contemporary posti ndustrial cul tures, and the fai l ure to
46 Part Two: Oshii and the Carivalesque
do so i s automatically stigmatized as a severely disabl i ng defect . It i s there
fore i mportant, in the logic of Dahmen-I ngenhoven' s argument, to i nvest
bui l di ngs wi th an emi nently i nteractive character. While this feature of
today's archi tecture i s especially sal i ent i n the context of edi fces designed
for the purposes of l ei sure ( e . g. , theme parks, amusement parks, sports cen
ters, restaurants) , i t i s becoming i ncreasi ngly evident i n quite di ferent types
of bui ldings, too: for exampl e, museums, banks, shoppi ng mal l s and ai r
port lounges. The common obj ective of all these various archi tectural for
mati ons is to stimulate thei r users and visitors, create a stirri ng atmosphere,
and thus el i ci t a s ens e of adventure -i n other words, to ani mate the m. The
formal language and expressive registers of comi cs and ani mation is accord
i ngly appl i ed to the arti culation of contemporary architectural registers .
Ani mati on, i n this context , refers to an extra di mensi on, an el ement of
excess over normal discourse, and i s hence consi dered an ideal t ool i n the
capture and fuel l i ng of heightened emotive responses: "[a]ni mation has
i nfl trated everyday l i fe and has l eft its mark on architecture in a manner
that i s no longer marginal . . . . Today, everythi ng and everyone i s exposed
to ani mation and there i s no escape: a bank i s no l onger a bank but an expe
riential fnance department store . The same i s true of trai n stati ons and ai r
port s, whi ch have long si nce ceased to be mere si tes of travel "
( Dahmen- I ngenhoven, p. 12).
The prototype of the ki nd of ani mated space theorized by Dahmen
I ngenhoven i s, without a shadow of doubt , Di sneyland. Wal t Di sney under
stood from the early planni ng stages of his semi nal proj ect that to summon
up an authentically adventure-driven atmosphere, he must rely on peopl e
that were fully conversant with the theoretical pri nci pl es and pi ctori al di s
course of ani mation: "[Y]ou know," he once sai d, "the only way I 've found
to make these pl aces i s wi th ani mators -you can' t seem to do i t wi th
accountants and bookkeepers" ( quoted i n Dahmen- I ngenhoven, p. 90) .
Dahmen-I ngenhoven' s hypotheses are parti cul arly rel evant to the con
text of this di scussi on as a fel i ci tous marriage of the logic of the carni val
and the art of ani mation. Specifcally, Oshi i' s representati ons of festivi ti es,
ri tual ceremoni es and the spaces wherei n these unfol d coul d be sai d to
i ncarnate those propositions by si multaneously dramati zi ng the carniva
l esque spi rit on the thematic l evel , and experi menti ng with the language of
anime on the technical level . ' I n constellating his carnivalesque locations,
Oshi i congenially turns the technical i ngredi ents of ani mation i nto real i ty,
deployi ng most forcibly those animational techniques ( here described i n
the i ntroductory chapter) that thrive on exaggeration, distorti on, di sori en
tati on, over- extension and even grotesque deformation. In bot h Only You
and Beautiful Dreamer, these traits are most evi dent in scenes that depi ct
di sconcerti ng transi ti ons from fami l iar pockets of quoti di an l i fe to the
5-Concepts of the Carnival 47
futuristic ci tyscapes of distant galaxi es, and from a relatively wel l -groomed
suburban architecture to dystopian scenari os of chaos and decay.
Thus, t he Urusei Yatsura productions encapsul ate the procl i vi ty to
i nvest bui l di ngs with carnival esque energy but not exactly in the vei n the
orized by Dahmen- I ngenhoven. Whi l e the spaces described by the critic
domesti cate the notion of entertai nment by contai ni ng i t wi thi n seemi ngly
carefree but also thoroughly regi mented structures, the Urusei Yatsura sto
ries take quite a diferent course of action. Locati ons such as the playground
i n Only You, the everyday streets and edi fces i n Beautiful Dreamer, or the
shoppi ng mall in Lum the Forever are carnivalesque by vi rtue not of their
procl i vi ty to package "adventure" for uncri tical consumption by t hei r users
but rather of their fair for transmuti ng fami liar urban setti ngs i nto deepl y
unsettl i ng social mi l i eus . Moreover, the seemi ngly most sol i d and stable
architectural structures-such as the Tomobi ki High School in Beautiful
Dreamer and Mendou' s family mansion in Lum the Forever- are prey to
profoundly displaci ng metamorphoses whereby both depth and height tend
to di si ntegrate i nto a vertigi nous prol i feration of i ntricate mazes, fathom
less shafts and optical tricks .
After a panorami c survey of Urusei Yatsura's origi ns i n the c ul ture of
manga and i ts i nitial l i fe as a TV series, the secti ons that follow exami ne
Oshi i ' s Only You and Beautiful Dreamer wi t h reference to the arti culation
of the carni val esque in concurrently spatia-temporal and psychol ogi cal
terms .
6
Urusei Yatsura:
The TV Series
Urusei Yatsura' began life as a manga by Rumiko Takahashi . 2 Urusei Yat
sura was Takahashi ' s frst series and in many ways set in place graphic and
narrative elements desti ned to become central to her stylistic cachet -pri n
cipally, the collusion of romance, comedy and detailed characterization meth
ods. Maki ng i ts debut i n 1978, the manga i nstantl y asserted itself as a
sensational success, earni ng its creator the prestigious publisher Shogakukan's
Best New Artist Award. While Takahashi , as yet somewhat i nexperienced at
the mere age of twenty-one, could only manage sporadic production i n her
salad days, by 1980, Urusei Yatsura had become a serialized weekl y comic i n
Shounen Sunday- a weekl y comic anthology of phonebook proporti ons
issued by Shogakukan that is unequivocally considered one of the gi ants i n
manga publishi ng. It there reigned unchallenged unti l 1987, when Takahashi
decided to draw the series to an end. Shounen Sunday featured ffteen-page
Urusei Yatsura episodes drawn almost excl usively in bl ack and whi te, as is
customarily the case with manga, but occasionally contained a few i ntroduc
tory pages i n color designed to lure the reader i nto the fow of the narrative .
Like other very successful series, the Urusei Yatsura comi c was al so
rel eased i n the form of tankoban ( graphi c novel s) i ncl udi ng cl usters of
sequential chapters from t he weekly serialization. A novel -size paperback,
the tankoban would compi l e el even weekly i nstal l ments i nto a si ngle vol
ume . By the end of the seri es, Urusei Yatsura had been col l ected i nto thirty
four vol umes, amounting to about si x thousand pages of stri ps. In the early
1990s, to mark the manga's tenth anni versary, the tankoban was superseded
by the wideban ( wide edition) format , consisti ng of vol umes that contai ned
twenty- fve i nstal l ments each, eventually leadi ng to a total of ffteen vol
umes. About ten years later, the enduri ng popularity of the seri es l ed to the
publication of Takahashi' s stori es i n the bunkoban ( pocket edi ti on) format .
To sati sfy the requi rements of the more casual ranks of manga readers, the
epi sodes were al so made available as cheap My First Big edi ti ons for sal e i n
general bookstores.
48
6-Urusei Yatsura 49
Urusei Yatsura was published i n North Ameri ca by Viz -a subsi di ary
of Shogakukan -from 1989 i n the guise of monthly releases in translati on,
with each issue incorporating two stories. After a hiatus of a few years, Uru
sei Yatsura was l ater serialized i n Viz's Animerica magazine under the titl e
of The Return of Lum up unti l 1998. Urusei Yatsura has also been transl ated
i nto Italian, Spani sh and Cantonese . Its fan base has been persistently strong
worldwide and the range of ancillary merchandise which it has spawned con
stitutes a paradi gmati c exampl e of contemporary medi a synergy across the
globe . ( This poi nt wi l l be returned to i n the assessment of Urusei Yatsura's
evol ution beyond Oshi i ' s i nvol vement in the franchise in the context of
Chapter 9. )
This brief survey of the manga's publishing history explicitly demon
strates Urusei Yatsura's enduring popul ari ty, and i t woul d i ndeed be fai r to
state that the series is one of the most passionately cheri shed anime cre
ations of al l times, and not exclusi vely on home turf. This i s primari l y a
result of Takahashi's unique style as an inspi red fusion of the mel l ow and
the vigorous and, relatedly, of her abi l i ty to capitalize on graphic mi ni mal
i sm yet al so to del i ver highl y detai l ed and mi meti cal l y accurate desi gns
rangi ng from cartoon i sh exaggeration to pictorial realism.
Animationally, Urusei Yatsura came into being as a TV series devel
oped by Kitty Animation, based on Takahashi 's exceptional l y popul ar
manga. The series debuted on 14 October 1981 and instant ly became a
record-breaking success held by many to have altered the very face of anime.
I ndeed, i n acknowledging Urusei Yatsura's popul ari ty, it is al so i mportant
to pay homage to i ts ori gi nal i ty. As Makosuke ( Marc Marshall) has poi nted
out,
[mlany of its plot devices (gender bending, multiple girls after the same worth
less guy, weirdoes from outer space ... ) have become anime staples, but you might
remind yourself as you're watching it that in many cases they're classic because
of Urusei Yatsura. It's the originator of so many anime cliches that I have to won
der what anime today would've looked like without it for inspiration. That alone
makes it a seminal work the likes of which few things outside of Tezuka's little
robot can boast of [Makosuke}.
Urusei Yatsura is certai nly one of the most irreverently carnivalesque and
exuberantly bizarre ani mated real ms ever ideated ei ther wi thi n or outside
Japan. Whi l e employi ng an adventurously barmy and even ribald tone, gen
erous doses of slapsti ck, whimsically edgy comedy and overtl y l udicrous
situati ons, i t i s also capabl e of yielding lovable and psychol ogically credi
ble characters-i n spite of their physiognomi c preposterousness and warped
identities-and a pervasive sense of dramatic empathy, rendered by recourse
to a subtl e osci l lation between unbl emished radi ance and dusky chagri n i n
the depiction of the protagoni sts' facial expressions and body language alike.
50 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
Furthermore, the seri es derives considerable verve and wi t from i ts auda
ci ous proclivity to parody al l manner of establ i shed genres and ci nemato
graphical conventions, as wel l as countl ess aspects of anci ent mythology and
contemporary pop cul ture alike .
The contributions to the show made specifcally by Oshi i and by the
tal ented Studio Pierrot team played a vital part i n helping Urusei Yatsura
transcend the farci cal style adopted by the parent manga and become a
unique world i n its own right . To begin with, each show comprised two
12- mi nute epi sodes aired back to back, which i mparted a somewhat fran
ti c rhythm to the vi ewi ng experi ence as a whol e . The format was soon
modi fed to one si ngle half- hour epi sode , which enabl ed the creators to
concentrate to a greater degree on plot devel opment and i mbue the acti on
wi th a more vari ed and dramati c mood. Greater promi nence was concomi
tantl y accorded to ori gi nal ly peri pheral characters. The earl y epi sodes
evi nced a deliberately chi ldlike style, marked by bright colors, cute char
acters, bouncy tunes and altogether si mpl e ani mati on. Yet , they contai ned
sophi sticated humor and elaborate scri pts, and were therefore able to appeal
extensi vely to both kids and grown- ups.
Oshi i aimed at enhanci ng this seri ous-or at l east semi - seri ous
di mension of the show and hence at devel opi ng a more mature ani mation
styl e. In the process, graphic and thematic elements desti ned to become key
parts of the di rector' s uni que signature over the fol l owi ng two decades
began to emerge . Whi l e Oshii may have overstepped the l i mi ts of what
coul d be considered thematically and conceptually acceptabl e as an adap
tation of a fundamentally comedic universe, the endeavor to pol i sh up Uru
sei Yatsura conti nued beyond the director' s i nvolvement wi th the vent ure,
and hi s l egacy can i ndeed be detected i n subsequent producti ons, most
notably the feature fl m Lum the Forever (dir. Kazuo Yamazaki , 1986) .
In the TV seri es, the story arc as a whole deals wi th the adventures of
a group of teenagers based i n Tomobi ki -cho (Tomobi ki Town) , a fcti onal
di stri ct i n the Neri ma ward of Tokyo, al ternatel y depicted as a semi real i s
ti c urbanscape and a preposterously surreal habitat . The town is named
after Tomobiki, a day i n the complex l unar cal endar used i n Japan unt i l the
ni neteenth century the l i teral meani ng of which may be transl ated as "tak
ing along fri ends. " People are discouraged from hol di ng funeral services
on thi s particular day i n the belief that the concept of "taki ng along fri ends"
wi l l cause another such ceremony to be necessary in the very near future .
Thi s supersti ti on is relevant to the world of Urusei Yatsura i nsofar as no
pecul i ar or menaci ng event that takes place i n Tomobi ki -cho is ever an i so
lated i nci dent, and whenever a character is caught up i n some mishap, many
more members of t he cast are i nexorably swept along i n i t s wake . In arti c
ul ati ng thi s i dea, the seri es also harks back to the pri nci pl e of i nterconnect-
6-Urusei Yatsura 5 1
edness, pivotal to both Buddhi sm and Shi nto, accordi ng t o whi ch n o nat
ural ( or i ndeed supernatural ) occurrence can ul ti mately be extricated from
a far-reachi ng web of seemi ngly di screte phenomena.
The story' s premise i s laid out i n the frst epi sode, where a young man,
named Ataru Moroboshi - who is famed for hi s unquenchabl e l echerous
ness and preposterously bad l uck3 - is charged with the task of savi ng the
Earth by competing i n a game of tag with the al i en beauty Lum, a pri ncess
of the Oni endowed wi th supernatural powers, ti ger-ski n underwear, horns
and a capri ci ous temper that frequently resul ts i n the emi ssion of mighty
el ectri cal waves. Ataru may onl y beat Lum by touchi ng her horns-an
ostensibly unattainable goal which he eventually achi eves by causi ng t he
pri ncess's bi ki ni top to drop through a di rt y trick, and t hus leavi ng her
momentari ly exposed and vul nerabl e .
Al though Ataru' s accompl i shment removes the danger loomi ng over
the Earth, i t does not put an end to the hapless character's personal ordeals.
Indeed, he has gai ned the motivation to take the game seri ously after a
seri es of spectacul ar defeats onl y because hi s l ongsufer i ng gi rl fri end
Shi nobu has promised she will marry hi m i f he wi ns. But when, havi ng
vanquished Lum, Ataru proudl y decl ares, " Now I can get marri ed, " a
momentous i nterplanetary misunderstanding ensues: the Oni pri ncess takes
his words as a proposal addressed to her very sel f. Despite his eagerness, at
frst , to cop a feel of an extraterrestrial bi mbo, the fckle Ataru has by now
l ost all i nterest i n Lum, even though she is madly, i nexplicably and i rrev
ocabl y besotted wi th her human "Darli ng. " Ataru' s recalcitrance spri ngs
si mply from the fact that accepti ng Lum as hi s future bri de would unde
sirably curtai l hi s amorous exploits. However, as an i nteri m arrangement ,
Lum goes to l i ve wi t h Ataru and hi s parents, attends hi s hi gh- school l es
sons, endl essly pl ans thei r weddi ng, and puni shes him by means of el ectri c
shocks whenever hi s lasci vi ous nature comes to her attention. Such hap
peni ngs by no means exhaust the spectrum of the i l l -fated boy' s misadven
tures, for he i s also at the recei vi ng e nd of hi s human sweetheart' s ire due
to his i nordi nate hormonal dri ves, resented by school - mates who fancy
Lum for themselves, and is shunned by hi s parents. Thus, amid the farce,
one can cl early sense a potentially serious undercurrent cursi ng through
Takahashi ' s story right from the start of the seri es.
Aft er the TV seri es had ended, 11 Origi nal Video Ani mati ons were
made . The frst of these was arguably the only noteworthy contri buti on to
the Urusei Yatsura universe . Titled "Inaba the Dream Maker, " the frst OVA
delivers a del ectably movi ng tale in which Lum, Shi nobu and Ataru catch
glimpses of thei r plausibl e desti nies, and the i ntri gui ng character of Inaba
is i ntroduced as a potential romantic i nterest for Shi nobu. The remai ni ng
productions are essentially the equival ent of additional TV epi sodes and
52 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
though they are undeniably entertai ni ng, they do not qui te l i ve up to the
standards set by frst one .
Beside Lum, Ataru and Shi nobu, Urusei Yatsura contai ns a vast and
vari ed gal l ery of supporti ng characters, the dizzying di versity of which i s
hardl y attenuated by the one cruci al factor they al l share - namely, a
flamboyantly carni valesque weirdness. At the same ti me, however, the char
acters are rendered markedly convi nci ng by thei r mul ti - facetedness and
resol ute avoidance of any cl ear-cut segregation of heroes and vi l l ai ns. Al l
cast members ul ti mately harbor contrasti ng di sposi ti ons-and therefore
behave wi th realisti c i nconsistency -as they forge on ami d spi ral i ng con
ficts, grudges, ani mosities and mi sunderstandi ngs. One of the most refresh
i ng aspects of Urusei Yatsura's mai n players is thei r i ngrai ned chi l dl i keness,
a trait that makes them unrel enti ngly i nquisitive, passionate and, by and
large, gui l el ess. Takahashi treasures the concept of i nnocence throughout
her oeuvre and i ndeed uses the image of a baby chi ck as a vi sual refrai n to
symbolize that state . Interesti ngly, her own given name encapsulates the idea
of an everlasti ng childhood si nce it consi sts of the kanji Ru ( to stay) , Mi
( beauti ful) and Ko ( child) .
The seri es steadfastly celebrates the undi mmi ng hopeful ness of a more
l i vely and l ess callous world, yet often hi nts at the peri l s i nherent i n its
characters' rel uctance to grow up, portrayi ng thi s as potenti al l y synony
mous wi th i mmaturi ty and irresponsi bi l i ty. In so doi ng, i t captures the
duplicity i nherent i n the carnival itself: i ndeed, like the l atter, it rej oi ces i n
the suspension of the Reality Pri nciple but si mul taneously remi nds us that
the assumption of codi fed adult mental i ti es and related subj ect posi ti ons
i s fnal l y an i nescapabl e fat e.
Makosuke' s comments on the seri es' characters are especi al ly useful i n
hi ghl i ghti ng one further facet of the Urusei Yatsura world to whi ch t he sto
ri es owe much of thei r uniqueness:
After 30 or 40 episodes ... the series gets into its groove, taking on an everyday
air that other anime rarely has the length and depth to make work as efectively.
The small group of high school friends are involved in sufciently wacky
escapades, but they really do feel like a group of friends despite their bizarre
backgrounds .... Of particular visual note is the everydayness of Lum; although
she can and almost always does fly or hover around, it's portrayed in a natural
seeming way that makes it feel sort of normal. Lum also makes for a bit of an
ongoing fashion show, with all manner of interesting outfts appropriate to the
setting. When you put the two together, you pretty much get what makes the
whole series so much fun: a green-haired girl with horns, dressed in hiking gear
or a school uniform, hovering around her boyfriend ... and it just seems entirely
natural [Makosukel.
The sense of naturalness exuded by the character of Lum spri ngs l argel y
from the fact that i n spite of her preternatural powers and possession of
6-Urusei Yatsura 53
advanced technological wonders such as ti me-travel i ng machi nes, shri nk
i ng beams, cloni ng guns and contraptions capabl e of providi ng portal s to
al ternat ive di mensi ons, she i s paradoxically humani zed, rather than dehu
mani zed, by her otherness. Indeed, her not-at-homeness on Earth i s recur
rently alluded to, even as she appears to ft i n smoothly wi th Tomobi ki -cho' s
quoti di an merry-go- round, by her naive responses to the host planet' s cus
toms, mores and, above all , language . Not only do Lum' s speech patterns
abide by t he grammatical and syntactical rules of an outl andi sh di al ect , she
i s also frequently perplexed by her fri ends' use of words, wi th frequently
momentous repercussi ons (as in the case of the aforement i oned frst
epi sode) . This aspect of Urusei Yatsura's universe woul d seem to corrobo
rate the proposition that subj ectivity i s molded pri mari l y by language and
by the structures of thought and behavior to whi ch verbal signs arbi trari l y
assign meani ng. Ironi cal ly, and i n full consonance wi th Takahashi 's subtl e
humor, Lum' s di cti on al so evi nces the trai ts of an actual and contemporary
di scursive trend: namely, the employment of a sacchari ne mode of del i v
ery normally associated with real Japanese girls struggl i ng to sound cute .
It shoul d also be noted that the identi ti es of several of the Urusei Yat
sura characters are consi stently defned with reference to aspects of Japa
nese tradi ti on, mythol ogy, rel i gi on and lore . Thus, though sensi t ivel y
normal i zed and hence rendered appeal i ng to today' s audi ences, they
nonethel ess stri ke thei r roots i n ti me-honored l egends. Thi s strategy bears
wi tness to what coul d be regarded as a cardi nal feature of Japan's pri smati c
cul ture, whereby the i ncorporation of global trends and the country' s att en
dant moderni zation have never qui t e erased t he ancestral vesti ges of nar
rativity' s i mbrication with the past -with an inveterate and even nostalgic
fasci nation wi th the "Once- Upon-a-Time" (Mukashi Mukashi) atti tude to
storytell i ng.
Parodic references to rel i gion abound, mai nl y by vi rtue of the creepy
Buddhist monk Sakuranbo ( obsessed with bei ng addressed as "Cherry" )
and hi s penchant for portentous predictions and dark omens. A more pos
itive character also associated with religion is the highly tal ented Shi nto
pri estess Sakura, Cherry' s ni ece but by no means hi s ally. Stunni ngly beau
ti ful i n an i mposi ng yet never haughty way, Sakura al so serves, i n a twi st
oflogi c typi cal of the Urusei Yatsura world, as the hi gh school ' s pati ent and
resourceful nurse . Anci ent Chi nese mythology and popular cul ture meet
and merge i n a curi ously harmoni ous fashion i n the supporti ng character
of Benten, an extra-terrestri al motorbike punk babe who i s also loosely
based on the Chi nese Goddess of Luck. Another dramati s persona cl osel y
connected wi th anci ent lore i s Kurama, the pri ncess of the Karasutengu
( Crow Gobli n) , powerful mountai n spirits featuri ng in numerous tal es of
ol d. Oyuki , the graceful Queen of Neptune, i s l i kewise associ ated with a
54 Part Two: Oshji and the Carnivalesque
vi ntage pi ece of mythology that harks back to the Legend of the Yuki-Onna
( Snow Woman) , an ostensibly ethereal and placid beauty endowed wi th the
power to breathe mortally frosty ai r onto unsuspecti ng humans.
Most i mportant , withi n Urusei Yatsura's mythi cal i nfrastruct ure, is
the presence of the Oni, Lum' s race. Although there are i nstances of non
aggressi ve, genial and even protective Oni i n Japanese tradi ti on, it i s com
mon to regard these creatures as malevolent fgures. 4 Some old texts i ndicate
that the term Oni refers to all sorts of demons and specters, while others
propose that peopl e who speci fcally died as a result of fami nes and epi
demics, as wel l as wronged women driven by jeal ous rage, were the most
l i kely to turn i nto Oni . The majority of Japanese l egends and fol ktal es,
however, tend to posit the Oni as excepti onal ly strong, feroci ous and
hideous monsters endowed wi th horns and fangs and onl y cl ad i n ti ger
hi des, capable of undoi ng at will the very fabri c of humani ty. Takahashi's
manga adopts the central i ngredi ents of this popular version of the Oni ,
considered by most scholars t o be a relatively recent development withi n
Japanese lore . However, she fel i ci tousl y morphs the vestigial demon i mage
into somethi ng veritably rich and strange, through the infusi on into the
mythological frame of reference of numerous el ements associated wi th sci
f extra-terrestri al s and other cheri shed stereotypes of act i on-adventure
ci nema.
7
Urusei Yatsura
Movie 1: Only You
The huge success enj oyed by the TV seri es l ed to the production of si x
feature-l ength movies, of whi ch Oshii directed the frst two: Only You and
Beautiful Dreamer. I n the frst fl m, Ataru i s requi red to marry the al i en
El l e due to hi s steppi ng on her shadow i n the course of yet another fateful
game of tag pl ayed i n early chi l dhood (i n El l e' s cul t ure, such an act i s
regarded as a marri age proposal ) , and t he rest of t he pl ot concerns Lum' s
endeavor to prevent the union. Some of the fl m' s most memorabl e
sequences are t he transportation of Ataru and hi s hi gh-school mates to an
exotic pl anet agai nst a ful l -blown space-opera setti ng; t he bri ef idyll whi ch
Ataru enj oys wi th Elle i n her pal ace before di scoveri ng her true predatory
nature; and Lum' s i ni tiatives to abort the nupti al s, i ncl udi ng breakneck
chases and mock-heroi c battl es conducted with genui nel y carni val esque
fervor. Clowni sh overacti ng and consistent forays i nto the phantasmagoric
realms of both l i teral and metaphorical masquerades ftti ngly garni sh the
carni val -favored fare . No l ess striki ng, however, i s the prol ogue (to be
returned to l at er i n thi s section) i n whi ch t he children playi ng tag are por
trayed in si mpl e si l houette and by recourse to an efectively mi ni mal i sti c
chromatic palette.
As t he pl ot takes the characters back and forth i n t i me, from thei r
provi ncial suburb i nto the galaxy's far reaches and back agai n, the ani ma
t ion is consist entl y characterized by remarkabl e fui di ty, detai l ed design
and energizing vitality. Fl uid transitions are especi ally remarkabl e, most
notably in the arti cul ation of Lum's frequent shi fts from regular human
motion to fight and vice versa -for i nstance, i n the fl m's frst sequence,
where she and Ataru walk to school amid droni ng gossip about the myste
ri ous El l e . The ani mation concurrently evi nces a typically Oshi ian fasci na
tion wi th meti culously executed mechanical designs for the fl m's myriad
vehicl es and gadgets, as well as a nascent tendency to use refl ecti ons as a
means of conveyi ng a vari ety of psychological and emoti onal states. For
example, the specul ar play between Lum's face and its refection i n the wi n-
55
56 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
dow of the cafe where she sits, lonely and dejected, after Ataru's deserti on
serves to communicate both succi nctly and efectively the character 's i nner
sense of di spl acement . ( It i s noteworthy, i nci dentally, that the venue i s
named Pierrot , presumably i n homage to Oshi i 's ani mati on studio at the
ti me . ) Later i n the fl m, Ataru's and Elle's refections i n the pond adorni ng
Elle's sumptuous garden allude to the conventional meani ng of the mi rror
i mage as an icon of deception as a means of elliptically commenting on the
two characters' duplicitous natures and hidden agendas.
By the ti me Only You was released, Urusei Yatsura's al i en heroine
already enj oyed a strong followi ng in Japan as a result of the tremendous
popularity surroundi ng both the parent manga and the TV seri es. Thus,
Oshi i had to confront the probl em -analogous to the one faced by di rec
tors i nvolved i n feature-l ength adaptations of comi cs and graphi c novels
such as the X-Men, Sin City and, of course, Superman, Spidennan and Bat
man, to menti on but a few-of havi ng to i ncorporate the conventi ons put
i n pl ace by hi s source materials, whi ch establ ished fans woul d expect to
fnd and warmly respond to, and yet develop an i ndependentl y compel l i ng
narrati ve for everyone to savor. Only You succeeds i n accompl i shi ng pre
cisely such a balancing act by i ntegrati ng support i ng characters that fans
would love to behold on t he bi g screen without these fgures becomi ng so
central , however, as to make thei r roles i mpenetrabl e for the uni ni ti ated,
and mai ntai ni ng the focus pri marily on Lum and Atar u.
Only You's aforementi oned openi ng sequence i s one of t he most
i ntri gui ng ani mational experi ments i n Oshi i's enti re oeuvre : the setti ng's
details, i ncl udi ng the paths and steps traced by the child versi ons of Ataru
and Elle i n the game of shadow tag, do not preexi st the characters but act u
ally materi al i ze and dissolve i n accordance with t he patterns of t hei r move
ments through space. Such a space, i mportantly, is i ntensely abstract and
yet characteri stically Eastern and specifcally Japanese due to i ts chromati c
composition. Whi te and red ( the col ors of the Japanese fag) predomi nate,
whi l e yellow ( a hue deemed symbolic of l i fe and energy, or ki) is used for
several of the pri nci pal architectural el ements, and a touch of bl ossom- pi nk
( agai n a color readily associated with Japan) i s i ntroduced for the i mage of
t he rose petal ( a metonym for the femal e chi l d's romanti c prospects) foat
i ng agai nst a charmi ngly si mpl e black-and-white l andscape redol ent of the
graphic style immortalized by the indigenous ukiyio-e. The scene displ ay
i ng the recedi ng spaceshi p taki ng Elle back to her native planet evi nces the
trai ts of a giganti c, sculpturally detailed foral moti f that also echoes tradi
ti onal Eastern iconography.
As the fl m proper begi ns, the pi votal theme is i nstantly i ntroduced:
Ataru i s to marry Elle -a fgure nobody, Ataru i ncl uded, knows anythi ng
about . Mistrusted by hi s mates, Ataru is subj ected to torture i n the gui se
7-Urusei Yatsura Movie 1 57
of i ntolerable tickl i ng, and further exposed to both the rage of hi s human
sweetheart Shi nobu and massive el ectri c treatment at the hands of Lum -
the l atter bei ng conduci ve to the near di si nt egrati on of the c1ocktower
wherei n Ataru's ordeal i s taki ng pl ace and to the attendant metaphori cal
suspension of ti me . ( Thi s moti f will gain novel , and more si ni ster, rel evance
in Beautiful Dreamer by recourse to the very same architectural fxture . )
The fracas i s brought t o a n e nd by a portentous magneti c storm and con
comi tant appearance of an al i en shi p from Planet El l e meant to convey
Ataru to his betrothed. Thi s sequence i s undoubtedly one of the most stri k
i ng i n the whol e movie : vari ed pal ettes and chromatic contrasts matched
by an appositely i nspi red soundtrack evoke an atmosphere of awe as a del
uge of rose petal s descends upon Tomobiki -cho, the cl ouds spl i t ope n, and
the gi ganti c shi p i tsel f fnally materi alizes.
Whereas Ataru i s only too happy to i ndulge i n this precious opportu
nity for i nterpl anetary dalliance with an unearthly beauty, and i s hence
l ooki ng forward to hi s i mmi nent departure, Lum i s utterl y di sheartened
and rendered somewhat pathetic by the realization that no amount of high
voltage current may work to her advantage once her "Darl i ng" has been
enveloped i n a protecti ve "shi el d" uni que to Planet Elle . As the mammoth
vehi cl e wi thdraws, i ts captai n havi ng pl edged to return to col l ect the
i ntended on the morrow, the styl ized i mage of the shi p presented i n the pro
l ogue i s reproposed with the addition of more realisti c detai l s and a visu
al l y ambi val ent character whereby it comes to resembl e a rose ( El l e' s
recurri ng symbol ) or a toy wi ndmi l l , dependi ng upon the angle from whi ch
it is viewed. Sakura's l i nes followi ng the departure of the shi p from El l e are
a memorabl e i l l ustrati on of Urusei Yatsura's humorous vei n at i ts most
i ronic : "[tJhe universe is truly vast . To thi nk that someone coul d compete
with Lum' s bad taste in men. "
Lum i s shaken out of her maudl i n torpor and coaxed i nto action by
her extra-terrestri al fri end Benten, as a result of which Ataru, his parents
and the wei rd monk Cherry are abducted by Lum wi th the ai d of a "suc
ti on device" (suitably decorated wi th ti ger-ski n patterns) , and wi th the
objecti ve of taking the group to Lum's parents so that the Oni pri ncess and
Ataru may fnal l y be wedded wi th all due pomp. Benten, for her part , hi res
a " Space Taxi " to kidnap Ataru's school fri ends and convey them to the
weddi ng as so many -signally uncooperative -guests. The action swi ftly
moves to Lum' s parents' massive shi p, where we wi tness the reuni on of var
ious parti es. An engagi ngly hecti c sequence ensues as Lum knocks out Ataru
with a mal l et, and Elle' s envoy, Rose, knocks Lum out wi th her own "super
soni c hammer" after emergi ng from the statue of a notoriously metamor
phi c speci es, the tanuki ( raccoon) , takes on Lum' s i denti ty and ki dnaps
Atar u. Havi ng bombastically embarked on an "all -out" war at the news of
58 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
the future bri degroom's abducti on, the Oni bathetically give up when i t
becomes cl ear that Ataru is perfectly happy with the outcome of hi s adven
ture .
The story rapidly advances towards its cl i max as the acti on shifts to
Ataru's and his mates' arrival on Pl anet Elle . Ataru would very much l i ke
to turn the place i nto hi s "ultimate harem, " unaware that El l e has al ready
achi eved a si milar goal for herself by constructing an "i nner sanctum" that
houses her private "refri gerator of love": namel y, a crypt-l i ke contai ner
wherei n al l t he handsome men who have ever loved her are eeri l y suspended
i n cryogeni c sleep. ( An uncanny anticipation of Steven Spielberg's 2002 sci
f thri l l er Minority Report might be detected i n thi s portion of the flm. ) I t
soon becomes obvious that El l e has somethi ng other than marriage i n mi nd
and, i ntri gued by Mendou's good looks, ai ms at making hi m the 100,000th
addi tion to her collection. Elle's nefarious schemes are fnally disrupted, as
is the seal i ng of her and Ataru's wedlock thanks to Lum's ti mel y rappi ng on
the church's stai ned- glass wi ndow ( i n an delightful spoof of The Graduate)
j ust as the exchange of vows is about to be sealed by one fateful kiss.
Only You's denouement di scloses that Ataru's apparent marri age pro
posal was never actually valid i nsofar as he had merel y pretended to step
onto El l e's shadow i n the course of thei r chi l dhood game . This revelation
gives ri se to a qui ntessentially surreal sequence, whi ch styl i sti cal l y anti c
ipates Beautiful Dreamer, i n whi ch Ataru's teenage self berates and rather
brutally beats up hi s i nfanti l e i ncarnation for havi ng caused so much trou
bl e i n the frst pl ace . The absurdi st humor of the epi sode deri ves consi d
erabl e moment um from i ts graphi c l i teral i zati on of t he t heme of
psychol ogical confi ct , by transposi ng t he warri ng i nternal parti es onto t he
outer and emphati cal l y vi sibl e plane . Though undeniably hi l ari ous, t he
scene nonethel ess carri es latently harrowi ng connotati ons i n vi rtue of i t s
exposure of the dodgi ng of personal responsibi l i ty and of the unscrupu
l ous preparedness to abuse the younger and weaker i n the servi ce of cal
l ous egoism as nefari ous encroachment s on communal harmony and
wel l -bei ng.
Only You is a relatively juvenil e exploit wi thin the broad context of
Oshi i 's opus, yet it al ready evinces the signs of a highly i ndividual and enter
prising take on storytelling and ci nematography. Thi s i s borne out by the
sophi sticated amalgamation of an approach that favors styl ization and pi c
torial mi ni mal i sm, on the one hand, and a graphi c di scourse i nformed by
realism and tangi bl e three-di mensionality, on the other. At the same t i me,
the fl m's mood benefts consi st ently from the careful j uxtaposi t i on of
confl i cti ng i mages-e . g. , i n t he graphic contrast between t he del uge of rose
petals suggestive of a mellow fairy tale atmosphere and the coldly metal l i c
al i en shi p evocative of technology at its least genial , as well as i n the osci l -
7-Ursei Yatsura Movie] 59
lation between representations of the al i en venues as resol utely outl andish
locations and as fami l iarly suburban.
Concurrently, Only You's occasional incursions into wacky melodrama
do not ultimately eface its deeper concern with the issues of mil itarism,
heroism, nati onalism and related cul tural val ues. Thi s preoccupati on is
vividly foregrounded i n the sequence where the Oni rul ers cl aim to want
to vanquish the armies from Planet Elle for the sake of "honour" and "glory"
yet thei r l ofty i ntent is farcically dwarfed by the carnivalesque preposter
ousness of their entire cul ture, mores and somatic attributes. A discreet
critique of the notion of war-as-spectacle is also provided, as Ataru and his
mates are shown watchi ng the mil itary operations through a spaceshi p wi n
dow as though it were a tel evision screen and, rebuked by the stern Shi
nobu, vapidly state, "of course we're happy - now we're 'children who know
war, '" in a rather disturbing reference to the Japanese protest song "Chil
dren Who Don' t Know War. " Further opportunities for poking fun at the
mil itary are supplied by the cl umsy "army" protecting the colossal estate
inhabited by Mendou -supposedly the wealthi est boy on Earth -and hi s
family, whil e Mendou hi msel f comes t o constitute t he ful crum of a di spas
sionate cri tique of prosperity and power as he is port rayed theatrically pos
ing as a latter-day samurai .
Simul taneously, while the romantic entangl ements, misunderstand
ings and betrayals are often used as pretexts for unbridl ed sl apstick, Oshii
also provides numerous hi nts at the depth and authenti ci ty of the charac
ters' emotions as the twists and turns of the plot steer them back and forth
between elation and dej ection, self-sati sfaction and moroseness. The di s
passionately unsentimental realism of the psychological states captured by
Only You is epitomized by the sequence in which Ataru, dri ven excl usivel y
by hi s proverbial l echerousness, hypocritically states that "romance is not
all there is to life" and that he is ready to "sacrifce" himsel f and surrender
to the gorgeous El l e only to preven t the war. Also remarkabl e, i n this respect ,
is the dungeon scene in whi ch Ataru claims to feel profound remorse at hi s
ill -treatment of Lum in the past whi l e stufng hi mself all the whil e with
gargantuan fervor. He later appears genuinely relieved by the discovery that
Lum has not, as i nitially suspected, been killed by the activation of after
burners on a malfunctioni ng fghter shi p but has managed to ej ect safel y,
even though mi nutes earlier he had i ncontrovertibly equated l i fe wi th Lum
to " hel l " and El l e's emi ssary, Rose , to an "angel" and a "saviour. "
Ul ti mately, Only You works, di egetically and ci nematical ly, thanks to
Oshii's determination to take the Urusei Yatsura universe seriously, and
accordingly j uggle both plot convol uti ons and character i nteracti ons wi th
unprecedented sensitivity and warmth even ami d zany banter and tacky
romance . Concurrentl y, the comedic complications favored by the seri es
60 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
are dexterousl y streaml i ned i nto punchy st ri ngs of j okes, cameos and
vignettes that cumulatively amount t o an uplifti ng visual ride . Oshi i 's direc
tion pl ays a key rol e i n enabling the story's ubiquitous sense of whi msy to
cohere in an aesthetically satisfying whole whi l e al so preservi ng an el ement
of i nconcl usiveness-a stylisti c tacti c desti ned to become pi votal to the
di rector's si gnature . Hence, although the movie may seem a rather peri ph
eral accompl i shment compared to subsequent Oshi i producti ons, i t hol ds
the undeniable vi rtue of demonstrati ng that ani mati on i s an utterl y uni que
medi um i n its abi l i ty to surpri se, and that i n competent and adventurous
hands, its tool s enabl e even the most fatuous of concepts to be molded i nto
engaging entertai nment.
8
Urusei Yatsura Movie 2:
Beautiful Dreamer
Oshi i was not sati sfed with Only You, and i n the next production, he
strove to i nvest the Urusei Yatsura uni verse with an ori gi nal tone and a style
of hi s personal formulation. If Only You had aforded some l eeway for the
treatment of troubl ed emotional states, its overarchi ng mood had nonethe
l ess tended to capture the carnival' s pleasure-seeki ng procl i vi ti es. In Beau
tiful Dreamer, Oshii' s take on the carni valesque is markedly more somber,
i nsofar as the fl m emphasizes the untenability of any l ong-term suspen
si on of soci etally ratifed responsibi l i ti es, and the transcendence of pre
scribed forms of conduct i s accordi ngly posited as an ephemeral - and by
no means unequivocally pl easurable -state of afai rs. Thi s proposi ti on wi l l
be el aborated further later i n thi s chapter.
As a result of Oshi i 's darkeni ng of the manga's original tone, Takahashi
came cl ose to rej ecti ng t he script for t he movie as t oo di stant from her own
story. With the second movie, there is no doubt that Oshi i 's aestheti c and
ci nematographical vision has begun to acqui re an i ncontrovertibly di sti nc
ti ve shape . The uti l ization of sl ow-paced, meditative scenes compounded
wi th l engthy verbal di squisi ti ons, bound to become a central trai t of l ater
producti ons, i s al ready evident i n Beautiful Dreamer. At the same ti me, the
fl m abounds wi th references to fol klore and l egend, as wi l l al so be the case
with the director' s most semi nal works ( i . e . , Ghost in the Shell, Avalon and
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) . In the second Urusei Yatsura feature, the
compl exi ty of Oshi i ' s burgeoni ng worl d pi cture i s encapsul ated by hi s
handl i ng of t he i mage of t he l abyri nth, which ful l y attests to t he di rector' s
keenness on conceptual di chotomi es at the l evels of both ci nemati c repre
sentati on and philosophical speculation. I ndeed, the i mage allows Oshi i to
all ude simul taneously to notions of bewilderment, di sorder and i mprison
ment , and t o prospects of sel f- regeneration, labyri nthi ne locati ons bei ng
traditionally used as setti ngs for religious practi ce and spi ri tual enhance
ment .
In Beautiful Dreamer, the characters are caught i n a t emporal and spa-
61
62 Part Two: Oshi i and the Cari valesque
tial warp whereby thei r school envi ronment appears stuck in a perpetual
yesterday, whil e the external world has moved on unaccountably and turned
i nto a dark, postapocalyptic envi ronment repl ete wi th maze-l ike structures
and halls of mirrors. In the face of this disorienting aporia, they have to
j uggle two conficti ng options: namely, either accept that a cataclysm has
i ndeed occurred and that its efects are irreversibl e, or hol d on to the past
and its pleasures in a stubborn rej ection of thei r predicament . Moreover,
they have to contend with the ultimate chal lenge of havi ng to ascertain the
extent to which their experiences are real and the extent to which t hey j ust
amount to an especially tenacious dream.
The narrative pattern deli neated by Beautiful Dreamer actually resem
bl es that of a dream by constel l ati ng various characters' transi tions from
a familiar location to an alternate, phantasmatic dimension, symbol izing
the shi ft from one mode of consciousness to another, profoundly and dis
concertingly diferent one . In keeping with the codes and conventi ons of
exhausti vely recorded oneiric narrati ves both within and outsi de Japanese
traditi on, the al ternate realm di scl osed by the dream' s metaphorical tran
scendence of the quotidian sphere presents the dreamer with chal l engi ng
facets of the sel f, generally di storted and rendered i ncremental l y daunt
i ng by their precipitation in puzzl i ng or even overtly ini mical envi ron
ment s. In Beautiful Dreamer, the oneiri c exper i ence is exponent i al l y
i nt ensifed by the fact that -with the exception of the actual dreamer
the characters are by and large not aware that they are l i vi ng out a sub
consci ous vision, t hat they are indeed ful fl l ing t heir rol es as designated
dramatis personae within a narrative beyond their ken and control . To t his
extent , the fl m resembl es a carni val esque occasion in which the revel ers
are caught i nadvertently, without any chance of anti ci pating its occur
rence : a carnival , as i t were , beyond the recogni zed cal endar, l aw and ul ti
matel y reason.
The entire narrative traj ectory traced by Beautiful Dreamer eventual l y
turns out to be a dream bel ongi ng to Lum and granted by Muj aki, t he
Dream Eater, ! in order to hel p her l i ve happi l y ever after" in a perpetual
Neverland. The probl em with Muj aki is that he is ul timatel y driven not by
generosity but by spiteful anger, hi s reason for wishi ng to create an eternal
dreamworld being that he seeks revenge upon Baku, the Nightmare Eater
who i nvariably ends up swall owing Muj aki's devious fabrications. Hence,
even when t he dreams he dispenses are i nitially good, they inexorably dete
ri orate i nto exasperating nightmares. However, even thi s fnal realization
felicitously accompanied by the reassuring discovery that the characters can
return to real i ty with the aid of Baku -does not di ssipate total l y t he fl m' s
pervasive atmosphere of unresolved ambiguity. Thi s is because what gov
erns the cast of Beautiful Dreamer-and arguably the human speci es itsel f-
8-Urusei Yatsura Movie 2 63
is ul ti matel y neither the commonsense l ogi c of real i ty nor the carnivalesque
logic of fantasy but rather desi re, and desire knows no end.
On the purely vi sual l evel , t he movi e rei nforces i ts ubi qui tous sense
of ambi gui ty through the j uxtaposi tion of typi cal postapocal ypti c i mages
s uch as bl asted landscapes and pleasant summerti me activi ties . At the same
ti me, it mixes el ements characteri stic of noi r sci ence fction that woul d be
i nstantly recognizable for most Western spectators ( labyri nt hian streets,
abandoned l ots, forsaken vehi cl es and omni present shadows ) wi th speci
fcally Eastern moti fs, such as the aforementioned references to l egendary
creatures, and its al l usi on to the anci ent anecdote i n whi ch the Chi nese
phi losopher Chuang Tzu dreams he is a butterfy and wakes up wonderi ng
whether he mi ght i ndeed be a butterfy dreami ng i t were a man.
The openi ng of Beautiful Dreamer encapsulates t he enti re flm' s unre
solved ambi gui ty by means of a characteri sti cal ly Oshi i an montage that
dexterously j uxtaposes confi cti ng images: a fock of seagul l s typi cal of a
summery atmosphere, yet hoveri ng over a mound of barren soi l that evokes
a sense of envi ronmental depletion, and a partially submerged tank devoid
of any obvi ous function i n i ts context . An old clocktower -the same build
i ng whi ch one of Lum' s electric onslaughts had caused to nearly collapse i n
Only You-also features promi nentl y, symbolically anti cipating the axial
role to be played by concepts of ti me and history, as well as i mages of both
development and stagnation, throughout the flmic narrative to follow. The
ensui ng i mages focus on the preparations for t he Tomobiki annual High
School Festival . Beautiful Dreamer here indulges in i ts most overtl y play
ful fi rtation wi th the spi ri t of the carnival . Though emphatically i nstructed
not to wear costumes by the educational authorities, the pupi l s bl atantly di s
regard the rul es and several of them adopt a sci ence-fction cosplay moti f
with veritably carnivalesque zeal . Pupi l s dressed up as Godzilla ( Japan' s
prototypi cal giant monster from ci nema and hence an especi al l y ftti ng
cameo i n this context ) , Darth Vader and Ul traman can be qui te easi l y spot
ted.
Ataru' s mates are busy setti ng up a tea-house based - i n rather dubi
ous taste -on the theme of the fall of the Thi rd Rei ch, compl ete with a real
tank the weight of which occasions the edifce' s parti al demol i tion. An
atmosphere of potentially subversive randomness and disorder i s evidently
begi nni ng to i nsi nuate i tsel f i nto the diegetic fabri c . This i s i nt ensi fed to
preposterous extremes as, the next morni ng, the pupi l s begin to prepare the
festival due to commence the following day . . . and realize that they are l i v
i ng the same day through and through. A rampant sense of confusi on and
disorientation escalates as the pri ncipal characters attempt to return to thei r
homes only to di scover that these are nowhere to be found, and that the
town's whole space appears to have morphed i nto a di sconsolately gloomy
64 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
and perversely l i mi nal wasteland, eerily punctuated by the sporadic appear
ance of a little girl and a chi mi ng tindon-ya ( speci al - sal e band) .
One of the teachers, Onsen-Mark, does manage to reach hi s fat . When
Sakura visits hi m there, she fnds i t i nfested wi th mushrooms and covered
i n a thi ck layer of dust -which i ndicates that a substanti al period of ti me
has uncannily el apsed si nce thei r last visi ts to the apartment . However,
when they return to the school after discussi ng at some l ength the possibl e
causes for t he phenomenon they are wi tnessi ng, Onsen- Mark and Sakura
fnd that the preparations for the festival are still under way. The "tr uth"
becomes evident : whereas several years have passed in the world of the town
and its bui l di ngs, the school i s anchored to a perpetual yesterday. As the
movie overtl y i ndi cates, this idea i s i nspi red by the anci ent l egend of
Urashi ma Tarou, a fsherman who rides a giant tortoise to the Palace of the
Dragon and fnds hi s own village unaccountably altered upon his ret ur n.
The same tale i s echoed by a later sequence i n whi ch t he characters attempt
to fee the town aboard a pri vate aeroplane owned by Mendou and see that
Tomobi ki -cho has been severed from the Earth and i s dri fti ng i n space atop
a gi ant tortoise . Thi s turns out to be supported by mighty pi l l ars, four of
whi ch assume t he appearance of characters from the Urusei Yatsura world
that have vanished i n the course of the story: namely, Onsen- Mark, Cherry,
Shi nobu and Ryuunosuke .
The ti me loop now seems to have come to an end as the entire popu
lation of Tomobiki -cho has di sappeared and most edi fces have crumbl ed,
l eavi ng i nexplicably functional a conveni ence store that goes on suppl yi ng
ostensibly i nexhaustibl e amounts of food, whi l e the daily paper - li kewi se
unfathomabl y -cont i nues bei ng del i vered at the Moroboshi resi dence ,
wherei n gas, el ectri ci ty and water suppl i es also persevere unabated. Every
one deals with the new world i n thei r own fashi on: Sakura opens a beef
bowl j oi nt; Mendou dri ves the tank around al l day l ong; the woul d-be
speculative schol ar Megane wri tes lengthy perorati ons about the rebi rth of
humani ty; and the others j ust enjoy themsel ves rol l erskati ng, watchi ng
movi es, organi zi ng pi cni cs and freworks di splays and taki ng t ri ps to the
eni gmati c l ake that has surfaced from nowhere and i nto whi ch the school
gradually sinks.
Ci nematographically speaki ng, Beautiful Dreamer empl oys a number
of camera techni ques desti ned to domi nate l ater Oshi i producti ons. One
of these is the use of the camera to orchestrate the action accordi ng to the
fgure of the circl e. Most notably, thi s techni que comes i nto pl ay i n the the
matically pi votal dialogue i nvolving Sakura and Onsen- Mark regardi ng the
issue of temporal displacement . Here the camera surveys by turns the i nter
locutors' faces, traci ng a ci rcular visual path around the tabl e at whi ch they
are sitt i ng. The same scene also i ncludes a further di st i ncti vel y Oshi i an
8-Urusei Yatsura Movi e 2 65
operation: that is to say, the use of close-ups focusing on a character's face
especi al l y the eyes-a s t hi s looks di rectl y a t the camera, a s a means of
addressi ng t he audi ence and physically drawi ng them i nto the debate wi th
out , apparently, the regulatory i nterference of the di rector' s eye and hand.
The fgure of the labyri nth, menti oned earl i er, compl ements that of
t he ci rcl e, since both i mages poi nt t o patterns of moti on -and, by meta
phorical extensi on, thought -that preclude either a poi nt of ori gi n or a fnal
dest i nati on. The Tomobi ki High School and ul ti matel y the town in its
enti rety are confgured preci sel y as maze-l i ke spaces whose unsettl i ng
i mport i s persistently exacerbated by thei r i nfusion with a pl ethora of spec
ular i mages, spectral shadows, doubli ngs and prismatic refecti ons i n pools,
i n puddl es, i n shop wi ndows and -most bafi ngly -i n the mysteri ous
lake .
Beautiful Dreamer consti tutes, ami d the comedy and the anti cs, a
thoughtful commentary on the tension between escapism and responsibil
i ty, desire and reality, an atmosphere of freedom fuel ed by the exci tement of
carni valesque anarchy and a sense of sorrow i ntimati ng that any freedom is
ul ti mately illusory. Thus, whi l e the characters may i ndulge i n a fantasy of
self-emancipation from the nightmare of hi story, treasuri ng the proposition
that ti me is redeemable and that its i njuri es may be di savowed, thei r latent
anxieties and feel i ngs of frustration underscore the i nevitabi l i ty of loss and
the eventual necessity of comi ng to terms with its l egacy. I n psychoanalyti
cal parlance, the polarities thus posited by Beautiful Dreamer correspond to
the afecti ve modal i ti es of melancholia ( i . e . , the repudi ati on of l oss) and
mourning ( i . e . , the acceptance of loss and of its i nel uctabi l i ty) . The acti on
i ndulges i n mel anchol i a by somewhat refusi ng to acknowl edge the no
longeress of an ol d, famil i ar and cherished worl d, yet alludes to the ul ti mate
i nexorabi l i ty of mourni ng as an acceptance of change and di si l lusionment .
Jul ia Kri steva's vi ews on thi s subj ect are especially rel evant i nsofar as
she expl i citly associ ates melancholia with a person's i nabi l i ty to sever hi m
self or hersel f from t he preadult domai n. I f pushed to pathological extremes,
melancholia becomes an acute recognition of di si nheri tance unrel ieved by
any fai th in restoration or compensation. Growing up is always, to some
degree, unwelcome for i t is predicated upon l oss: t he l oss of i nnocence, of
t he freedom to i magi natively i nhabit t he most fantastical real ms, and al so
of the prerogative to savor the experi ence ofbei ng scared as a del i ght rather
than an ordeal . Neverthel ess, there i s a crucial diference between the sub
ject that accepts loss and t he one that disavows it . The subj ect t hat accom
pl i shes a successful entry i nto the grown- up real m i s enabl ed by a shared
language and by accepted rul es and norms to i denti fy what she or he has
lost and hence to mourn the l ost object . I n mel anchol i a, by contrast , one
pines over a lack t hat cannot be either expressed or symbol i zed.
66 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carival esque
In other words, the subj ect that comes to terms with the traumati c
real i ty of loss may at l east name ( symbolically) the obj ect of whi ch she or
he feel s depri ved and fnd it agai n i n signs ( transformed, translated, edited) .
Such a person is well aware that the obj ect of desi re has been i rretri evably
l ost but preci sely i nsofar as she or he is capabl e of suferi ng the loss, may
bri ng the obj ect back in images, representations and words. The melan
chol i c subj ect, conversely, feels bereft without quite knowing what of. Thus,
whi l e mourni ng could be seen as an attempt to resusci tate the l ost obj ect
i n symbol i c form, mel anchol i a ul ti matel y defnes the predi cament engen
dered by a sense of defci ency that cannot be named: the subj ect l abors
under the si gn of a l ack with no adequate comprehensi on of what has been
l ost or how to grieve i t ( Kristeva) .
The characters depi cted i n Beautiful Dreamer have not actual l y
descended i nto an undi l utedly somber state of mel anchol i a but actually
manage to hol d on to a relatively ludic and vestigially carnival esque mood.
Yet , thei r anxi eti es, uncertai nti es and fears repeatedly come across as not
merel y real but gri evously so. This is largely attributable to Oshi i 's i ncl i na
tion to consistently foreground a ubiquitous sense of i solation and i mpend
i ng darkness-a psychological climate rendered all the more poi gnant by
the dramatization of l onel i ness, disconnection and emotional atomization
in the very midst of an ostensibly closely kni t community. Through thi s
ploy, the fl m ironically exposes its cast' s ulti mate sol i tude as a bl eak upshot
of fri endshi p and gregariousness, not its adversari al counterpar t .
Beautiful Dreamer is most defnitely t he frst fl m through whi ch Oshi i
started asserti ng hi s uni que approach t o ani mati on, dramati zi ng the l ogi c
of the carni val through an emphasis on its psychologically di slocati ng el e
ments rather than on its playful ness. Accordi ngly, i n Beautiful Dreamer
Oshi i appropri ates the characters originally brought to l i fe by Takahashi' s
penci l and deploys them as ci nematic puppets capabl e of arti cul ati ng hi s
most i nveterate preoccupation: t he unerasabl e nebul ousness of the bound
ary separati ng the empirical from the i magi ned. Though reasonabl y wel l
recei ved at the ti me of its theatrical release, Beautiful Dreamer was not ade
quately noticed by critics unti l the following year, upon the appearance of
Angel 's Egg-an Original Video Ani mation that could i ndeed be regarded
as the New Age version of the second Urusei Yatsura feature . This consti
tutes i n itsel f tel l i ng corroboration for Beautiful Dreamer's standi ng as an
emi nently surrealist experi ment and, relatedly, a bafi ng visual experi ence
for many viewers accustomed to regardi ng ani mation as the di spenser of
relatively unprobl emati c messages. Cumulatively, the movie met wi th con
troversial -and often quite acri monious-responses, and i n thei r wake ,
the director decided to abandon the world of Urusei Yatsura and to develop
fresh territories.
8-Urusei Yatsura Movi e 2 67
As noted earl i er, Beautiful Dreamer's legacy can be palpably fel t i n Lum
the Forever, the fourth Urusei Yatsura feature, and it is for thi s reason that
even though Oshi i di d not direct thi s fl m, the work i s here exami ned in
some detail i n the next segment of this study.
9
Urusei Yatsura Movie
4: Lum the Forever
When Oshii l eft the show, Kazuo Yamazaki took over and endeavored
to restore Urusei Yatsura's fundamentall y comedic nature, thus rectifyi ng
Oshi i 's tendency to probl ematize the narrative by del vi ng deep i nto the
areas of existenti al speculation and social commentary. The l ast TV epi sode
was aired on 19 March 1 986. To mark the end of the show, Yamazaki co
wrote ( with Toshiki Inoue) and di rected the fourth Urusei Yatsura movi e,
namely Lum the Forever, an artistically ambi ti ous production domi nated
throughout by an atmosphere of i ntensely melancholy lyri ci sm that pl ays
eni gmati cal l y wi th the tangl ed language of dreams. I n dramati zi ng the
onei ri c di mension, Yamazaki's movie articulates all of the key i ngredi ents
whi ch Steve Johnson evocatively itemizes as characteri sti c facets of the ci n
emati c representation of onei ri c displacement . Accordi ng to the cri ti c , i t i s
qui te customary for such depictions to orchestrate the surfaci ng of "buri ed
psychological issues" and to have these erupti ons
heralded by a war, party, pageant ... or in the form of subterranean or ambigu
ous creatures-"things that won't stay dead"; half-human "missing links"; muta
tions; or masculine-women/feminine men -to demonstrate their "borderline, "
unresolved nature, often revealed in fashbacks. As in dreams, where other peo
ple tend to stand in for people we already know ... characters frequently become
doubled, not-themselves ... and must be eliminated, or reconciled with -rein-
corporated into the self .... When this begins happening to an absurd degree, the
mind has totally regressed into itself and begun cannibalizing its own contents
[ Johnson] .
The carni valesque disruption of the fami l i ar Urusei Yatsura world pro
posed by Lum the Forever is i ndeed ushered i n by a l avish hanami ( bl ossom
viewing part y) , held on Mendou's estate to honor the about-to-be-felled
giganti c tree Tarouzakura, and, shortly after, by the visionary evocation of
an anci ent pageant replete wi th mythical allusions. The fl m's cl i max and
denouement, on the other hand, feature promi nently a cataclysmi c confi ct ,
paradoxically i ntended to restore a semblance of order by forci ng the town's
68
9-Urusei Yatsura Movie 4 69
i nhabitants to take on cl ear roles and responsi bi l i ti es-though at the cost
of further and no l ess tumultuous devastation -rather than torpidly acqui
esce to the i ncreasi ngly numbi ng sense of anomi e t hat closes i n upon t hem
from al l si des, threateni ng to engul f t hem altogether. When, i n t he wake of
her i ncremental margi nalization from Tomobi ki -cho' s daily real i ty, Lum
fees human company and takes refuge i n the town' s forgotten depths, she
encounters an underground, foetus-l ike enti ty (symbolic of the town's con
sciousness) . Thi s creature i s visually cruci al to her confrontation of sub
merged psychol ogi cal di l emmas-pri mari l y (and echoi ng Beautiful
Dreamer), the mystery of how to negotiate the unsavory i mperative to grow
up -and hence to her emotional reawakeni ng.
Ambi guous, metamorphi c and l i mi nal beings al so pl ay an i mportant
rol e, notabl y i n the gui se of i nfanti l e versions of Lum hersel f and of her
fri ends, whi ch serve as doppelgangers for the present-day characters whi l e
agai n throwi ng i nto relief the theme of devel opment as a physi cal , no l ess
than afecti ve , phenomenon of potentially crushi ng magni tude . By agree
i ng to pl ay wi th those uncanny doubles, Lum metaphorically i ncorporates
the i nel uctabi l i ty of change which thei r appearance pathetically evokes. The
al ternati ve , i t seems, woul d amount to Lum' s eventual and i rrevocabl e
i nabi l i ty to re-enter the web of i ntersubj ecti ve relations and obligati ons for
whi ch Tomobi ki -cho stands and from which she has al ready been symbol
i cal ly ostraci zed.
At the same t i me, al l the central characters' rol es are i rreverentl y
i nverted and thei r powers redi stri buted, as the usual l y strong Lum i s
emphati cal l y weakened and the generally hel pl ess Ataru endowed wi th
unexpected resourceful ness. Lum's di sempowerment arguably consti tutes
the fl m' s most vi tal and yet most puzzl i ng di mensi on. As the pl ot frst
dreami ly and then ni ghtmari shly unfolds, i mages of Lum i ncremental l y
vani sh from the real i ty of Tomobi ki -cho. Instances of the al i en pri ncess's
gradual evaporation i nclude Ataru's i nterference wi th Megane' s attempt to
fl m a shot of the Oni beauty ami d dri fti ng cherry bl ossom and playful
bi rds (as part of t he i ndependent movie fl med by the hi gh- school pupi l s);
Ataru' s sabotaging of the sequence meant to feature Lum i n the part of a
mythol ogi cal fgure, as he i nadvertentl y di smantl es the set; and Lum' s
di sappearance from Mendou's photo album. Furthermore, Lum' s preternat
ural powers and attri butes- speci fcal ly, the knack of generati ng hi gh
vol tage el ectri ci ty, the abi l i t y to fy and the possessi on of horns-al so
dwindle and eventually vani sh one by one . The Oni pri ncess hersel f is aware
that her very consciousness appears to be decl i ni ng, and whenever she comes
anywhere near to establ i shi ng why thi s could concei vably be the case , the
town hi nders her by recourse to prodigious occurrences: for i nstance, the
appearance of an un seasonal swarm of i nsects, a massive upheaval i n
70 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
Tomobi ki -cho' s foundations, and the emergence of halluci natory vi sions
of an alternate town. At ti mes, Lum seems t o have actually become i nvi si
bl e t o her very fri ends, as seethi ng crowds of unrecogni zi ng faces threaten
to swallow her bei ng.
Thus, the acti on i ncreasi ngly assumes the shape of a confi ct between
the town and Lum that may wel l result i n the l atter' s ul ti mate defeat . On
the allegorical level , the conflict i n question coul d be i nterpreted as a con
frontation between the human and the demoni c, self and other, or subur
ban common sense and t he i rrational . It is i ntri gui ng, i n thi s respect , t hat
t he soci al body supposedly standi ng for the ordi nary, the normal and the
everyday shoul d resort to ofensive phenomena that are no l ess prepost er
ous than any of ani' s most outlandish facul ti es. Equally tantal i zi ng i s the
fact that Lum retai ns a modicum of power i n the face of the town' s pro
gressively vicious onslaughts, i nsofar as her i mage spectrally returns at sev
eral j unctures i n the narrative to di srupt the scenes of a l i fe wi thout her.
For exampl e, i n the sequence dramatizing Mendou's and Shi nobu' s dat e,
Mendou i s suddenly di stracted by an unsettl i ng memory of Lum. The al i en
pri ncess also features i n t he dream wherei n Mendou' s honeymoon pl ans
i nvolvi ng a vast horde of gorgeous wives-are undermi ned by a naggi ng
vi sion of Lum. Faithful to the tone of unresolved ambi gui ty set two years
earlier by Oshii' s Beautiful Dreamer, Lum the Forever si mply refuses to com
mi t itsel f conclusively to any defnitive i nterpretations. In fact, harking back
to Oshi i 's earlier i nterventions i n the Urusei Yatsura universe , Yamazaki
gives us a pal i mpsest of cryptic vi suals and plot twists, del i berately j um
bl ed concepts and characters that appear t o have no more control over thei r
worl d than any audi ence ever mi ght . The metaphors themselves are i nten
tionally wielded i n enigmatic terms and at an unpredictable pace, and there
fore i nvi te i magi native decoding at each turn.
Lum the Forever concurrently revisits the el usive psychol ogi cal terri
tori es explored by Oshi i i n Beautiful Dreamer through its treatment of the
themes of ti me and memory. The character of Shi nobu voi ces the fl m' s piv
otal preoccupations, i n thi s respect, duri ng the hanami, as she sadly won
ders whether l i fe may ul ti mately amount t o just a trai l of memori es. I f thi s
is i ndeed the case, she goes on to refect , it is arduous to ascertai n what con
sti tutes human bei ngs whi l e their actions rel entl essly morph i nto the stuf
of remi ni scences. Moreover, the fl m proposes that shoul d memories be
given free rei n, they woul d i nexorably deteri orate i nto awful dreams and
cease t o fulfll thei r fnction as recorders of t he passage of t i me, t hus becom
i ng an unbearabl e, stultifyi ng burden. The Shi nto pri estess Sakura' s l ast
words-"dreams that the town has" -all ude to the possibi l i ty that al l the
di srupti ons wi tnessed i n the course of the fl m may have stemmed from a
corruption or bl ockage in the proper flow of memori es whi ch consti tute
9-Ursei Yatsura Movie 4 7 1
the fabri c o f the Tomobi ki -cho community -and thus, by i mpli cati on, the
town itsel f-whereby what people remember no longer refers to l i ved expe
ri ences but rather to visi onary proj ecti ons of their anxi eti es and fears.
Where the pri ncipal characters are concerned, those probl ematic emoti ons
woul d seem to emanate pri mari l y -as hi nted at earl i er -from the i mper
ati ve to transcend the relatively carefree real m of chi l dhood i n the name of
adult responsibilities and duties. Like carnival participants, they may i ndulge
for a while i n uni nhibited l i vi ng, but the transition to a soci etally di sci pl i ned
exi stence i s a desti ny they cannot dodge or ecl i pse .
A possi bl e reason for couching this drama i n the particular terms of a
confl i ct between the town and Lum, rather than the teenage population at
large, l i es with her standi ng -a reputation emplaced by Beautiful Dreamer
as the very champion of the quest for an eternally preadul t, ful l -ti me car
nival ized present . At one poi nt , Lum j oyl essly remarks that she and her
mates are "seventeen al ready" and that she is no longer abl e to understand
the bi rds as cl early as she could when she was l i ttl e. Megane and Mendou
are si milarly anxi ous about the passi ng of ti me, and thei r apprehension
specifcally mani fests itsel f as an obsession with the capturi ng and preser
vation of i mages of Lum -although, as noted, they are repeatedl y frus
trated i n the attempt . References to the i neluctabi l i ty of change abound
throughout the fl m, poignantly echoed by gri m comments on the erosion
of tradi tion, and strike thei r most afcting chords in Mendou's recogni
ti on that the gi ant cherry tree is rotting and "won't survive the next wi n
ter. "
A further afni ty between Beautiful Dreamer and Lum the Forever l i es
wi th thei r shared emphasis on the i nextricability of productive and destruc
tive energies. In the earl i er fl m, this i s attested to by the proposi ti on that
even the most pl easant of the dreams granted by the demon Muj aki
i nel uctably degenerates i nt o a di sagreeable nightmare . I n Yamazaki 's pro
duction, the same i dea i s communicated by i nti mations that even acts meant
to el evate a creature may unleash utter chaos. For exampl e, the giant cherry
tree must be fel l ed due to an i ncurable i l l ness, yet it i s agreed that its roots
should be saved, for they symbolize not only Mendou's dynasty but also the
town as a whol e . Indeed, it i s suggested that Tarouzakura's roots mi rror
Tomobi ki -cho's memori es. Saving the roots to graft a new tree consti tutes
the creati ve i ntent, yet thi s is brutally shattered by the anci ent tree's cata
strophi c disintegration i nto foam after Ataru has attacked i t with a sal ted
axe i n keepi ng wi th the requi rements of an ol d ri tual . What shoul d have
been a cl eansi ng and regenerative act turns out to be an outburst of sheer
destructiveness.
Pursui ng the aforementioned symbol i sm, moreover, the acti on pro
poses that the destruction of the tree entai l s a debase men t of the town i tself:
72 Part Two: Oshi i and the Carivalesque
as the roots are sunken in a lake "l ike plankton dri ft i ng to the bottom of
t he ocean, " so are t he town's memories. However, what we are present ed
wi t h is no stark bi nary opposition between productivity and destructive
ness, since the collapse of the little that is l eft of the tree' s roots to the bot
tom of the eeri e basi n i s not an unequi vocal death i nsofar as i t i s i n thi s
secluded location that the confict between Lum and Tomobi ki -cho is even
tual l y negotiated and a return to some ki nd of normal i ty made possibl e.
The narrative curve here proposed mi rrors t he carni val' s functi on as a t em
porary subversion of order from which a group may resurface i n posses
sion of novel strength. Di sruption, in this perspective, i s deemed to hol d
emi nently regenerative powers.
Impregnated through and through with a keen sense of the absurd and
the grotesque, with delirious visions and apocalyptic upsets, both Beauti
ful Dreamer and Lum the Forever potently attest to the qui ntessentially car
ni val esque mood of the Urusei Yatsura uni verse as a possibly unmatched
bl end of the ludic and the macabre, bufoonery and refecti veness. Oshii' s
own opus at its most di sti ncti ve bears the tantal i zi ng marks of this unhol y,
yet i mmensely frui tful , conceptual uni on. The two fl ms' di egeti c traj ecto
ri es are, accordingly, el usively si nuous-whenever a fantasti c occurrence
unfolds, hi nts at a rati onal explanation thereof are suppl ied but onl y to be
superseded, i n j ust a matter of mi nutes if not seconds, by a further deluge
of arcane complications. Hence, concl usive i nterpretations are unattai nabl e :
the movies ul ti mately remain as i ntractably unresolved as the equi vocal
liaison between Lum and her "Darling" Ataru.
Plunging the characters-and, by extension, the audience -i nto bewil
deri ng spatial and temporal coordi nates, Oshi i 's contri buti ons to the gen
eration of t he Urusei Yatsura world (both explicit and tangential ) force us
t o ponder t he concurrently l iberating and bi ndi ng nature of t he carni val as
a temporary rel ease which, i ronically, requi res a criti cal assumpti on of
responsibi l i ty even as it appears t o exonerate t he revel er from any conven
tional notions of duty or commitment . Indeed, even at thei r most famboy
ant, the situations portrayed in both Beautiful Dreamer and Lum the Forever
never allow thei r characters to shelve totally a whole range of interpersonal
obligations among which the inj unction to enter a dour adul t world reigns
supreme.
+ + +
Beside Lum the Forever, the post-Oshii features include Urusei Yatsura
Movie 3: Remember My Love ( dir. Kazuo Yamazaki , 198 5 ) , where Ataru is
metamorphosed into a pink hippopotamus and Lum pursues the magi ci an
9-Urusei Yatsura Movie 4 73
responsibl e for the transformation wi th catastrophi c consequences; Urusei
Yatsura Movie 5: The Final Chapter (dir. Satoshi Dezaki , 1988 ) , where Ataru
and Lum must play once more the game of tag to prevent the Earth' s anni
hi l ati on; and Urusei Yatsura Movie 6: Always My Darling (di r. Katsu
hi sa Yamada, 1991 ) , i n whi ch Ataru i s ki dnapped by t he al i en pr i ncess
Lupi ka and Lum must come to the rescue.
Urusei Yatsura consti tutes one of t he earliest and most sensationally
proftable forays i nto the rel entl essly expandi ng terri tory of anci l l ary mer
chandise . The plethora of ti e-i ns and spi n-ofs whi ch both the TV seri es
and feature-l ength producti ons proved capable of spawni ng i ndeed repre
sent an i mportant chapter i n the hi story of ani me at large i n exhausti vely
documenti ng the medi um' s openness to the cul tural phenomenon which
Jay David Bol ter and Ri chard Grusi n have desi gnated as "remedi ati on"
(Bolter and Grusi n) . The veritable explosion i n the design, manufacture and
marketi ng of peri pheral goods i naugurated by Urusei Yatsura pivots on the
adventurous translation of an existi ng medi um -namely ani me - i nto an
ever-prol i ferati ng cl uster of satellites. These may consi st of toys, garments,
or stati onery sets- alongside legion other options. What is paramount is
the fact that by payi ng homage to and refashioni ng an establ i shed medi um,
such products achi eve a di sti nct cul tural signifcance and hence attai n the
status of new vi sual medi a i n thei r own ri ght .
Whi l e t he val ue of a T-shi rt, doll or cal endar i nspi red by a cheri shed
visual precedent may i nitially result excl usively from i ts association wi th a
worthy antecedent , thei r i ncreasi ng ci rcul ati on as wi dely vendi bl e and
exchangeable icons by and by i nvests t hem wi t h autonomous signi fyi ng
powers. Thus, they participate i n a process of "remediation, " i n much the
same way as photography once "remediated" pai nti ng, fl m "remediated"
stage production, and tel evision "remedi ated" radi o and vaudevi l l e . '
Ul ti mately, the world of Urusei Yatsura-and especi ally Oshi i 's con
tributi ons to i ts bui l di ng -yields a tantalizing fusion of sci ence fcti on and
el ements of Japanese mythology and l ore that bears wi tness to the di sti nc
ti ve character of traditional Japanese fantasy as a realm already i mbued wi th
that taste for the aberrant that i s characteri sti c of much contemporary sci
ence fction. The ani mations contain farce, melodrama and fai rly barmy
eroti c exploits, yet also evi nce seri ous preoccupati ons. One such concern
pertai ns to cul tural and raci al Otherness. Thi s i s dramati zed through the
use of characters that varyi ngly come across as i rrecuperably al i en, as soci
etally i ntegrated fxtures of a semi - realisti c and seemi ngly stabl e Japanese
environment , and as i roni cal commentari es on the actual precari ousness
and partial di sreal i ty thereof.
Furthermore, whi l e both the seri es and the features employ characters
that may, at frst sight, appear stereotypical due to their deri vati on from
74 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
convent ional narrative morphologies ( i ncl udi ng the categori es of the hero,
the anti hero, the vi l l ai n, the helper, the questor, the obj ect of the quest ) ,
these dramati s personae also consti tute a means of engagi ng i n mature
refections upon real attitudes towards concepts of aut hori ty, hi erarchy and
l egi ti macy, as well as towards gender roles and relati ons, that ofer valuabl e
i nsights both i nto traditional Japanese bel i efs and i nto the country' s expe
ri ence of Westernization and global ization.
10
Angel
'
s Egg
Angel 's Egg is characteri zed by an onei ri cal l y si ni ster atmosphere,
strongly redol ent of Surreal i st pai nti ng and parti cularly of t he works of
Giorgio de Chi rico and Salvador Dal i . The OVA's eeri e qual i ti es are per
si stently enhanced by the presence of l i qui d efects, usi ng refecti on and
refraction as potently distorting tool s . As Richard Suchenski observes i n hi s
survey of Oshi i' s career published i n Senses of Cinema, Angel 's Egg consti
tutes a "steadfastly uncommercial personal proj ect that coul d only have
been made at the height of the Bubble economy" and "remai ns obscure
even i n Japan" although "there are many critics and fans of Oshi i who would
call i t his masterpi ece . " Furthermore, "Patlabor 2 i s more sophi sticated,
Ghost in the Shell i s more i mportant , and Avalon i s more mythi cally com
pl ex, but the low-tech, hand-drawn Angel's Egg remai ns Oshi i ' s most per
sonal flm" ( Suchenski ) .
A 71 - mi nute pi ece contai ni ng mi ni mal di al ogue and hence relyi ng
al most excl usively on vi sual i mages to develop its crypti c narrative, Angel 's
Egg eludes defni tive explanations : Oshi i hi msel f has professed not to know
what the fl m i s fnal l y about . The vi ewer i s therefore encouraged to draw
hi s or her own concl usi ons and, havi ng done so, to be prepared to revi si t,
reconsi der and very possibly subvert thei r i mport . Focusi ng on al l usive
understatements rather than revelatory epi phani es, and on symbol i c pres
entation rather than action, the OVA persi stentl y i nvi tes specul ati on by
si mul taneous recourse to an el l iptical concatenation of j arri ng i mpressi ons
and to a maj estically moody i ntegration of graphi c, chromati c and aural
efects . The pl ot i tsel f may only be tentatively i nferred on the basi s of the
responses el i ci ted by the depictions . On the surface, the sol e ascertai nabl e
factor would seem to be that the action centers on a young gi rl ( the ti tul ar
"Angel " ) i n possession of a gigantic egg and a wanderi ng warrior, roami ng
through a postapocal ypti c ci ty of hal l uci natory i l l usi ons, transcendental
magic and achi ngly depressi ng beauty. Indeed, the ani mation' s bl eak mood
i s magni fed rather than rel i eved by its i nterpenetration wi th an el ement of
ethereal grace, i nsofar as t he latter serves to throw the former i nto sharper
relief by i roni c contrast .
75
76 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
I n the openi ng sequence, a young soldier is seen standing in a para
di gmatically dreaml i ke environment, as a giant orb flled with myriad stone
statues descends from the sky and then lands, tri ggeri ng of si rens . Awak
ened by the noise, a little gi rl cl i mbs to the top of a massive staircase, leav
i ng behi nd a large egg. She looks at the city in the di stance, returns
downstairs, pi cks up the egg and sets out on a j ourney. After traversi ng a
desolate land and a gloomy forest , she eventually comes to a pond, where
she flls a fask, observes the world through the fuid, and then dri nks from
i t. A feather foats on the surface of the pond, and the gi rl has a visi on of
hersel f and her egg si nki ng t o i t s bottom. She next reaches a derel i ct ci ty of
approxi mately European styl e, and contemplates pensively i t s decayi ng bal
coni es and staircases. Countl ess tanks suddenl y materialize ostensibly out
of nowhere and the young soldier seen at the begi nni ng cl i mbs out of one
of them. The two characters fnd themselves faci ng each other for the frst
time, at which poi nt the gi rl runs away and takes refuge i n a narrow all ey
way. She then vi si ts a forsaken room, picks up another fask, empti es it of
its red contents and refl l s it at a monumental fountai n -havi ng once more
l eft the egg behi nd.
As she perceives omi nous fgures sitting by the fountai n and hears a
clock chi mi ng fourteen ti mes, the chi l d fearfully drops the fask and runs
away once more . Havi ng sheltered i n the sunken remai ns of a formerly
grand edi fce, she sees the soldier agai n. Referri ng to the egg, he tells her
that she should look after precious thi ngs more carefully but also states that
in order to know what the obj ect truly means, i t should be opened. Unsur
pri si ngly, the gi rl i nstantly fees the man's company. However, he tenaci ously
goes on followi ng her. As the two characters move t hrough the ci ty, fsher
men equi pped with spears spill out onto the melancholy streets and the gi rl
comments that the men sti l l pursue thei r i ntended prey even though there
are no fsh l eft . Shadowy i mages of col ossal fsh take form on the si des of
the ci ty' s abandoned bui l di ngs whi l e the hunters fool i shly sl i ng thei r har
poons at them. The girl then takes the warri or i nto a mansion that houses
the fossi l ized remnants of anci ent creatures.
A pi cture of a tree on a wall remi nds the young man of another tree
he once saw, contai ni ng a dreami ng bi rd i n possession of a gi ant egg. Rows
of fasks si milar to the ones previously shown can be seen l i ned along a
wall . The sol di er asks the girl how long she has been l i vi ng i n the bui l di ng
but she has no idea what the answer mi ght be . He admits that he does not
know who he i s or where he comes from ei ther and then proceeds to recount
the Biblical tal e of Noah and t he Ark wi th an altered endi ng, i n whi ch the
survivors of the Fl ood go on drifti ng purposelessly for eternity, and grad
ually forget thei r previ ous exi stence al together. He reckons - an axi al
moment i n the story -that perhaps everybody belongs to somebody el se' s
lO-Angel's Egg 77
dream, that nothi ng genui nely exists as a tangibly i ndependent enti ty and
that even the dreami ng bi rd he so vi vi dl y recal l s may never have actually
obtai ned. The l i ttl e gi rl, however, adamantly declares that the bi rd in ques
ti on does exi st, and l eads the warrior to another part of the bui l di ng, where
the fossi l i zed skeleton of a mammoth bird i s i ndeed located. Comi ng cl oser
than anyhere el se i n the flm to di scl osi ng her personal reasons for treas
uri ng the mysteri ous egg, she then states that she i ntends to hatch a new
bird -presumably aki n to the anci ent one -from her preci ous possessi on.
The two characters proceed to si t by a fre on the foor of the chi ld' s
chamber. The warri or asks i f any noi se can be heard i nsi de the egg and the
girl smi l es warml y, sayi ng that she can hear breathi ng sounds. The young
man somewhat cyni cally opi nes that what she hears i s probably her own
breathi ng. She staunchl y defends her theory regardi ng the presence of l ife
i nsi de the egg by cl ai mi ng that she can also hear the noi se of futteri ng
wi ngs, yet the sol di er di smi sses her percepti ons once more, argui ng that
what she i s hearing i s merely the wi nd blowing outsi de . Heavy rain beats
rel entl essly the desolate ci ty as the gi rl fal l s asl eep and her companion lays
her on the bed. She suddenly wakes up and asks him who he is: he repl i es
by merely returni ng the same questi on to her. The gi rl fal l s asl eep agai n
cl utchi ng t he egg and t he sol di er si t s i n si l ence, gazi ng at t he smol deri ng
fre . He then takes the egg from the sl umberi ng chi l d and uses hi s cross
shaped weapon to smash i t.
Reverberati ng wi th memori es of the aforementi oned Noah tal e, the
sequence that fol l ows shows ri si ng waters threateni ng to food the ci ty, as
the crazed fshermen wai t for thei r shadow prey to reappear. When the girl
wakes up, she di scovers that both the egg and the warrior have gone . She
fnds a fragment of the cracked shel l and i s hence forced to consi der - i n
what coul d be regarded a s the flm's most i nconsolably sad, and yet most
reveal i ng, moment -that there i s no cl ear proof that her cheri shed posses
si on ever contai ned anythi ng. Fi nally, the chi l d l eaves her refuge, sees the
soldier in the di stance and starts chasing hi m. I n a sequence that vividly
echoes the oneiric vi sion presented earl i er in the narrative, we next see her
precipitate i nto a water-flled crevice and sluggishly si nk to i ts dusky depths.
I n the cl osi ng scene, the sol di er stands on the beach i n a del uge of feathers
as the orb i nt roduced in the opening segment of the OVA rises from the
sea. One of i ts statues now exhi bi ts the countenance of the l i ttl e gi rl, cl asp
i ng her egg : the young man i mpassi vel y watches i t ascend. The fnal
sequence of the OVA consi sts of a protracted reverse zoom that vi vi dl y
recal l s the cl osi ng frames of Andrei Tarkovsky' s Solaris (1972) i n i ts grad
ual revelation that the island upon which the acti on turns out to have taken
place i s a puny and lonely dot i n the mi dst of an overwhel mi ngly empty
ocean.
78 Part Two: Oshii and the Carivalesque
The ani mation style used by Oshi i i n Angel's Egg is very di sti ncti ve
and, though margi nal l y dated, capabl e nonethel ess of yi el di ng exqui si te
el egance. Thi s i mpression, bolstered by the haunti ng tonal tapestry of Yoshi
hi ro Kanno's soundtrack, emanates t o a signifcant degree from t he use of
harmoni c osci l l ation i n the manipulation of frames, achi eved through a
studious rendition of ri ppling and waving patterns of motion. On the whole,
the combination of vi sual and acoustic efects, si mul taneousl y remi ni scent
of productions as di verse as Ingmar Bergman' s The Seventh Seal ( 1957) ,
Terry Gi l liam' s Brazil ( 1 985) and Stanley Kubri ck's 2001: A Space Odyssey
( 1968 ) , aptly magnifes the ani mation' s deeply eni gmati c character.
The visual identity of Angel's Egg i s defned throughout by Yoshi taka
Amano's disti nctive aesthetics, and particularly his unmi stakabl e fusi on of
the lyrically mel l ow and the dramatically uncanny, gentl eness and menace.
Among the most sal i ent traits of Amano's work to be also found i n Angel's
Egg are the j uxtaposition of mi nimalistic forms whereby priority is accorded
to si mpl ifed and even stark l i nes-i n the rendi ti on of setti ngs and in the
evocation of movement -and i ntricately detai l ed frames in whi ch the eye
i s sucked into a kal ei doscopi c prol i feration of archi tectural and ornamen
t al mi nuti ae worthy of t he most exuberantly adorned Got hi c cathedral.
Amano' s passion for detail al so extends to character design, the femal e pro
tagoni st' s pictorial di sti nctiveness emanating from the unobtrusive i ncl u
si on of a solitary brai d among a mane of unrul y l ocks, ti ny j ewelry, and
meti culously executed fabri cs and patterns, no l ess than from her overal l
mi en as a bl end of the wai f and the fai ry tale pri ncess, the unfathomabl e
i mp and the i nnocent angel . The depi cti on of the setti ng al so features
Escheresquely di sori enti ng perspectives wherei n seemi ngly endl ess stai r
cases, shadowy archways, steep wal l s and cobbl ed al l eys mock the eye i nto
the vai n pursui t of an unreachabl e sensory desti nation.
Thi s techni que reaches its crowni ng achi evement i n the representation
of the goliath eye seen i n the opening and cl osi ng sequences, as an appar
entl y mi ni mali sti c icon of power when apprehended from a di stance, and
a di zzyi ngly i ntricate assortment of stone sculptures as the camera gradu
ally picks up the mi nuti ae of i ts textural confguration. I n the representa
ti on of the story' s envi ronment, the storyboards al so capital i ze on graphi c
contrasts between shapes that tend to uti l i ze severel y strai ght l i nes : a
chessboard- like expanse of wasteland, the town's regularly hewn fagstones,
the tanks, the spears, and soft forms: the flasks, the protagoni st' s fowi ng
garments, the conch-l ike stairwells, recurri ng bubbles, droplets and r ippl es,
candyfoss clouds and - of course -the eponymous egg.
The characters of the l i ttle girl and of the warrior are perfectly at home
i n Amano's populous gallery of i maginary soldiers, elves, mai dens, awesome
dei ti es, al i ens and vampi res. I n Angel 's Egg-as i n many other proj ects
lO-Angel's Egg 79
through whi ch the arti st has asserted hi s uni que signature -Amano is able
to engi neer mesmeri zi ng encounters of Cel ti c and Eastern mythologi es,
and concurrently bri ng to l i fe a uniquely atmospheri c envi ronment . The
OVA prioritizes noctural setti ngs, chiaroscuro efects, stagnant water, light
rays fl teri ng through stained-glass panes, i ndi sti nct and amorphous fgures,
hazy outl i nes, alternately Baroque and Gothic ornamentati on, and the taste
of anti qui ty mi ngled with anti cipations of a latently cyberpunk-i sh future .
The Chri sti an i magery uti l i zed throughout Angel's Egg has i nvi ted
much speculation, and the symbol i c moti fs of the gigantic shadow fsh,l the
Tree of Li fe, the dove , the cathedral' s stai ned-gl ass wi ndows, the cross
shaped weapon carri ed by the character of the warri or and the references
to Noah's Ark and to the Flood, i n parti cul ar, have been read by di verse
cri ti cs and commentators as l aden wi th multi-accentual connotations. Thus,
the OVA has been i nterpreted as a parabl e about the corruption of i nno
cence ( personifed by the "Angel ") by organized rel i gi on and overzeal ous
dogmatism; as a deconstruction of both Old Testament and New Testament
narrati ves accordi ng to which the Fl ood results not i n redempti on and a
fresh begi nni ng but i n a di spi ri ti ng scenari o of utter hopel essness ( epi to
mized by the peopl e wai ti ng i n vain for the dove's return) , and the Chri st
fgure is l ikewise associated not with salvation but with eternal damnation;
a stylized account of Oshi i ' s own l oss of faith. The relevant extract from
the OVA's mi ni mal i st scri pt -namely, the onl y protracted monol ogue i n
t he enti re pi ece - i s worth quoti ng ext ensively, i n t hi s context, as an
embl emati c i l l ustration of Oshi i' s take on Bi bl i cal mythol ogy as a whole:
WARRIOR: too have forgotten where I 'm from . . . . Maybe 1 didn't know from the
beginning where 1 am going . . . [starts quoting) "I will blot out man whom 1 have
created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds
of the air, for 1 am sorry that 1 have made them. 1 will send rain upon the earth
forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that 1 have made 1 will blot
out from the face of the ground. And after seven days the waters of the food
came upon the earth. On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth,
and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty
days and forty nights. The ark foated on the face of the waters, and all fesh died
that moved upon the earth. Birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that
swarm upon the earth, and every man. Only Noah was left, and those that were
with him in the Ark. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters
had subsided from the face of the ground. Then he waited another seven days . . .
and she did not return to him any more. "
Where did the bird land? Or maybe it weakened and was swallowed by the
waters, no one could know. So the people waited for her return, and waited and
grew tired of waiting. They forgot they had released the bird, even forgot there
was a bird and a world sunken under water. They forgot where they had come
from, how long they had been there, and where they were going so long ago that
the animals have turned to stone. The bird I saw, I can't even remember where
or when, it was so long ago. Perhaps it was a dream. Maybe you and I and the
80 Part Two: Oshii and the Carivalesque
fsh exist only in the memory of a person who is gone. Maybe no one really exists
and it is only raining outside. Maybe the bird never existed at all [Angel's Egg
Script].
The rel i gi ous symbol i sm is consi stentl y communi cated by means not only
of obj ects but al so of postures and gestures. Thi s i s evi dent i n the stat
uesque poses, redol ent of traditional Christian scul pture, adopted by the
protagonists at several j unctures i n the story, in the seemi ngl y ri tual i sti c
breaki ng of the egg, and i n the gi rl ' s quasi -bapti smal , catharti c i mmersi on
i nto water at two pivotal poi nts i n the fl m.
I n assessi ng the rel igious symbol i sm that courses through Angel's Egg,
i t shoul d be noted that i n the Chri stian tradition, the i mage of the egg i s
regarded as a symbol of renewal -hence, its ritual rol e at Easter. I n thi s
tradition, breaki ng the egg i s a symbolically cruci al act i nsofar as i t i s the
very fracture of the protective shel l that enabl es the rel ease of the puri fy
i ng and regenerati ng energi es the symbol supposedly hol ds . Thus, whi l e
the destruction of the egg i n Oshi i' s OVA may consti tute a deni al of i nno
cence and hope on one level, the act coul d al so be i nterpreted as a posi ti ve
choi ce .
Thi s hypothesi s may be substantiated with reference to the Buddhist
noti on of empti ness, accordi ng to which the anni hi l ati on of comforti ng
prostheti c adj uncts does not unequivocally represent a descent i nto tene
brous ni hil i sm but may al so stand for an asserti on of sel f- rel i ance and
autonomy, and a mature recogni ti on of the necessi ty of di smantl i ng al l
manner of deceptive idols i n the quest for knowledge . I n thi s l i ght, the war
ri or' s smashi ng of the egg could be said to symbol i ze a del i berate embrac
i ng of empti ness as a salutary removal of pseudo- consol atory del usi ons
rather than a cal l ous deni al of meaning and promi se . The i mage of the egg,
moreover, i s central to the creati on legend contai ned i n the Nihongi, a
largely mythol ogical record of Japan's anci ent hi story, accordi ng to whi ch
the worl d was i nitially an egg- shaped mass evi nci ng no di sti ncti on between
heaven and earth and hosting the germs capabl e of bri ngi ng forth new l i fe .
Whi l e consti tuti ng Oshi i ' s most el usive dramatization o f the i nextri
cabi l i ty of actuality from dreams and the alternation between real i ty and
its shadow, Angel's Egg coul d al so be approached as an envi ronmentally con
sci ous warni ng about the evils of overfshi ng, an extremel y seri ous eco
nomi c and i deol ogi cal i ssue i n modern and contemporary Japan. The
ecomessage gai ns poignancy by its coupl i ng wi th another concern cl ose to
Oshii' s heart, namely the ultimate perversi ty of al l forms of bl i nd fanati
ci sm and, by i mpl ication, of all i nstitutionalized creeds . I ndeed, the fsher
men' s zeal ous pursui t of a non-existent prey coul d be said to symbol i ze the
unreflectively fatuous worship of unscruti nized i cons and bel i efs .
No l ess i mpl ausi bl e are appraisals of Angel's Egg as a comi ng-of- age
lO-Angel's Egg 8 1
tale or as an exi stenti al i st meditation. The sheer recurrence o f the questi on
"Who are you?" i n the scri pt succinctly encapsul ates these phi losophi cal
di mensi ons . I n i ts vi rtually pl otl ess, stream-of-consci ousness approach to
narration, Angel's Egg both echoes Beautiful Dreamer's surreal i sm and looks
forward to Ghost in the Shell. Where the latter i s concerned, the OVA could
be specifcal ly said to anti ci pate the feature flm' s penchant for a seaml ess
amalgamation of disparate narrative strands, open to di verse readi ngs and
a correspondi ngly pri smati c range of specul ati ons about the ontol ogi cal
and epi stemol ogi cal status of i dentity.
Ci nematographi cal ly, Angel's Egg features several of Oshi i 's favori te
styl i sti c trademarks, and especi al l y the methodical i ncl usi on of numerous
uni nterrupted l ong takes, as wel l as the tendency to concentrate on languidl y
slow patterns of moti on across dusky townscapes furnished wi th decayi ng
archi tectural tableaux, spectral presences and skeletally attenuated shapes.
The fl m makes abundant use of fxed frames and hori zontal l y scrol l i ng
pans i n whi ch ful l frame-to-frame ani mation i s rel egated to j ust a handful
of relatively bri ef, albeit highly el egant, scenes . Hence, mood and atmos
phere are i nsi stently pri ori ti zed over movement . The fl m i ndeed reaches
towards the audaci ous extremes of non-ani mation, of an aestheti c real m
wherei n the cl assi c ani mated cartoon gi ves way to the concept of ani mated
painting. Moreover, as emphasized by Suchenski , the OVA also i ncorporates
"sustai ned lateral tracks, the slowi ng down of human moti on, a rhythmi c
al ternati on between l ong takes and montage- styl e cross-cutti ng, and a ten
dency to frame obj ects so as to maxi mi se their contrast wi th the l i ght sources
on the edges of the screen" ( Suchenski ) .
The flm' s most representative sequence -where both camera opera
ti ons and symbol i c i mages are concerned -i s arguably the one whi ch shows
the l i ttl e girl walki ng through a murkily lit forest, fal l i ng i nto a pit and
fashi ng i n and out of the gloom i n the process, and then cuts back to a l ong
shot of the same character as she si ts by the l ake and flls a bottl e wi th water.
Thi s consists of a series of cut - i ns, fol lowed by a cl ose-up of the bottom of
the bottle capturi ng a di storted refection of the forest . A l ateral pan over
the lake then ensues, tai l ed by a montage that i ncl udes a downward float
i ng feather, a tree' s mi rror-i mage on the water's surface, a wave of weeds
seethi ng beneath i t, and fnal l y a successi on of amorphous dark masses
seemi ngly movi ng over i t . Thei r shadow eventually travel s over the gi rl ' s
face and we next see her underwater, si nki ng and patheti cal l y cl utchi ng the
egg one last ti me .
Angel's Egg was used as the skeleton for the live- action fl m In the After
math ( dir. Carl Colpaert, 1987), a postapocalyptic tal e in whi ch a pai r of
brother and si ster angel s ( Colpaert' s rei ncarnations of t he l i t t l e gi rl and the
warrior) are meant to fnd a group of human survivors and rescue them
82 Part Two: Oshii and the Carnivalesque
wi th the hel p of an egg. The movi e' s action occasi onal ly i ntercuts wi th
footage from Oshi i 's OVA, heavi l y dubbed over wi th dial ogue that does not
appear i n Angel's Egg and i ntegrated i nto the action mai nly by means of
superi mpositi ons of i mages of the chi l d from t he ani me onto images of the
l i ve- acti on child (who i s strongly and somewhat incongruously remi ni s
cent, i nci dentally, of Di sney' s Al i ce from Alice i n Wonderland) . In the After
math is hardly a memorable production and, perhaps even more di sturbi ngly
for Oshi i' s most loyal fans, a strange attempt at synergetic remedi ati on that
arbitrarily suppresses the ori gi nal ' s studi ousl y formal i st refnement.
I n the overall traj ectory of Oshi i's engagement wi th the carni val esque,
Angel's Egg demonstrates how -havi ng al ready moved from t he fundamen
tally comedic tone of Only You t o the haunti ngly surreal , yet still l i mi nal l y
l udi c, spi rit of Beautiful Dreamer-the di rector strove to shi ft gears i n the
direction of a deci dedly somber tone, stripped of even the scanti est vestige
of l evi ty. Thus, the 1 985 OVA i s defnitely not carnivalesque in the sense
that i t provi des j ocul ar distortions of the everyday but i n the sense that i t
al chemi cal l y rarefes the comi c formul a to the poi nt that i t depi cts an
upsi de-down world consonant with t he logic of t he carnival and yet pre
cl udes any consolatory outcomes. Thi s makes Angel's Egg an expressi on of
t he carnival esque at i t s most baleful , supplying several i ncursi ons i nto the
carnival ' s favori te pl aygrounds-the grotesque, the bizarre, the uncanny
yet removi ng al l traces of the jol l y di n one might customari l y expect to be
exuded by a playground. The heart-warming echoes of young voices are,
i n fact, un senti mentally di splaced by daunti ng choral melodi es, the shouts
of blood-thi rsty predators and the cheerless moan of an ancestral wi nd that
knows no peace .
11
Twilight Q2: Labyrinth
Objects File 538
The second and fnal epi sode of the Twilight Q2 OVA seri es, Twilight
Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538, revisits the equivocal ambi ence conveyed
with equal i ntensi ty, albeit in vastly diferent ways, by the Urusei Yatsura
fl ms and Angel's Egg by once more bl urri ng the boundary between the real
and the i magi nary. I nitially designed to provide an arena wherei n buddi ng
di rectors coul d exhi bi t their ski l l s through a col l ection of unrel ated narra
tives, the proj ect di d not develop beyond its second i nstal l ment . The ti tl e
echoes two popular bl ack-and-white tel evision programs of the 1 960s, The
Twilight Zonel and Ultra Q,2 with which it shares a penchant for the noir
and for grotesque distortion.
The frst epi sode was di rected by Tomomi Mochi zuki (Ki magure
Orange Road, 1 988, and Ocean Waves, 1 993 ) and revolves around the char
acter of a girl who fnds a camera on the beach which turns out to contai n
i mages of hersel f i n the company of a stranger, and then starts j ourneyi ng
back and forth i n time. The epi sode written and directed by Oshi i el abo
rates Mochi zuki ' s conception of ti me as a markedly el asti c di mensi on, con
currentl y bri ngi ng i nto play generi c and graphi c moti fs characteri sti c of
cl assi c sci ence- fction ci nema and l iterature, as wel l as autobi ographi cal
el ements. The portrayal of the fl m' s detective, i n parti cul ar, i s based l argel y
on Oshi i ' s memori es of hi s father as a frequently unemployed private i nves
tigator.
It i s also worth stressing, i n this regard, that the investigation topos is
rarely absent from Oshi i' s work, and i ndeed features al most as persi stently
as the dream di mension. The i nvestigation motif wi l l become pi votal in the
Patlabor features i n the late 1980s and early 1 990s-to be revisited in the
post-Oshi i sequel Patlabor WXIII: Movie 3-and wil l be dealt wi th agai n
through the l enses of cybertechnol ogy and cyberterrori sm i n the Ghost in
the Shell fl ms. Blood: The Last Vampire i s also a detecti ve story of sorts,
though fl tered through the codes and conventions of the gothi c tale, on
the one hand, and political all egory, on the other. Aval on, too, is ul ti mately
83
84 Part Two: Oshii and the Carivalesque
an i nvestigation, seeki ng to penetrate the Chi nese-box domai n of a mul t i
zone vi rtual -real i ty envi ronment t o establ i sh whether or not any empi ri
cal reality obtai ns beyond t he synthetic surfaces suppl i ed by technol ogy.
The plot of Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 pivots on a young
girl who shares a di l api dated flat i n the Tokyo suburbs with a man who
appears to be her caretaker ( and possibly father ) . I ntri gued with fsh and
aeroplanes-whi ch she often mixes up as though they were i nterchange
able or even i ndi sti ngui shable enti ti es -she dons throughout the story an
oversi zed T- shi rt bearing the caption "fsh" and an army hel met . In the
openi ng segment, the Japan Air Li nes passenger fi ght 538 begi ns to di si n
tegrate i n mid-fl ight, the plunging scraps of metal gradually take on the sem
bl ance of gi ant scal es and the pl ane i tsel f i ncremental ly morphs i nto a
col ossal koi.3
In a small and cl uttered apartment, a large and sweaty man (the gi rl ' s
guardian) l i stens to the news concerni ng the di sappearance of fl i ght 538
and the analogous vani shi ng of an Air Zimbabwe fight the previ ous day.
Meanwhile, the chi l d stands stari ng at a tank housi ng a bul ky koi and mi m
i cki ng i t s mouth movements . The two characters proceed t o eat a frugal
meal of plain noodles, which the girl i nterrupts when she hears a pl ane
fyi ng overhead and hurri es to the wi ndow shri eki ng " Fish! Fish!" I n the
next scene, a man garbed i n a trenchcoat and dark gl asses i s seen gazi ng at
the ci ty from across the bay, as the radio reports the di sappearance of yet
another JAL aircraft and announces that seventeen j ets are deemed to have
vani shed over the past month. The man walks to the fat i nhabi ted by the
girl and her guardian and fnds the child asleep on the foor with the koi
tank by her side . His attention then turns to a computer, whi ch he i nstructs
to "execute . " As a result, the machi ne types out the content of i ts memory:
a message from the large man i ntended for hi s "successor. " The man i n
dark glasses t urns out t o be a detective supposed to be i nvestigati ng t he pri
vate l i ves of t he large man and t he gi rl and contractually bound not to ent er
their property -a rul e he has now patently vi ol ated. The i nvesti gator fnal ly
resolves to peruse the message, thus narrati ng hi s predecessor' s story.
We thus l earn that the large man was also a detective once, and that
after countl ess days spent waiti ng i n vai n for a cl i ent he had eventually been
given a case identical to the one received by the present-day PI - namel y,
to i nvestigate the l ives of a man and a little girl shari ng an apartment . I n
the course of the case, the former detective had been unabl e t o garner any
hel pful cl ues about the obj ects of hi s probing, nei ther the post ofce nor
the fami ly register, nor the provi ders of gas, el ectri ci ty, water and TV con
necti on hol di ng any record of the two characters' exi stence . Thi s quest had
taken place i n an atmosphere not unlike the one pertai ni ng to the present
day narrative : a stifi ngly hot summer i n t he course of which the passi ng
11-Twilight Q2 85
of time appeared to have become i ndi scerni bl e and several ai rcrafts had
l ikewi se mysteri ously evaporated. Havi ng observed the pair through a hol e
i n the wall and found that they did preci ous l i ttl e other than eat or sl eep,
the fat man had eventually taken advantage of thei r l eavi ng the resi dence
to visi t a publ i c bath and discovered that the pl ace bore no sign of recent
occupation and i ndeed l ooked quite diferent from the way i t had l ooked
when i nspected from the outside .
Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 echoes Beautiful Dreamer, i n
thi s respect, and speci fcally the scene i n which Sakura visi ts Onsen- Mark's
fat and fnds it in a state of utter decrepitude and negl ect . Paral l el s with
the second Urusei Yatsura movi e conti nue to reveal themsel ves as the large
man discovers that the l and on which the dwel l i ng i s supposed to be si tu
ated i s a non- exi stent area, accordi ng to the ci ty map, havi ng once been
marked as due for reclamation but stil l -i n terms of the ofci al records
part of t he sea. It shoul d also be noted that t he area as seen by t he detec
tive i s i nfested wi th goldenrod (seitaka) , a plant that traditionally symbolizes
desolation, i nferti l i ty and Nature at its l east beni gn.
Moreover, the character fnds that the aeronautical mishaps have al l
occurred i n the fi ght zone above the phantom domi ci l e . By and by, the fat
man l oses al l sense of hi s ori gi nal identity, becomi ng totally engrossed i n
the fate of the enigmati c pair and unabl e t o ascertai n the ul ti mate real i ty
of ei ther the apartment or the worl d beyond i t . The puzzle at the heart of
Beautiful Dreamer i s here agai n i nvoked, as the empi rical val i di ty of the fac
tual and the hypothetical alike i s drastically brought to tri al and found i rre
medi abl y want i ng. Havi ng eventual ly ent ered the abode whi l e i t was
occupi ed, the large man had become further engul fed i n the conundrum
and powerl ess to transcend i t .
It i s t he present- day i nvestigator' s destiny to fol l ow i n hi s tracks: hav
i ng also entered the coupl e' s residence, he is now bound to it -and to act
as the girl's guardian, as well as write a si mi l ar mi ssive for his own succes
sor. The bottom l i ne i s that the l arge man was appoi nted as a detecti ve by
the very man he was supposed to i nvestigate and then had become that man.
The next detective, i n t urn, has been appoi nted by t he large man to probe
into his own and his charge' s l i ves. Just as the large man had turned i nto
his cl i ent, so the present- day PI must turn i nto his own cl i ent - namel y,
the large man. Thi s is dramatically confrmed by the fact that after he has
read the l etter, the detective removes hi s dark glasses and i s openly reveal ed
to be the same large man we saw i n the i nitial sequence.
However, the epi sode' s real cl i max does not occur unti l the ver y end,
where the ci rcul arl y sel f- refexive character of the enti re experi ence is ful l y
di scl osed. I t here transpi res that the events presented i n Twilight Q2:
Labyrinth Objects File 538 are actually part of a yarn constructed by an aspi r-
86 Part Two: Oshii and the Carivalesque
i ng artist, that hi s idea is met with puzzled skepti ci sm by hi s editor, and
that it i s i n t he wake of t he rej ection that a portentous i nci dent occurs . Thi s
endi ng makes it feasible t o i nterpret t he story as somethi ng of a disgruntled
author parabl e taken to l udicrously absurdist extremes . I ndeed, the l arge
man could even symbolize Oshii hi msel f, as a di rector nagged by the aware
ness that hi s flms are often befuddl i ng and hence hard to accept i nto the
mai nstream. This el ement of sel f-parody adds a further carni val esque
di mension to the Oshi ian repertoire .
On the graphi c level, Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 proposes
an efectively disconcerting contrast between the humorous and even, occa
sionally, clowni sh appearance of the little girl and the fat man, whose depi c
ti on prioritizes soft, round shapes and bri ght col ors, and the architectural
setti ng' s forbiddi ngly realistic gloom. The oversized fsh provides a vi sual
l i nk between these two confl icting pictorial registers, comi ng across as con
currentl y cari catural and strangely uncomely. Thus, the parti cul ar stylistic
approach to the carnivalesque exhibited by Twilight Q2: Labyri nth Objects
File 538 could be said to constitute a meeting poi nt between the ludic modal
i ty proposed by the Urusei Yatsura producti ons at thei r most famboyantly
comedi c and the uncompromi si ngly di sori entati ng surreal i sm of Angel 's
Egg. As far as ani mation techni ques are specifcally concerned, the epi sode' s
studi ousl y detai l ed openi ng sequence with its bi zarrel y morphi ng pl ane
probabl y ofers the most enduri ng memori es . Al so noteworthy i s the
pseudo-documentary styl e evi nced by the bul k of the production, wi th i ts
ext ensive use of stil l photographs and accompanyi ng voiceover.
The ul timate i nvestigators depicted by Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects
File 538 are the author seeki ng to engage with a narrative about the l i mi
tations of empi rical verifcation, and t he camera endeavori ng to fathom
even the most prosai c nooks of flmed -and flmabl e -territory i n order
to assess thei r own l atent l ure and disti nctiveness .
Part Three
OSHII
'
S TECHNOPOLITICS
The future is unwritten. There are best-case scenarios. There are
worst-case scenarios. Both of them are great fun to write about
if you're a science fction novelist, but neither of them ever hap
pens in the real world. What happens in the real world is always
a sideways-case scenario. World-changing marvels to us, are only
wallpaper to our children.
- Bruce Sterling, 1993
I think it's difcult for us to know what we lose. We are con
stantly losing things, and often, as we lose them, we can't remem
ber what they were. They go, they really do; we lose them totally
as we move forward in this increasingly mediated existence. I
think that's probably one of the tasks of the contemporary poet :
to try to capture that sense of constant loss.
- William Gibson, 1995b, p. 21
12
Visions of Power in
Live-Action and Anime
The fl ms covered i n thi s section of the book consti tute the openi ng
chapter, wi thi n the pri smatic hi story of Oshi i' s creative t raj ectory, of the
di rector' s ri se to hi s current status as one of the most exceptional person
al i ti es i n modern Japanese fl mmaki ng. They demonstrate Oshi i ' s knack of
amal gamati ng broad political preoccupations regardi ng economic exploita
t ion and the abuse of power with speculations about the future of technol
ogy and i ntrospective phi losophical reflection.
Fans of ani me across the globe are keen on stressing that i n Japan, ani
mated fl ms are not j ust for ki ds, and thi s assertion i s undoubtedly val i d to
a considerabl e degree. However, the vol ume of ani mated fl ms that expli c
i t l y target crit ically t hi nki ng adults and actually use ani mation as a vehi cl e
for sociopolitical and phi l osophical analysi s i s rather sli m. Approached from
thi s perspective, the atmospheri cally sophi sticated movi es here exami ned
are of si ngul ar i mportance i n thei r provision of a uni que, profoundl y per
sonal and topi cal l y cogent meditation on mutati ng confgurations of i ndi
vidual , national and global i denti ti es i n t he l at e twenti eth cent ury and i n
t he early twenty-frst century.
As a pi ece of sci ence fction i mbued with seri ous pol itical preoccupa
ti ons, Dallos consti tutes a thematic prel ude to the Patlabor universe, though
many ani me viewers and cri ti cs wi l l feasibly remember i t more as an epoch
maki ng technical i nnovation i naugurating si ngl e-handedly the ferti l e fel d
of Origi nal Video Ani mation than as a particularly i nspi ri ng vi sual narra
tive . Both the Patlabor producti ons and the movi es centered on the " Ker
beros" motif -namel y, the l i ve- action features The Red Spectacles and Stray
Dog and the ani mati on Jn-Roh: The Wolf Brigade-focus on i ssues of l aw
and order, pai nstakingl y exami ni ng the precari ousness of the di vi di ng l i ne
between a fai r commi tment to j usti ce and a fanatical excess of zeal .
Both sets of fl ms, moreover, i nterweave these i ssues wi th refl ecti ons
on the i mpact of technol ogy on ethical values, whi l e also shari ng a concern
wi th the unresolved tensi on between i ndividual ambi ti ons and col l ective
89
90 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
agendas, i sol ati on and belonging, personal pri nci pl es and socially sanc
ti oned norms and regulations, emphasizing the procl i vi ty of vi rtual l y any
rul e-bound form of stabi l i ty to degenerate i nto peremptory dogmati sm.
Oshi i ' s engagement with the exploration of pol itical i ssues vi a the medi um
of ani me persi sts i n the l i ve-action productions Talking Head ( a feature
l ength movi e) and Killers: .50 Woman ( a short flm i ncl uded in a fve- part
omni bus venture) , with a shi ft of emphasi s on the economic and aestheti c
pri ori ti es of the fl m and fashion i ndustries and related attenti on to the
cri mes that pervade them.
Oshi i's technopolitical productions bri ng to l i fe a vast array of human
machi ne hybrids: automata that are humanized by t hei r anthropomorphi c
trai ts and i nvestment with quasi - human afects, on the one hand; and
human bei ngs that are mechanized by thei r encasement i n or enhancement
by automated armors and gear, on the other. These two typol ogi es, taken
i n tandem, could be seen as embodi ments of the concept of "roboti c fan
tasy" as theori zed by J . P Tel otte . Thi s phrase desi gnates t he ci nemati c
i mpl ementation of techni ques that foster the representation of a "seductive
vi ew of the self as fantasy, able to be shaped and reshaped, defned and
redefned at our wi l l " ( Telotte, p. 5 1 ) . Oshi i ' s fl ms vividl y capture thi s
visi on, concurrently proposing a chal l engi ng perspective on the sel f as a
mutable product of cul ture, language and ideology rather than the puta
tively stable and sealed enti ty glorifed by Western anthropocentri sm.
I n styl i sti c and technical terms, the ani mated productions exami ned
i n the present secti on encompass practically al l of the defni ng facets of
Oshi i ' s ci nematographical signature assessed i n t he i ntroductory segment
of thi s book. I ndeed, i t coul d be safely mai ntai ned that the Patlabor fea
t ures and Jin-Roh mark Oshi i ' s attai nment of arguably unprecedented l ev
el s of sophi sti cati on i n the capaci ti es of di rector and scri pt wri ter
respectively. The evaluation of Oshi i 's l i ve-action ci nema i n whi ch thi s sec
tion also engages, for its part, requires some consi deration of the ways i n
which Oshi i ' s non-ani me productions relate, technically and styl i sti cal l y,
to the ani mati ons for which the di rector is better known on both domes
ti c grounds and abroad.
First of all, it should be noted that Oshii' s career has not been i nformed
by some kind of tectonic shift from ani mation to live- action ci nema or vi ce
versa, entai l i ng the rel i nqui shi ng of one medi um to the advantage of the
other. I n fact, Oshi i has recurrently and fui dly traversed the boundary con
ventionally presumed to separate the two representational modes, seemingly
applyi ng the lessons l earnt from hi s i nvolvement i n ani me to l i ve- acti on
fl mmaki ng and simultaneously experi menti ng with the codes and conven
tions of live-action ci nema within the ani mated real m, a s though t o assess
how far and how adventurously these coul d be stretched.
12-Visions of Power in Live-Action and Anime 9 1
Whi l e, as noted, the ani mations and the l i ve-action works di scussed
i n thi s secti on i n order to document Oshi i' s technopolitical vi sion share the
mati c preoccupati ons, more i ntri gui ng still are thei r dramati c and rhetor
i cal afni ti es. I n looki ng at the l i ve-action "Kerberos" features, one detects
a studious i ntegration of the pri nci pal formulae of the ani mated medi um
wi th those of live-action fl m that gi ves ri se to an utterly novel and vi su
al l y tantal i zi ng ci nemati c synthesi s. The movi es i n questi on i magi nati vel y
appropriate several of the traits commonl y associ ated with ani me, i ncl ud
i ng the alternation of hyperactive slapstick comedy wi th brooding moments
of i naction, of l udi c expl osi ons of wit and passi on wi th suavel y l yri cal pi l
l ow sequences, as wel l as a procl i vi ty for stylized vi sual s, graphi c i ntensi ty
and exaggerated patterns of moti on. Thi s also appl i es to a consi derable
degree to the short l i ve-action fl m Killers: . 50 Woman despi te the relatively
mi ni mal i st breadth of the pi ece .
Of the vari ous el ement of ani me menti oned above, exaggerati on i s
pl ausibl y t he most di sti nctive . I ndeed Japanese ani mation proverbi al ly ( or
notoriously, as some would argue) relishes exaggerati on, and di verse sub
genres of ani me have capi tal i zed i n specifc ways on the performative val ue
of thi s notion. At ti mes, the penchant for graphi c overstatement takes the
guise of hyperbol i cal l y gory fght sequences of the kind that punctuate
Yoshi aki Kawaj i ri ' s period pi ece Ninja Scroll ( 1 993 ) and, though far l ess
promi nentl y, make a cameo appearance i n Hayao Miyazaki ' s Princess
Mononoke ( 1997) . At other ti mes, it mani fests i tsel f in awe- i nspiri ng sets of
postapocalyptic drama such as those repeatedly encountered in the Neon
Genesis Evangelion TV seri es and features ( di r. Hi deaki Anno, 1 995, 1 997) .
At others sti l l , i t emerges i n substantially more prosai c forms by means of
a plot 's del iberate ( and even tongue- i n- cheek) concessi ons t o the absurdly
overi nfated cri ses of the soap opera genre -as evi nced, for i nstance, by
the TV feature Ocean Waves ( di r. Tomomi Mochi zuki , 1 993 ) .
Anime i s obvi ously not al one i n treasuri ng the aestheti c o f exaggera
tion, si nce thi s is also undoubtedl y a marker of Western ani mat ion.
I nstances abound throughout the hi story of the medi um, from the i rrev
erent capers of Otto Messmer's Fel i x the Cat, through the aquatic exerti ons
of Di sney' s Magi cian' s Apprenti ce and the bal l eti c expl oi ts of the ( al so Di s
neyan) Beast' s dynami c tabl eware, to the depl oyment of Wal l ace and
Gromi t's contrapti ons i n Ni ck Park's ani mati ons, and the danse-macabre
set pi eces of Ti m Burton' s Goth puppets . No l ess representative are West
ern ani mati ons i n whi ch the character desi gns are i n thems elves so
glori ousl y overextended as to be capabl e of conveyi ng a sense of di spror
tionateness by merel y bei ng what they are and, most cruci ally, looki ng the
way they do. The l i neage of characters so versed i s long and honorabl e : a
selective gallery likely to spri ng to mi nd, were ani mation lovers i nvi ted to
92 Part Three: Oshi i's Technopolitics
take part i n a brai nstormi ng exercise, would almost certai nl y i ncl ude per
sonas as exuberantl y varied -both temporally and pictorially -as Betty
Boop, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Ci nderel l a' s Fai ry Godmother, Si mba
the Li on, Shrek, the Gri nch, and Woody.
Oshi i ' s ani mation does not seem i ncl i ned to follow thi s styl i sti c trend
uni formly -or i ndeed predomi nantly -and thi s i s ful l y attested to by the
ani me titl es di scussed i n thi s secti on of the book. With the excepti on of the
three parodic shorts i ncl uded i n Mil1ipato, which adopt overtly cari catural
graphi cs and del i berately overi nflated rhetori c, the ani mated fl ms here
exami ned eschew theatricality and glamor, opti ng i nstead for a markedl y
subdued acti ng styl e corroborated by suitably di screet pal ettes and sound
tracks.
The live- action fl ms del ivered by Oshi i ' s camera, conversely, embrace
to the ful l est the exaggeration-based ethos. This poi nt will be el aborated
later i n thi s segment . It should frst be noted that whi l e exaggeration unde
ni abl y constitutes a key i ngredi ent of both Eastern and Western types of
ani mation, there i s nonethel ess one aspect of ani me's own i mbricati on with
the twin discourses of action-oriented and character-centered hyperbol e
that i s disti nctive to thi s form i nstead of bei ng common to ani mation at
large . This has to do with a specifcally Eastern -and not excl usivel y Japa
nese - legacy tied up with traditional theatre and modern l i ve-action ci n
ema. Especially worthy of notice, i n t hi s regard, are t he Japanese theatrical
tradi ti ons of Kabuki and Noh, the samurai movi e, and the marti al -arts fl m
of qui ntessentially Chi nese provenance .
Kabuki, a popular form that burgeoned in the seventeenth century,
thri ves on exaggeration, as evi nced by a markedly stylized approach to act
i ng wherei n an overly spectacular repertoi re of postures and gestures
compl emented by rhythmi c di al ogue, musi c and dance - i s rout i nely
employed to i ndividuate the superhuman heroes and the vi l lai ns on whi ch
the stori es hi nge . Magni fcent flowi ng costumes -at ti mes so heavy as to
requi re the onstage presence of bl ack-cl ad assi stants (kurogo) to mani pu
l ate the robes whi l e the actual performers pl ay thei r part s -are possi bl y
Kabuki ' s most memorabl e component for many ( especi al l y Western) spec
tators . Comparably elaborate makeup serves to hei ghten the overal l mood
of dramatic excess-a mood, i mportantly, that el udes the danger of degen
erati ng i nto the undi l utedly l udicrous thanks t o a puncti l i ous dedication
to the perpetuati on of ti me- honored formul ae, and to correspondi ngl y
exacting performance patterns. Kabuki, therefore, i s domi nated by the pri n
ci pl e of hyperbol i c styl ization i n ways barely known t o Western drama
si nce Aeschyl us .
Noh theatre, in contradisti nction to Kabuki, is a cl assical ( rather than
popul ar) form devel oped i n the fourteenth century that pursues the aes-
12-Visions of Power in Live-Action and Anime 93
thetic of exaggeration i n the opposi te di rection -that i s to say, not gaudy
excess but stark mi nimal i sm. Stylization plays no less cruci al a role, how
ever, withi n Noh drama' s cri teria, i mpacti ng cruci al l y on i ts use of dance,
eerie fl ute- and-drum musi c, poetry, mime and, perhaps most famously,
l abori ousl y desi gned masks. The expressions evi nced by several of Oshi i 's
personas in both the ani mated and the l i ve-action works here studi ed often
recall, i n thei r penchant for stylization, the traditional masks of Noh the
atre . As John Twel ve Hawks has observed, these i l l ustri ous cul tural arti
facts are above all characteri zed by an aura of i mpassivity:
Ghosts, demons, and crazy people had garish masks that showed one strong emo
tion, but most actors wore a mask with a deliberately neutral expression. Even
the middle-aged men acting without masks tried not to move their faces. Each
gesture on the stage, each statement and reaction was a conscious choice [Twelve
Hawks, p. 98].
I n Oshi i ' s ci nema, thi s i mpassi vi ty is most pronounced at ti mes of uncer
tai nty and doubt, where i t does not denote a sel f- confdent transcendence
of one' s troubl ed afects but actually operates as a powerful correlative for
a character' s epi stemological unanchori ng and for the cognate suspensi on
of any dependable referents.
As shown i n some detail i n the relevant portions of thi s section, Oshi i' s
l i ve-acti on producti ons partake of both excess and mi ni mal i sm, alternat
ing between hyperbol i cal ly enhanced body language and formal i zed
restrai nt, lavi shl y polychromatic and somberly monochromati c pal ettes,
i ntentionally famboyant overacti ng and meditative l anguor. Musi c, mi me
and dance are also i ncorporated i nto t he action i n fashi ons redol ent of Japa
nese theatre, whi l e costumes and makeup varyingly serve to i nt ensi fy the
action' s commi tment to baroque i ntricacy and rarefed simplicity by t urns.
Several of t he dramatic conventi ons commonl y associated wi t h the far
more recent genres of the samurai movi e and the marti al -arts movi e also
come i nto pl ay. In thei r handl i ng of body language and visual efects, the
fl ms frequently allude to the tradition of the chanbara ( or sword-fght fl m) ,
t he action-ori ented subgenre withi n t he tradition of Japanese samurai ci n
ema that i s normally regarded as t he action- movi e counterpart t o t he peri od
drama (idai-geki ) . Technically, the fl ms also partake of thi s l egacy i n the
use of the chanbara movi e' s most sal i ent technical attributes . As Nicholas
Rucka has noted, these encompass "hyperreal sound efects, dynami c ( and
funky) musical scores, i nter-ti tl es, l ens fares, slow/fast moti on, whi p pans
and snap zooms, speci al optical efects . " Moreover, the l i ve-action produc
ti ons i ncl uded i n the tri logy echo "the more pessi mi sti c chanbara fl m" i n
their dramatization of vi ol ence not merely a s a pretext for acti on- packed
sequences but rather as a stylized correlative for "the exi stenti al state of the
world" ( Rucka) .
94 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopolitics
The martial -arts movie, generally deemed to have originated in Shang
hai i n the 1 920s and therefore to be almost as old as the Chi nese ci nema
i ndustry i tsel f, i s an especially noteworthy i nstance of t he preference for
exaggeration evi nced by various aspects of Easter performance arts which
Oshi i ' s l i ve-action flms appropriate to their own ends. While marti al - arts
fl ms have ti me and agai n cel ebrated the prowess of supernatural heroes
and i ndulged i n a profusion of magical feats, establ i shed pl ots have i ncre
mentally gai ned chari sma from the fusion of the expl i ci tly i magi nary wi th
al l usi ons to contemporary facts.
Furthermore, as Robert Garcia has observed, "[klung fu fl ms were
successfully revi tal i zed -after Bruce Lee' s death -by the i ntroduction of
humor that seemed more appropriate to contemporary comedy than peri od
epi cs . . . . I n martial - arts fl ms, audi ences l i ke to i denti fy wi th chi val rous
knights, swordsmen, or heroi c fghters of the past -but onl y i f thei r val
ues and wi secracks are tuned to the modern worl d" ( Garcia ) . Thi s propo
si ti on i s substantiated by an assessment of the marti al -arts fl m suppl i ed i n
the context of an extensive fan site dedicated t o Zhang Ziyi : the "wuxia
pian, or fl m of martial chivalry, is rooted in a mythi cal Chi na, but i t has
always reinvented i tsel f for each age . Like the American Western, the genre
has been reworked to keep i n touch wi th audi ences' changi ng tastes and to
take advantage of new fl mmaki ng technology. Yet at the center i t retai ns
common themes and vi sceral appeals" ( "Hong Kong Martial Art s Ci nema" ) .
As noted, Oshi i ' s l i ve-action movi es partake o f the hearty appetite for
dramatic excess characteristically evi nced by Kabuki theatre whi l e al so cul
tivating a graphi c mi ni mal i sm redol ent of Noh. I n so doi ng, they concur
rentl y appropri ate some of the most sal i ent ci nematographi cal ,
performative and diegetic traits of various forms of action-ori ented mod
ern Eastern ci nema. Above al l , i n thei r el l i ptical references both to tradi
tional Japanese drama and to the samurai and the kung-fu ci nemati c genres,
Oshi i 's l i ve-action fl ms bear witness to preci sely the ki nd of styl i sti c and
thematic adaptabi l i ty highl ighted i n the evaluation of the wuxia pi an ofered
above . The director' s apparent concessions to established generi c codes ul ti
matel y explode a number of esteemed cultural tenets, boldly refusing to pay
homage to l oft y myths of superhuman val or and choosi ng i nstead to focus
on al l -too- human -and, occasi onal ly, even subhuman -appeti tes and
foibl es.
13
Dallos
Oshi i 's frst foray i nto the real m of overtly seri ous sci ence fction, Dal
los also hol ds an i mportant position as a pi oneeri ng i nterventi on i n the
ani me i ndustry, i nsofar as i t consti tutes the frst made- for-video ani mated
producti on i n Japan. The seri es consi sted of four hal f-hour episodes, l ater
compi l ed i nto a si ngle feature . As Patrick Drazen has observed, the i nven
t i on of t he OVA format authentically revolutionized t he real m of Japanese
ani mation:
[Tlhe videocassette ... revived some old favorites, and relieved some studios
from the burden of having to think in terms of shaping their animation for broad
cast.. .. The ability to create direct-to-viewer animation [via OVAsl not only
stretched the content envelope, but stretched the fan base literally around the
world. As soon as unedited, unadulterated Japanese animation became just
another ofering on the American videostore shelf, word began to spread [Drazen,
pp.1O-111.
The OVA format undeniably allows for degrees of styli sti c and themati c
freedom unavailabl e to ani me di vul ged i n more conventi onal packages .
Accordi ng t o Chri stopher Panzner, moreover, its emergence was a di rect
corol l ary of a cruci al shi ft i n the domesti c entertai nment i ndustry and, by
extensi on, Japanese l i festyle i n the early 1 980s:
OVA originally appeared i n Japan i n the 1980s ... as the VCR became a ubiqui
tous appliance in Japanese households. Such was the demand for anime that peo
ple short-circuited conventional television and the boom was on. Freed from the
constraints of time limits, commercials, sponsor obligations, episode formats,
identical openings and closings and, well, just about all the rules , OVA took on
a life of its own. Creators could make shows as long or as short as they pleased,
a series (Bubblegum Cris is ), a one-shot (Black Magic M-66, Riding Bean), a flm
(The Heroic Legend of Arislan) or anything in between, although most OVA series
episodes are normally between a half hour or an hour long -and about half the
amount of the original TV series episodes (Record ofLodoss War) -and an hour
at the shortest for movies (Welcome to Lodoss Is land, the flm version) [Panzner 1.
It shoul d also be noted, as shown i n the next section wi th reference to
the Patlabor franchi se, that OVAs are by no means fxed cul tural products,
si nce OVAs can become tel evi si on seri es and tel evi sion seri es, i n turn, can
95
96 Part Three : Oshii' s Technopolitics
become OVAs; l i kewise, OVAs may beget feature flms and feature flms may
give ri se to OVAs . Nor is it uncommon for an OVA to resul t from a popu
l ar TV run duri ng or after its broadcasti ng.
+ + +
The narrati ve ofered by Dallas revol ves around a communi t y of
col onists who have moved from a severely resource-depleted and dramat
i cal l y overpopulated Earth to a Moon repl ete with bounti ful assets and as
yet untapped ores. However, as t he generations go by, t he Moon-based mi n
e r s begi n t o grow resentful towards the Earth-based admi ni stration that
benefts from the newly found prosperity -and from thei r sweat and toi l
and engage in acts of terrori sm to which the exploitative governors respond
with ruthl ess countermeasures .
Furthermore, the coloni sts face a generational ri ft withi n thei r own
ranks, for those born on Earth remember the days when the Moon was a
far more peri l ous and i nhospitabl e pl ace and even a seemi ngly mi nor error
coul d anni hil ate enti re communi ti es-and are therefore more accepti ng of
t he current state of afai rs-whereas t he newer, Moon-born generati ons
feel more secure i n their envi ronment and accordi ngly l ess wel l -disposed
towards the autocratic Earth-bound commanders who cl ai m control of the
satellite on behalf of thei r planet.
Neither the movement nor the repressive leaders appears concl usively
abl e to vanqui sh the opponent, and it gradually transpi res that the i nsur
gents' only hope rests with t he "Dallos" of t he ti tl e : a col ossal and myste
ri ous artifact di scovered on the Moon by the frst l anders, the ori gi ns and
function of whi ch are uncl ear even though i t has been adopted among the
ol der bel eaguered col oni sts as the hub of a rel i gi ous sect . To the modern
l unar ci ti zens, however, Dallos i s more of a wei rd rel i c than a god. There
are i nti mations that Dal l os might be a senti ent enti ty, and when, i n a cl i
mactic sequence, i t goes haywire and fres of l aser beams at the combat
ants trapped i n its i nterior, i t actually seems to be protecti ng the Moon
col oni sts. However, as i s customarily the case wi th Oshi i, the i ssue i s l eft
i ntentionally open-ended.
Vi tal to the pl ot i s the segment wherei n the pol i ce unleash thei r cyber
hounds i n order to capture the rebel l eader Doug McCoy. When the pro
tagoni st, a young man named Shun, is assaulted by such a beast and ki l l s
i t i n sel f- defence wi th an old pi ece of mi ni ng gear, and i s hence j ai l ed, he
comes to be roped i nto the rebel l i on by McCoy and hi s associ ates . The
sherif of Monopol i s, Alex Riger, i s simply eager to cl ean up the pl ace and
restore a modi cum of order, but hi s i ci l y cal cul ati ng mask of authori ty
13-Dallos 97
cracks when his girlfri end, an angel i c woman from Earth named Mel i nda,
i s kidnapped by McCoy' s forces. To complicate matters further, Mel i nda
turns out to be not totally unsympathetic to the di ssi dents' cause . Shun,
who i s now a member of McCoy's band, feels rather divided about the entire
Moon-versus-Earth i ssue, havi ng been swept up somewhat unexpectedly
in the revol utionary movement, and hi s ideological di l emma i s exacerbated
by personal feel i ngs . I ndeed, there i s evidence for mutual romanti c attrac
tion between the ethereal Earthl i ng and the strappi ng Shun - much to the
chagri n of the latter' s l ongsuferi ng sweetheart Rachel . The endi ng of the
OVA arguably provi des i ts most memorabl e sequence, as Shun takes hi s
dyi ng grandfather to t he Moon' s near si de where t he young man gazes,
awestruck, at the pl anet that spawned hi s speci es in the frst place but now
betrays i t so cal l ousl y and vows he wi l l do hi s best to oppose the col oni sts'
exploitation by the arrogant Earth.
The sequences that dramatize terrorist acts and the si ege of a hideout
by the pol i ce are remi ni scent of Gi l l o Pontecorvo' s The Battle of Algiers
( 1965 ) . However, the maj or i nfl uence behi nd Oshii' s Dallas i s undoubtedl y
Robert Hei nl ei n's novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress ( 1966) , a story set i n
2074 i n Luna City, a prosperous communi ty based on the Moon that al so
happens to be a penal colony operated by the Uni ted Nati ons Lunar Author
ity. For the unfortunate convi cts, the j ourney to Luna Ci ty i s i nel uctably a
one-way tri p si nce, sooner or later, they wi l l become unabl e to handl e the
uncongeni al gravitational conditions of Earth. Furthermore, the col ony' s
resources are l i mited and the Authori ty knows ful l wel l -though it stri ves
to conceal thi s knowledge from the prisoners -that the settl ement's sur
vi val prospects are therefore i nauspicious. Al though many feel that the ti me
for a revolution has come, the novel' s hero, computer engi neer Manuel Gar
ci a O' Kelly, does not bel i eve that there i s the sl ightest chance of a success
ful rebel l i on agai nst the Earth' s i ntransi gent power structures, and woul d
rather fl l hi s days i n conversation wi th hi s thi nki ng computer and i n the
pl easurabl e company of hi s wi ves and co-husbands . However, the passion
ate activists Wyomi ng Knott and Bernardo De La Paz manage to enl i st hi s
support and technical bri l l iance to thei r side and Manuel eventual l y agrees
to channel hi s enti re bei ng i nto the conspi racy and the resul ti ng no-hol ds
barred war agai nst the Earth's i niquitous authoriti es .
Oshi i' s si mul taneous concerns with economic exploitation, the dan
gers i nherent i n rel i gi ous fanatici sm, and the compl exi ty of both commu
nal and personal relationshi ps anti cipate some of hi s l ater producti ons . So
do the l engthy dialogical sequences devoted to the evaluation of thorny ide
ological i ssues, the deliberate avoidance of a neat resolution, and an eager
graphi c sensiti vity to the mi nutest facets of densel y atmospheri c and chro
matically graduated combat scenes. Thus, i t could be argued that besi de
98 Part Three : Oshii's Technopoliti cs
vaunti ng epoch- maki ng credentials as the frst OVA ever made, Dallas is
also i nteresting, from a historical poi nt of vi ew, as an anti ci pation of l ater
Oshi i producti ons. Whi l e it looks forward to the mechani cal apparatuses
and chromatic palette ( domi nated by bl ue and brown hues) of the Patla
bar features, it also foreshadows the Ghost in the Shell fl ms in its depiction
of futuristic urban setti ngs and representation of advanced computer tech
nology. The l atter arguably constitutes one of the OVA's most ori gi nal visual
aspects, and pi vots on the recurrent use of putatively digital scanni ngs that
render thei r subj ects i n the guise of quasi - I mpressionist assortments of
specks, blots and smudges of mel low pastel hues.
Dallas concurrently heralds Oshi i 's dedication to the accurate rendi
tion of ani mal movement -a trai t desti ned to devel op steadi l y throughout
his subsequent output and to reach i ts crowni ng achi evements i n Aval on,
withi n the domai n of l i ve-action ci nema, and i n Ghost i n the Shel l 2: lImo
cence, withi n that of ani me. An especially remarkabl e i l l ustration of the ani
mati on's handl i ng of ani mal body l anguage can be found i n the
representation of the stately hound belongi ng to the character of Alex Riger.
At one point, for example, the act ion focuses on the ani mal 's amusing tran
sition from a ferocious urge to attack hi s opponents to a yawn fol lowed by
a peaceful nap the moment he is i nstructed by his master si mply to "stay. "
Any vi ewer with some experience of ( or i ndeed sympathy towards) the quo
tidian "drama" of human-dog i nteraction across the twi n coordi nates of
Pavlovian determi nism and i nsti nct-based randomness wi l l be qui ck to
warm to this scene's appeal . An exemplary i nstance of the OVA's fai r for
realism i n the depiction of ani mal motion, the scene j ust descri bed con
trasts starkly wi th the del iberately non- naturalistic and preposterously rapid
patterns of movement adopted i n the ani mati on of the cyberneti cal l y
enhanced pol i ce dogs-who, i ncidental l y, don red goggl es and cabl e
equi pped rei nforcement suits analogous t o those worn by the " Kerberos"
agents in later productions.
The character design pivots on a fusion of typically Japanese el ements
traditional ly associated wi th the visual discourse of the kawaii ( "cute" ) and
a sense of el egantly urbane restraint, especial ly in the rendition of the prin
ci pal female characters. The robot designs, for thei r part, are vari ed and dra
matically efective i n the portrayal of both humanoid and overtly mechanical
automata. Even though the design and the overal l ani mati on style are not,
on the whole, as meticulously detailed as they woul d be in subsequent Oshi i
fl ms, t he architectural design i s unremitti ngly remarkabl e and often down
ri ght spectacular. The sprawl i ng conurbation of Monopol is, the laborers'
cramped quarters, the tunnels, mi nes, subways and Dal los's own mechan
ical i nfrastructure ( exhibiting patterns redol ent of gigantic computer chi ps)
recal l at once sci ence fction classics as vari ed as Metropolis ( dir. Fri tz Lang,
1 3-Dal l os 99
1 927) , Forbidden Planet ( di r. Fred M. Wilcox, 1 956) , 2001: A Space Odyssey
( dir. Stanley Kubri ck, 1 968) , Castle in the Sky ( dir. Hayao Miyazaki , 1 986)
and t he Matrix tri l ogy ( di rs . Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1 999-2003) .
Most notable, where setti ng i s concerned, i s the OVA's handl i ng of
opposi ti ons . For exampl e, t he subl i me grandeur of star- studded cosmi c
i nfnit y i s consi stently contrasted wi t h the Moon's utter desol ati on outside
the oxygenated dome that encl oses the capital . At the same time, Dallos
plays with the vi s ual di scordance between the opul ence of the weal thy
areas -with thei r swan ponds, waterfal l s, i mposi ng bridges and arches,
polished fagstones and pervasive atmosphere of l umi nosity -and the hi ve
l i ke workers' quarters, consi sti ng of seemi ngly endl ess rows of cubi cl e
shaped dwel l i ngs organi zed i nto descendi ng concentri c c ircl es, where a
sense of entrapment, conversely, tends to domi nate . It is from thi s aesthetic
visi on of archi tectural i ncongrui ti es, and from the dispassionate contem
plation of the ideological and psychological conficts to whi ch they are ger
mane, that the deepl y di vi ded technopol i ti cal real ms expl ored i n the
Patlabor and " Kerberos" movi es perti nently emanate .
14
Mobile Police Patlabor
OVA l
Mobi le Police Patlabor started out as a manga written and drawn by
Masami Yuuki i n 1 988. I t s narrative premi se was that by t he year 1 999 heavy
constructi on proj ects-of which there would be an ever- mushroomi ng
number -woul d be undertaken by automata tagged " Labors," and that the
Tokyo Pol i ce Force would use robots known as "Patlabors" ( i . e . , "Patrol
Labors" ) to deal wi th cri mes and acci dents i nvol vi ng the constructi on
Labors and abusive deployment thereof by unscrupul ous i ndi vi dual s and
organizations . The manga's story arcs tended to pi vot on the Tokyo Met
ropolitan Pol i ce Speci al Vehicl e Di vi si on 2 ( SV2 ) , Secti on 2, frequently wi th
the ti mid but highly dedicated female pi l ot Noa Izumi as the protagonist .
The franchi se created by Oshi i with the ani me team " Headgear"
encompasses the frst OVA series (7 episodes) , di rected by Oshi i i n 1 988-89;
the two feature fl ms Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police and Patlabor 2: The Movie,
also di rected by Oshi i and released i n 1989 and 1 993 respecti vel y; a TV
seri es ai red in 1 989-1 990 ( 47 epi sodes ) ; and a second OVA s eri es ( 16
episodes) , released between 1990 and 1 992. Oshi i provided the scri pt for a
number of epi sodes i ncl uded in the TV seri es and for parts of the second
OVA. The frst and second segments of thi s secti on of the book assess the
OVA and TV seri es . Case studies of the two feature- l ength producti ons
di rected by Oshi i are next suppl i ed. Further devel opments i n the Patlabor
universe, namely the feature fl m Patlabor WXIII: Movie 3 ( di r. Fumi hiko
Takayama, 2002) and the short ani mati ons i ncl uded i n the Minipato col
l ection ( dir. Kenj i Kamiyama, 2001 ) are exami ned next .
Yuuki had i nvolved hi s fri ends-most of whom would go on to become
part of the " Headgear" team -i n i nformal di scussi ons about possi bl e i deas
for a robot-based tel evi sion ani mation i n the early 1 980s. At the ti me, the
most popul ar show of the ki nd was Mobile Suit Gundam ( 1 979) , created by
Yoshiyuki Tomi no. The ori gi nal Gundam TV series, now quite unani mously
regarded as a cornerstone of sci-f ani me, pivoted on a scenario of i nter
pl anetary confict aki n to the type of cosmi c drama proposed by Oshi i i n
1 00
14-Mobile Police Patlabor OVA 1 1 01
Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police ( 1989) . Alphonse i s one o f the Ingrams deployed b y the
Special Vehicles Di vi si on 2 ( SV2) of the Tokyo Police. Shielded by these towering
humanoid automata, the SV2 endeavor to protect the city against ofenses perpe
t rated by rogue Labors - gi ant robots ( both manned and sel f-pi l oti ng) i ni ti al l y
designed for construction projects but increasi ngly hij acked by proft-driven cri me
ri ngs and, i n the enigmatic case on whi ch Pat/abor 1 hi nges, by one mad scienti st .
HEADGEAR/EMOTION/TFC.
the OVA Dallas. Gundam sees the Earth and i ts space col oni es di vi ded
between the democratic " Federation" and the "Pri ncipality of Zeon," wi th
humanoi d pil oted "suits" as key weapons i n the struggl e. The frst concept
elaborated by Yuuki and hi s associates, never ful l y devel oped, was the story
of an i ntergalactic war and was provisionally ti tl ed Jeilazard ( c . 1 98 1 ) . Thi s
was followed, about a year l ater, by Lightning Garrakres: a narrative whi ch,
though sti l l set in space, partial ly anti ci pates the Patlabor universe through
i ts i ncorporati on of various giant machi nes occasi onal l y endowed wi th
humanoi d attributes . Lightning Garrakres was never brought to frui ti on
either.
The prel i mi nary concepts ideated by Yuuki and hi s collaborators began
to approxi mate the actual world and atmosphere desti ned to di sti ngui sh
the Patlabor producti ons with Vidor (1982-83 ) , somethi ng of a Patlabor set
in space -specifcally, on a colonized planet where large humanoi d robots
1 02 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopol i tics
named Labors are empl oyed for heavy work but soon degenerate i nto
weapons for fraudul ent entrepreneurs and thei r cri mi nal ventures. Hence,
a speci al pol i ce di vi si on i s establ i shed to deal wi th Labor- connected
ofences. The character desi gns for the young pol i cewoman Al dy Ri me, piv
otal to the ent ire story arc, exhibit striki ng si mi l ari ti es to those later pro
duced for Patlabor's Noa. '
One of t he most evocatively succi nct, yet comprehensive, assessments
of the Patlabor uni verse avai lable to date i s provided by a highly i nforma
ti ve Web si te devoted to the franchise, named Schaft Enterprises aft er the
i magi nary Labor- manufacturi ng company ci ted i n the fl ms:
Patlabor i s an amazing series with excellent characters, plots which range from
absurd comedies to political drama, wonderfully designed mecha, and a sense of
realism which you don't fnd in most robot ani me. I t is often described as the
Hill Street Blues of anime. The stories usually focus on the characters and char
acter development rather than the robots as most robot anime does. In fact some
of the stories don't feature any robots at all . Unlike most robot anime, Patlabor
is set in a near future world ... where robots are just everyday vehicles ... All of
the main cast are adults who have adult problems. There are no teenagers full of
angst or heroes piloting large robots against an alien enemy. It's just a refresh
ing slice of life, a comedy/drama set in a Tokyo police division -they just hap
pen to use robots in their line of work [Whitley].
Beari ng thi s background i nformation i n mi nd, it coul d real i stically be
mai ntai ned that the world of Patlabor represents Oshi i' s frst i ncursi on i nto
the real m of mecha-the subgenre of anime that pivots on giant robots and
mechani cal suits- and, relatedly, hi s frst opportuni ty to i nst i l l his utterly
personal and refreshi ng vision into an i ncreasi ngly formul ai c and occasi on
al l y rather sti l ted narrative mode . The mecha tradi tion can be traced back
to Tetsujin 28-go ( Iron Man No. 28) , a popular manga created by the arti st
Mi tsuteru Yokoyama i n 1 958 and adapted for Japanese tel evi si on as a 96-
epi sode seri es, ai red from 1963 to 1 965, i mported to the u. s. i n 1 966 as
Gigantor. Thi s show could be said to mi rror, al bei t tangenti ally, some of
Oshi i ' s own pol i ti cal concerns and thei r arti cul ati on i n the Patlabor fl ms,
i nsofar as it al l udes to real hi storical forces, i f not actual events, by uti l i z
i ng as i ts narrative premi se the destruction by u. s. bombers of a laboratory
wherei n Japanese sci enti sts are seeki ng to devel op the ul t i mat e robot
weapon to be deployed agai nst the Al l i es. The mai n story arc, unfol di ng a
decade after the end of World War Two, encompasses the search for the
tremendously powerful giant- robot prototype No. 28 and on pl ans for i ts
peaceful employment .
Gigantor was t he frst i n a long and prol ifc l i ne of mecha product ions .
Among them, the most i l l ustri ous i ncl ude the TV seri es Mazi nger Z
( 1 972-74) , which arguably marked the i nception of the ani me cul t i n Amer
i ca; the aforementioned TV seri es Mobile Sui t Gundam ( 1979) and the fran-
14-Mobile Police Patl abor OVA 1 1 03
chi se spawned by thi s seri es well i nto the 1 980s and 1 990s; the OVA Bub
blegum Crisis ( 1987) and its adaptation for tel evision i n 1 999 wi th the titl e
of Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040; the 1992 OVA series Giant Robo ( al so
based, l ike Gigantor, on a manga desi gned by Yokoyama) ; the 26-week TV
seri es Neon Genesis Evangelion ( 1 995) , commonl y regarded as the most suc
cessful , most cherished and yet most controversial ani me of al l ti mes; and
the feature fl ms Appleseed ( 1988) , Gunhed ( 1989) and Roujin Z ( 1 99 1 ) .
I mportantly, some of the most memorabl e producti ons feat uri ng
mecha-based el ements al so draw i nspi ration from other sources and tradi
tions-Chi nese epi c sagas i n the case of Giant Robo, for i nstance, and a
heady mi x of Shi nto mythology and Bibl i cal al l usions i n the case of Neon
Genesis Evangelion. I n thi s respect, these works provide ftti ng paral l el s to
Oshi i ' s own assi duous commi tment to the i ntegration of sci ence fcti onal
mot i fs and di verse mythol ogi cal and rel i gi ous frames of reference, as
famously evi nced not sol el y by the Patlabor movi es themselves but al so by
l ater productions such as Avalon, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost i n the Shell
2: Innocence. Whi l e acknowl edgi ng these si mi l ari ti es, however, it must al so
be stressed that Oshi i ' s fl ms redefne the customary mecha styl e and mood
qui te drasti cal l y by uti l i zi ng the fgure of the gi ant robot as a means of
refecting, al l egorically, on t he l i mitations of human vi si on and of t he tech
nological tool s resul ti ng from it . I ndeed, whi l e denoti ng technology' s seem
i ngly i mpregnabl e powers by vi rtue of their sheer vol ume and mul ti fari ous
enhancements, Oshi i ' s Labors are concurrentl y depi cted as somewhat
exposed and vul nerable to external forces-most notably, the sci enti sts and
techni ci ans responsi bl e for programmi ng thei r computerized brai ns .
I n an i ntervi ew given at the Big Apple Ani me Fest - Mecha in Anime-
2003, the producer of the Mobile Police Patlabor seri es, Taro Maki, has stated
that while he is i nterested i n making "cool mecha" that are capabl e of attract
ing both lay spectators and toy compani es, he i s not solely concerned with
the efectiveness of the robotic el ement : " [ i J n Patlabor a robot i s dealt with
as a machi ne, but I wanted the machi ne to be i nteresti ng . . . . The show also
shows the comi c everyday l i fe of the police. Whi l e I wanted the machi nes
to l ook cool, I wanted them to refect t he comi c overall l evel of the story. "
Patlabor's robots are endowed with i ndividual personal i ti es that replicate
both thei r specifc functions and purposes and the procl i vi ti es of thei r own
ers. "It is possi bl e to design a robot with no personal ity," Maki states, "but
I thi nk when peopl e see that portrayal the robot is goi ng to come of as stu
pi d . . . . It' s not about the robot, i t' s the way that peopl e react to i t. Tetsu
ji n 28 i s a machi ne and peopl e pilot it, but there are scenes where i t rai ns
and water pool s i n the eyes of the robot -no matter what you do, i t l ooks
l ike the robot i s crying" ( Big Apple Anime Fest - Mecha i n Ani me- 2003) .
The manga i tsel f had sought to represent pictori al ly i ntri gui ng robots
1 04 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
that could, nonetheless, be believed to feature i n the everyday l i fe of a world
set in the i mmi nent fut ure . Yuuki was undoubtedl y successful in hi s
endeavor, the sal e of over 1 9 mi l lion copi es of the manga i n t he course of
i t s si x-year run i ndicating that the work was admi red not j ust as yet another
i nstance of tantalizing action adventure but also, more i mportantly, for i ts
unsenti mental sensi ti vi ty to human psychology and dramas .
Moreover, Oshi i pushes the mecha subgenre wel l beyond i ts custom
ary remi t by engagi ng with compl ex hi stori cal and pol i ti cal i ssues, and
aspects of Japanese hi story and pol i ti cs i n the post-WW2 era. Especi al l y
i mportant, i n the context of the Patlabor universe, are the controversi es
surroundi ng Japan's military stat us. The 9t h arti cl e of the Japanese Const i
tuti on, drafted i n 1947, prohibits t he country from havi ng an army. Yet,
the Sel f Defence Forces ( SDF) were created i n 1950 ( under the name of
National Safety Forces) at t he behest of Douglas MacArthur, t he commander
of the U. S. Occupation Forces, to replace Al l i ed troops to be sent to Korea.
Many bel i eved -and sti l l bel i eve -that the very exi stence of the SD F i s
unconstitutional . The Patlabor productions engage expl i ci tly wi th thi s awk
ward i ssue. At the same ti me, they hark back to another mil i tary questi on
cl ose to Oshi i' s heart at the ti me of hi s i nvolvement i n the student protest
movement -namel y, the ideological and ethi cal propri ety of Japan's par
ticipation i n a securi ty pact wi th the U. S. on the basi s of which Japan would
be requi red to host Ameri can troops to be deployed in Korea and in Vi et
nam. I f Japan i s forbidden from subscri bi ng to warfare of any sort, i t i s hard
to see why it shoul d abet mi litary expl oi ts conducted by other nati ons any
where el se i n the worl d. Blood: The Last Vampire, a flm directed by Hi royuki
Ki takubo for whi ch Oshii and hi s team supplied the original concept, would
revi si t this thorny issue about a decade later i n the deeply defami l i ari zi ng
context of the horror genre .
+ + +
The frst Patlabor OVA ( Apri l -December 1 988 wi th one addi ti onal
epi sode i n June 1 989) focuses on the Tokyo Metropol itan Pol i ce Speci al
Vehi cl e Di vi si on 2 i n thei r confrontations with vi l l ai ns as di verse as rogue
mi l i tary ofcers, ecoterrori sts and disafcted construction workers . Whi l e
Labors are bei ng most proftably employed to cope wi th a phase of mas
sive urban development and land recl amati on -whi l e also bei ng used for
mi l itary purposes, undersea exploration and even recreation -thei r abuse
by al l manner of mighty felons, corrupt pol i ti ci ans and petty crooks comes
to consti tute an escalating threat for the Tokyo Metropol i tan Pol i ce, and i t
i s up to Special Vehi cl es Section 2 t o use t hei r own Patrol Labors, gi ant
14-Mobile Police Patl abor OVA 1 1 05
mechanical sui ts known as "Ingrams," to restore order. Secti on 2 compri ses
two branches : Uni t 1, commanded by Captai n Nagumo, and Uni t 2, l ed by
Captain Gotoh. Throughout the seri es, and again i n the features, it i s not
hard to sense that the latter i s regarded as somewhat second- rate in com
pari son with the former, not least due to its members' alternately hil ari ous
and pathetic i diosyncrasi es.
However, there are i ndications that the Section i n i ts enti rety lacks
both trust and support. This i s vividly conveyed by its physical rel egation
to a hanger si tuated on a rather desolate plot of reclaimed land, and pro
vi sion wi th mechanical equi pment that i s frequently l ess than up to scratch.
It is from the Section' s underprivi l eged status, from the graphi c ( and often
humorous) depi cti on of its members' quotidian exerti ons, and from the
prudentl y opti mistic cel ebration of thei r knack of maki ng the best of a poor
deal that the Patlabor universe ul ti mately derives its narrative vitality and
dramati c i ntensity. Fi rstly, i t should be noted that the various characters
appear to have ended up i n the SV2 for somewhat spurious reasons and, i n
some cases, even agai nst thei r personal predi l ecti ons . Thi s very factor
endows the si tuation wi th a poignant sense of veri si mi l itude . Secondly, as
Chris Beveri dge has poi nted out i n hi s revi ew of the seri es, thei r everyday
i nteracti ons come across as emi nently authentic for the si mpl e reason that
they
have to work wi th each other, but there isn't the usual egging on of opposites
you get in mecha series over who has to work with who. They're realistic in the
sense that they're there to do a job and sometimes the job can suck. They love
getting some down time and they occasionally disagree with their boss . ... Cap
tain Gotoh .. . is the classic deadpan commander that simply rattles of what must
be done and often looks bored by what he's been given to do ... . Through their
attempts to learn ... we see the interactions of the characters come to life as well
as the bonding with the Labors [ Beveridge J .
The pl ots i ncl uded i n the frst OVA seri es run the ful l gamut from
thri l l er to farce, pol i ce procedural to sci ence fcti on, soci al satire to mon
st er movie parody, pol i ti cal drama to ghost story. Yet, an el ement of real
i sm courses consi stently through its fl mic vei ns . Thi s i s attested to by the
characters' tenacious - though not unequivocally successful -eforts to
work together as a proper team, on the one hand, and by a highly credi bl e
portrayal of the urban setting, on the other. Alongside gl i mpses of a futur
i sti c megalopol i s, we are suppl i ed wi th realistic pictures of the actual Tokyo
of today, wi th i ts i nt i mi dat i ng hi gh- ri ses abutti ng di l api dated edi fces,
shri nes and playgrounds .
One of the most memorable segments in the Patlabor franchi se as a
whole is the openi ng epi sode of the frst OVA seri es, " Second Uni t, Move
Out! " ( rel eased on 25 Apri l 1 988) , where the team are i ntroduced on the
1 06 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
very day of the Di vi sion's formation, with their qui rks, foi bl es and endear
i ng trai ts i nstantly emergi ng. Thus, we get to meet Noa, a girl who has been
i nspi red t o j oi n t he section by t he fact that she qui t e si mply loves Labors;
the seemi ngly l ai d-back but extremely shrewd captai n Gotoh; the weapon
obsessed Ota; the gentl e-giant type Hi romi ; Shi nshi the hen-pecked hus
band; and Asuma the reluctant cadet . Epi sode 1 sets the tone for what i s to
come i n more ways than one . It ofers comedy as the team are delayed in
the coll ection of their Labors as a result, rather prosai cal l y, of appal l i ng
trafc congesti on, as wel l as seri ous references to the general state of Tokyo
and to related envi ronmental i ssues. It concurrently emphasi zes the poor
reputation enj oyed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Pol i ce Speci al Vehi cl e Di vi
si on 2 among bot h t he general public and t he rest of t he police, whi l e al so
hi nti ng at t he complexity of group dynami cs.
The seri es engages wi th the topi c of terrorism i n the second episode,
" Longshot" ( rel eased on 25 June 1 988) , where the mayor of New York vi s
its the Babylon Proj ect, a colossal of-shore l andfl l i n the middl e of Tokyo
Bay created for reclamation purposes, and has to be protected by the SV2
agai nst di re threats . I n its handl i ng of the theme of terrorist menace, thi s
episode foreshadows the second Patlabor feature . The gi ant monster genre,
desti ned to pl ay a pivotal rol e i n the thi rd Patlabor movie, i s i ntroduced i n
the thi rd OVA episode, "The 450 Mil l ion-Year-Ol d Trap" ( rel eased on 25
J ul y 1 988) , as t he SV2 i nvestigate a seri es of acci dents i n Tokyo Bay that are
overtly echoed , more than a decade later, by Kamiyama's feature . Another
favori te genre i n Japanese pop culture, the ghost story, i s i nvoked i n Episode
4, "The Tragedy of L" ( rel eased on 25 September 1 988 ) , where the pol i ce
academy appears to be haunted by the specter of a young woman reputedly
killed by a pai nt bul l et from a Labor gun as she was watchi ng a mock bat
tl e .
Epi sodes 5 and 6, "The SV2's Longest Day, Part I and Part I I " ( rel eased
on 1 0 November 1988 and 1 0 December 1 998 respecti vel y) are arguabl y
among the most noteworthy i nsofar as they constitute the prototype behi nd
Patlabor 2: The Movie. The threats of a mi l itary coup and a ci vi l war, com
bi ned wi th precari ous diplomatic relations i nvolvi ng Japan and the U. S. ,
are brought t o t he fore i n ways that incontrovertibly foreshadow Oshi i' s sec
ond Patlabor feature . The frst OVA was original l y i ntended to be a si x-part
seri es, but a seventh epi sode -"Go North, SV2 ! " -was added ( and rel eased
on 25 June 1 989) i n order to promote Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police. Its focus
i s once more on the theme of terrorism, and specifcally on the nefari ous
acti vi ti es of a group known as "Beach House . "
Whi l e endeavori ng t o i nfuse the cumulatively convi nci ng tone of the
epi sodes with an energizing el ement of humor, Oshii nonethel ess ai ms to
draw attention to the doubts and di fcul ti es experi enced by i ts protago-
14-Mobile Police Patl abor OVA 1 1 07
ni sts and supporti ng cast . In so doi ng, he profers an el l iptical commen
tary on the parti cul ar chapter of Japan' s hi story wi t h whi ch the production
of the Patlabor universe as a whole i s chronologically associated. I ndeed,
the destabi l i zation of the characters' empi rical certai nti es points to a dis
sol ution of cognitive and ethical tenets which pi thily hi nts at the ephemer
al i ty of the "Bubble" era and to the bursti ng of i ts economi c promi ses. 2
Ci nematographicall y, thi s sense of social and exi stenti al i nsecuri ty is com
municated by camera moves that often cut away from the characters them
selves to highlight the i mprisoni ng nature of their world as a sti fi ng bel l -j ar.
At the same time, Oshi i frequently resorts to shots that throw i nto rel i ef a
character' s refecti on on a wi ndow pane, as though to all ude to the replace
ment of real ity as such by a framed si mulacrum thereof. Whi l e the OVA
seri es is the harbi nger of these techni ques, whi ch can i ndeed be detected
across its epi sodes i n embryonic form, Oshi i ' s disti nctive directorial si gna
ture -of whi ch such camera operations are embl ematic -wi l l become more
markedly obvi ous i n the feature fl ms to come .
15
Mobile Police Patlabor
TV Series and OVA 2
The Mobile Police Patlabor TV seri es, directed by Naoyuki Yoshi nori ,
encompassed 47 epi sodes and was ai red from 1 1 October 1 989 to 26 Sep
tember 1 990. At the begi nni ng of the seri es, the SV2 are recrui ti ng new
pi lots and expecti ng a new Labor. As thi s i s suddenl y hij acked, Noa I zumi
takes of after it and her eforts gai n her a permanent posi ti on wi thi n the
Di vi sion. As el sewhere i n the Patlabor franchi se, in the TV seri es there are
frequent allusions to the dubi ous reputation enj oyed by Captai n Gotoh' s
unit as a result of i ts presumed i ncompetence and eccentri ci ty, as wel l as
an excess of zeal borderi ng, i n the least fel i ci tous ci rcumstances, on pl ai n
brutality. These themes are al so axial, as argued l ater i n thi s study, to the
Kerberos producti ons .
The TV seri es i s as varied, generi cally speaki ng, as t he frst OVA seri es
was seen to be . Its epi sodes i ncl ude forays i nto the real ms of suspenseful
drama, the sci -f spoof, the monster show, and Hill-Street-Blues- l i ke tal es
revolvi ng around the quoti di an chores of the often exhaust ed and
grumpy -yet remarkably resi l i ent -members of the SV2. It shoul d al so be
noted, however, that despi te these generi c afni ti es wi th the frst OVA, the
TV seri es works wi th a diferent ti mel i ne and cast of characters, frequentl y
bri ngi ng i nto pl ay personas from the ori gi nal manga not used i n ei ther the
OVA seri es or the features.
Oshi i contri buted t he screenplays for fve of t he epi sodes: Epi sode 3,
"We're Special Vehi cl es Section 2"; Episode 9, "Red Labor Landi ng"; Epi sode
14, "You Wi n! " ; Episode 29, "The Destruction of the SV2"; and Epi sode 38,
"The Underground Mystery Tour. " Episode 3 ( ori gi nal l y broadcast on 1
November 1 989) follows Noa's i nitiation i nto the l i festyle of the SV2. We
l earn that the uni t ' s l ocati on on a vacant l ot vi rtual l y i n the mi ddl e of
nowhere compel s i ts members t o i mprovi se when it comes to food, and
hence spend vi rtually al l of thei r scarce of-duty hours fshi ng, rai si ng chick
ens and growi ng tomatoes . The epi sode focuses on a fshing expedition i n
whi ch the crew somehow manage to r un the pol i ce speed-boat aground,
1 08
IS-Mobile Police Patl abor TV Series and OVA 2 1 09
and Ota's attempt to rescue it results in the si nki ng of hi s Labor. Noa saves
the day, admi rably confrmi ng the ti mely apposi teness of her recent addi
tion to t he team.
I n Episode 9 ( ori gi nally broadcast on 13 December 1 989) , Oshi i returns
once more to the topi c of terrorism, thi s ti me with a focus on the charac
ter of Itchoku I nubashi ri , an ex- mil itary Labor pi l ot now associated with
the mi l itant anti-Babylon Proj ect organization "Home of the Sea. " At the
same ti me, the episode i nti mates that terrorists are not Japan' s sole -or
i ndeed pri ncipal -cause for concern, si nce government ofci al s s uch as the
Publ i c Safety Agents i nvolved i n the plot are themselves motivated by hi d
den agendas with rather questionable credenti al s . l
Epi sode 1 4 ( ori gi nal l y broadcast on 24 January 1 990) i s undoubtedly
one of the most overtly comical pieces i n the entire series, j oyously i ndul ging
i n a rapi d sequence of gags that revolve around Divi si on 2's abysmal per
formance i n a Pol i ce Judo Tournament, and a ferce di sagreement between
t he characters of Noa and Kanuka resul ti ng i n t he further deterioration of
t hei r already t ense relationshi p. The pl ot cul mi nates i n a dri nki ng compe
tition of trul y hercul ean proportions.
I n Episode 29 ( ori gi nal ly broadcast on 23 May 1 990) , Oshi i revi si ts the
type of surreal terri tory previ ously expl ored i n the context of Beautiful
Dreamer and Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 by recourse to a si m
pl e but pl ayful l y troubl i ng tale i n which what shoul d have been t he unprob
l emati c del ivery of a take-away food order absurdly mutates i nto a case of
mul ti pl e disappearances . When the food fai l s to reach the SV2 hangar, i t
transpi res that the delivery boy has disappeared wi th the order. Ota's tri p
to the restaurant to solve the conundrum resul ts i n hi s own vani shi ng and
when, a few hours l ater, other members of the crew take of to fnd hi m,
they too seemi ngly di ssolve i nto thi n air.
Oshii' s taste for the surreal mani fests i tsel f agai n i n Epi sode 38 ( ori g
inal l y broadcast on 25 July 1990) , where the mysteri ous di sappearance of
victuals from t he SV2 hangar eventually l eads t o t he discovery of a labyri nth
of tunnel s situated j ust beneath the l andfl l upon whi ch the unit' s quarters
have been erected. ( Like the labyrinth, the tunnel consti tutes a favorite
vi sual trope i n Oshi i' s ci nema, as el oquently borne out by producti ons as
generically diverse and chronologically distant as Dallos, Angel 's Egg and
Ghost in the Shel l 2: Innocence. ) As members of the SV2 team resol ve to
explore the maze i n search of an answer to their i ni tial di l emma, they fnd
that cats, rats and utter di sori entation are not t hei r onl y woes. Lurki ng i n
the depths of the sewage system i s also a most unexpected guest : none other
than an al bi no al l i gator.
Mike Crandol ' s review of the Mobile Police Patlabor TV seri es ( DVD
Vol . 1) for Ani me News Network has tersely described it as "one of the crown-
l l O Part Three : Oshii's Technopol itics
i ng achievements of the gi ant robot genre . . . presented i n a pl ausi bl e, real
istic manner, with an emphasis on character-driven humor as opposed to
superheroic mecha battles . " The seri es, as a result, i s capabl e of reachi ng
beyond the scope of adolescent viewers, who constitute the bul k of the audi
ence for conventional mecha animations: "everyone's personal i ty and moti
vations are cl early delineated. Even the smaller players have been i mbued
wi th defni ng character traits . " No less remarkable, however, is the narrative
use of the robots themselves i n a realistic fashion, whereby the Labors' for
midable assets are endeari ngly dwarfed by thei r deployment i n the handl i ng
of what often turn out to be j ocularly trivial incidents and paltry ofences:
The Patlabor team is more likely to encounter a drunken Labor pilot acciden
tally stepping on buildings than an evil warlord with an army of robotic follow
ers. And while Patlabor's Ingrams may not be the most realistic way to deal wi th
a rogue Labor, the manner in which they are used is entirely logical: instead of
launching out of a hidden underground base the Ingrams are loaded on a truck
and driven to the scene of the crime, where the Ingram pilot is then guided by
another ofcer in a patrol car [ Crandol 2002 ) .
I n hi s later review of t he fourth volume of t he seri es on DVD, Crandol has
further defned Patlabor: The Mobile Police, i n afectionately apposi te t erms
as "the l ittle ani me seri es that coul d. From humbl e begi nni ngs i t l aunched
the careers of many of the i ndustry' s top tal ents and has gone on to become
one of the most respected ti tl es i n the medi um' s hi story" ( Crandol 2003) .
Tasha Robi nson's review of the TV seri es for Science Fiction Weekly has
commented along si mi l ar lines on its disti nctive tone -and, relatedl y, on
i ts styl i sti c, thematic and aesthetic di stance from much habi tual fare in the
anime universe : "The Patlabor franchi se has gotten high marks from fans
si mpl y because the seri es wastes little ti me on its eponymous, ubi qui tous
mecha. The Labors do have a sharply detailed, hi gh-tech design . . . . But the
machi nes spend rel ativel y l i ttl e ti me i n combat . . . as Di vi si on 2 farms,
fshes, chatters about bafi ng cases and often onl y rol l s i nto battl e at the
end of an episode, i f at all . As a resul t, Patlabor comes of more as a good
natured cop comedy than an action seri es. It moves at a placid, even pace
compared to . . . any of ani me' s other si milarly hyperki neti c personal i ty
i ntensive police shows . . . most of Patlabor's characters seem as subdued as
the flat bl ue-and-brown color palette that constrai ns much of the ani ma
tion" ( Robinson 1 998 ) .
+ + +
The second Patlabor OVA compri sed 1 6 epi sodes and was rel eased
between 22 November 1990 and 23 Apri l 1992. The second OVA follows
IS-Mobi l e Police Patl abor TV Series and OVA 2 I I I
di rectly from the TV seri es, i ts frst four epi sodes servi ng to resolve the
"Gri fn" saga developed i n the TV series. In these epi sodes, the SV2 has to
deal with a powerful but mi schievous Labor created by the Schaft Corpo
ration -the " Gri fn" in question -and repeated confrontations between
Captai n Gotoh' s forces and the Gri fn allow for more mecha acti on than
afci onados of Oshi i' s Patlabor features may be accustomed to or even pre
pared for. The core of the Gri fn episodes consists of the confi ct between
Noa I zumi and t he pi l ot of the rogue Labor, Bud, a hi ghl y competi tive
videogame prodigy who appears to have l ost ( or possi bly del iberately sup
pressed) any sense of t he boundary separati ng real ity from virtual i ty and,
as a resul t, treats hi s contests with Noa as i nherentl y l udi c event s. ( Oshi i
wi l l revi si t thi s topos i n t he live-action and CGI hybri d Avalon i n 2001 i n
a drastically more omi nous and metaphysically resonant vei n. )
Whi l e t he red- t ressed heroi ne' s courage, ski l l s and enthusi asm are
often foregrounded, the Gri fn epi sodes remai n fai thful to the franchi se' s
semi nal concepti on of the SV2 as an ensembl e of compl ementary -though
frequentl y di scordant -personal iti es . The collaborative spi ri t is accord
i ngly stressed as both a key theme i n the Patlabor universe in i ts enti rety
and, sel f- refl exively, as a metaphor for the emi nently team-based modus
operandi underl yi ng the very notion of ani me as an art for m. Si mul tane
ously, t he seri es commodiously allows for a j ubi l ant exposure of the SV2' s
bl unders and quirks, portrayi ng its members sympatheti cal ly and unsenti
mentally at once as a bunch of oddballs, mi sfts and l oose cannons .
Oshi i ' s contri buti ons to the second OVA consi st of the scri pts for
Epi sode 7, "Bl ack Tri nary"; Episode 8, "The Seven Days of Fi re"; Epi sode
10, "It's Called Amnesi a"; and Epi sode 1 3, "The Dungeon -Agai n. " Epi sode
7 ( rel eased on 23 May 1 991 ; di r. Yasunao Aoki ) evi nces overt l i nks with
both Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police and Patlabor 2: The Movie in i ts treat
ment of the topi c of terrori sm, whi ch here pivots on a seri es of bombi ngs
targeted at busi ness organizations that vaunt connecti ons with the Baby
lon Proj ect .
Epi sode 8 ( rel eased on 25 July 1 991 ; dir. Yasunori Urata) engages with
the i ssue of i nters ubj ecti ve dynami cs, focusi ng on unresol ved t ensi ons
between the i ndividual and the group. The di scovery of l arge amounts of
pornographi c materi al s among the SV2 mechani cs l eads to the enforcement
of st ri ct rul es t hat l eaves these characters wi th al most no private l i fe .
I ncensed by thei r bosses' adoption of such draconian measures, the mechan
i cs revol t, spl i nt er groups rapi dl y form, and beati ngs and ki dnappi ngs
ensue . The epi sode's overall tone i s comedi c, yet its narrative concomitantly
ofers a potenti al l y serious commentary on the ephemerality of harmony
and consensus even withi n the most closely kni t of communi t i es.
I n Episode 10 ( rel eased on 26 September 1 991 ; di r. Nana Harada) , t he
1 1 2 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopolitics
theme cl osest to Oshi i ' s heart comes to full -and consummatel y surreal
l i fe as Ota is placed at the center of disturbi ng onei ri c experi ences that once
more echo Beautiful Dreamer. Ota dreams that he i s responsi bl e for ki l l i ng
hi s col leagues, who have turned out to be cri mi nal s after al l . He wakes up
and fnds hi msel f i n Shi nshi ' s house with Hi romi , Asuma, Shi ge and Shi n
shi hi mself-al l of them dead as a result of gun wounds -hol di ng a gun
i n hi s hand. Unabl e to remember who he is, he checks hi s wal l et but thi s
now seems to actually belong to Shi nshi . The SV2 must fnd Ota -whom
Gotoh deems the vi cti m of an especially severe case of amnesi a -before any
real harm may come to pass.
Episode 1 3 ( released on 23 January 1 992; di r. Nana Harada) i s the l east
explicitly related to the rest of Oshi i 's oeuvre i n thematic terms i nsofar as
neither the pol itical nor the dream di mensi ons so central to hi s si gnature
make any obvi ous appearance. It i s, however, di sti nctively Oshi i an at the
phi l osophi cal level i n that it places considerable emphasis on the topos of
the quest: a moti f that traverses Oshi i ' s creative career from the OVA Ange/ 's
Egg through to the Ghost in the Shell features. In thi s case, the obj ect of the
quest i s an extremely val uabl e pearl excreted by the albi no al l i gator that was
found in the labyri nth underneath the SV2 hangar i n Epi sode 38 of the TV
seri es and now turns out to have been accommodated i n the Tokyo Zoo.
Some SV2 mechanics revisit the tunnel s i n greedy search of more al l i gators
who mi ght, i deal l y, al so prove to be treasure t runks. When they fai l to
return, other members of the team are forced to embark -al bei t rather
reluctantly -on a rescue mission.
Although Oshii' s contributions to the Pat/abor TV seri es and to the sec
ond OVA coul d hardly be described as the most outstandi ng moments i n
hi s creative parabl e as a director, graphi c artist, author and scri pt wri ter,
they undeniably bear witness in their own unobtrusive and unpretenti ous
fashion to hi s uni que fl mmaki ng style and tantal i zi ng knack of i ntermi n
gl i ng the most ethereal perceptions with the wildest ri des i nto t he bi zarre .
16
Patlabor 1:
The Mobile Police
The narrative of Patlabor 1 is triggered by the col l usi on of two at frst
seemi ngly unrel ated events : a man's spectacul ar pl unge to hi s death from
the hei ghts of a manufacturi ng faci l i ty located on Tokyo Bay ( and capabl e
of servi ci ng al l ki nds of Labors) known as t he "Ark," and the hunti ng down
by the Japanese Self Defence Forces of a rogue Labor which, after i ts even
t ual vanqui shi ng, t urns out t o be pi lotless . I t i s up to Captai n Got oh and
to hi s SV2 associates Noa Izumi and Asuma Shi nohara to fgure out whether
the two occurrences are somehow related and, i f so, what the connecti on
amounts to.
It gradual l y transpi res that the sui ci de presented i n the openi ng
sequence was the desi gner of the Hyper Operati ng System ( HaS) i nstal l ed
i n the most recent type of Labor, the software geni us Ei i chi Hoba worki ng
for Shi nohara Heavy I ndustri es, and that hi s sel f- anni hil ation had been
motivated by gui l t resul ti ng from hi s deliberate i nsertion i nto the program
of a flaw bound to render the Labors tumul tuously destructive. The muti
nous robot presented i n the earl y sequence i s an i nstance of preci sely a
Labor thus i nfected. As several more automata upgraded wi th the new
Hyper Operati ng System i nexplicably run amok, i t i s feared that t he lngrams
deployed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Pol i ce Speci al Vehi cl e Di vi si on 2 -
also, supposedly, upgraded -wi l l l ikewise go on the rampage .
Captai n Gotoh turns out to have been aware al l along of the suspi ci ous
nature of the new HaS and to have deliberately kept hi s knowl edge from
the SV2 agents . Thi s behavi or on the boss' s part may wel l be seen as a
detestable form of behi nd-the-scenes puppeteeri ng, and Asuma is under
standably angry when he fnds out that Gotoh had secretly put a stop to the
upgradi ng procedure by specifcally i nstructing the team' s technowizard,
Shige, not to i nstall the novel software into the I ngrams . Havi ng devoted
a l ot of ti me and energy to the i nvestigation that eventual l y l ed hi m to the
di scovery of the i nfected HaS masterdi sk, the young man feels, qui te si m
ply, used.
1 1 3
1 1 4 Part Three : Oshii's Technopol i t i cs
Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police ( 1989) . Young and sensitive yet dauntless, Noa Izumi
of SV2 bravely embarks upon t he herculean t ask of deacti vating an i nfected com
puter with the potential for t riggering a cataclysmic Labor rampage. The character's
faci al features epitomize some of the most disti nctive graphi c conventions that have
come to be associated with ani me across the gl obe. HEADGEAR/EMOTI ON/TFC.
It should al so be noted, i n thi s respect, that Asuma i s an especially
problematic character withi n the overall milieu of the SV2. As we have seen,
the Section i n i t s enti rety has t o cope with the often unpal atabl e repercus
si ons of i ts isolated status -a state of afairs resul ti ng from the fact that i n
spi te of i t s key rol e i n addressing Labor-i nduced cri mes under t he di rec
ti on of its captiva ti ngly shrewd commander, neither the government nor
the general publ i c are automatically wi l l i ng to lend it thei r support . How
ever, i n Asuma's case matters are further complicated by hi s di vi ded soci al
standi ng as both a member of the SV2 and the di safected son of the pres
i dent of Shi n ohara Heavy I ndustries . This spl i t is exacerbated, i n the speci fc
context of Patlabor 1, by the suspi ci on that Asuma' s unfi nchi ng commi t
ment to the unravel i ng of Hoba's grand plot may be -at least partly -moti
vated by personal acri mony towards hi s father. Oshi i ' s i nveterate
preoccupation wi th the di fcul ty, and perhaps even the i mpossi bi l i ty, of
reconci l i ng private and coll ective aspirations fnds resonant and afecti ng
formul ation i n thi s particular di mensi on of the frst Patlabor feature . Tan
genti al al l usi ons to the topi cs of cl ass- related confi ct and cross-genera
ti onal tension are si multaneously evident .
Whi l e Gotoh' s strategy undeni ably i s, on one l evel , mani pul ati ve, i t
16-Patlabor I 1 1 5
could also be argued that it ensues from a wel l -i ntentioned commitment
to hi s subordi nates' sel f-devel opment and that the captain' s pri ori ty, i n thi s
regard, i s to enable them to l earn by thei r own eforts rather than merely
expect them to fol l ow someone el se' s orders . Hence, Gotoh' s ci rcui tous
route may ul ti mately constitute an at l east partially benevolent whi te l i e.
I t i s worth observi ng that t he character' s i ncl i nation to wi thhol d i nforma
t ion as a means of prompti ng hi s corps to engage i n personal i nvestigative
undertaki ngs i s not a totally new devel opment i n the Patlabor world, for i t
was actually al ready evi dent i n the seventh epi sode of the frst OVA seri es,
where Gotoh was eventual ly found to have staged the " haunt i ng" case
around whi ch the pl ot revolves sol el y for the purpose of sharpeni ng the
SV2 members' wi ts .
Asuma comes gradually to realize that the goal of the vi rus embedded
i n the new program i s to make the Labors sensi tive to certain hi gh-pi tched
sounds and go berserk as a result . Helped by Shige, he also fnds out that
sounds of such a ki nd may be produced by archi tectural structures si tu
ated i n parti cul ar l ocati ons, especi al l y i f these were caused to resonate
together by a maj or atmospheri c commotion such as a typhoon -one of
which, alas, i s due to stri ke Tokyo i n no more than a coupl e of days . There
i s little doubt that the outcome would be nothing short of cataclysmi c . I nso
far as the pri ncipal tri gger would be the noi se produced by the Ark, i ts
destruction woul d certai nl y mean that no sufci entl y hi gh- pitched reso
nances coul d be emitted to sti mulate the Labors and give free rei n to their
frenzy. The SV2 are hence charged with the formidabl e task of demol i sh
i ng the mighty edi fce -a mi ssion they accompl i sh with i ndubitably spec
tacul ar efects .
I n the fl m's cl i max, the refl ective pol ice procedural concedes way to
the countdown-thri l l er modali ty. This, however, i s unconventi onal l y han
dled -arguably, well i n accordance with Oshii' s iconoclastic fai r: the heroes
and heroi nes are j ust about able to stem the i mpendi ng catastrophe but are
powerless to attenuate i ts i mpact and repercussions . Gotoh recogni zes that,
i n the ci rcumstances, the end j usti fes the means and, embodying the anar
chi c spi ri t of whi ch he has already shown hi mself capabl e at its bol dest, does
not hesi tate to bend the rul es. Nevertheless, he has no fai th i n pol i ti ci ans
and i s wel l aware that once the SV2's mi ssi on i s over, shoul d he be unabl e
to warrant hi s deci si on, the enti re team woul d go down i n hi story as a
bunch not of champi ons of l aw and order but as archcri mi nal s . Further
more, a forebodi ng aura of dire i nel uctabi l i ty appears to surround the whol e
operati on: as the captai n at one poi nt observes, the very moment Hoba
j umped to hi s death, the game was i n a sense already over, and it has there
fore all along been a case of opti ng for the l esser of two evi l s, not of seek
i ng salvation or redemption.
1 1 6 Part Three : Oshii's Technopol itics
When, i n the action's crowni ng moments, the typhoon from Chi na
hi t s Tokyo and Noa tri ggers t he sel f-destruction of t he Ark, thus prevent
i ng t he spread of l ethal resonances across t he ci ty, we are given a partly con
solatory fnal e . Yet , the damage done is i rreparabl e, and the deep sense of
social and pol i ti cal di sruption unleashed by t he concatenati on of events
whi ch the computer geni us unl eashed can hardl y be eradicated by the cl os
i ng shots of smi l i ng and cheeri ng SV2 agents.
Patlabor 1 ofers a dexterousl y orchest rated and di screetl y cerebral
detective yarn. One of its most enti ci ng aspects consists precisel y of i ts grad
ual unravel i ng of the ri ddle set i n motion by Hoba, a process which we are
encouraged to participate i n by identifying with the character of Asuma as
he resolutely pursues his i nitially fi msy l eads, whil e Captain Gotoh and hi s
l i felong and l oyal fri end Detective Matsui retrace t he sci enti st' s steps al ong
twenty-si x diferent residences i n the most derel i ct nooks of Tokyo. This
particular component of the SV2's collaborative unearthi ng of Hoba' s nefar
i ous scheme contributes some of the most somberly memorabl e scenes to
the movie as a whol e .
Whi l e pl ayi ng an i nstrumental role in the advancement of the fl mi c
plot , these scenes concomitantly constitute tasteful l y restrai ned pi eces of
social commentary i n exhibiting the two ol der characters' peregri nati ons
through Tokyo as thi s is quotidianly transformed by seemi ngly endl ess con
struction proj ects, and yet uncanni l y manages to preserve el usive pockets
of traditional architecture and related l i festyl es. Furthermore, Oshi i ' s recur
rent use of slow tracki ng shots that mi nutely capture Tokyo' s ever- mutat
i ng archi tecture aford hi m scope for documenti ng the hybri d character of
t he contemporary Japanese megalopol i s-and, by extensi on, for cont em
pl ati ng metaphorically that of contemporary Japanese cul ture at l arge -as
an admi xture of the ol d and the new, the i ndi genous and the global , the
shi ny spectacl e of glass and chrome and the murky underbel l y of trash
i nfested slums .
The shi ft from t he serial format to a feature-l ength production i nau
gurated by Patlabor 1 : The Mobile Police enabl ed Os hi i not onl y to arti cu
late a more complex narrative than had previ ously been feasi ble but also t o
slow down the overall pace of the action and i ncorporate elaborate long
takes and brooding moments of i ntrospection most consonant wi th hi s aes
thetic preferences. Rapid action i s actually confned to four sequences: the
i ntensely moody opening battle i n the forest, i nvolvi ng a pl atoon of mil i
tary Labors and human soldiers, i n whi ch a mal functioni ng automaton i s
frst apprehended; t he SV2's relatively comical fght agai nst a deranged con
struction Labor that has al armi ngly managed to restart by i ts own i niti a
tive i n the aftermath of an accident ; the SV2's assaul t upon the Ark; and
the fnal duel engaging Noa Izumi ' s Labor "Alphonse" and an enraged HOS-
1 6-Patlabor I I I 7
equi pped speci men. On the whol e, however, Oshi i typi cal ly favors a
markedly deliberate, meti cul ously ti med and methodically paced rhythm.
A cl assi c exampl e of t hi s styl i sti c predi l ecti on i s suppl i ed by t he earl y
sequence i n whi ch a hel icopter surveys Tokyo Bay whi l e a reporter com
ments on the Babylon Proj ect and on Labor-related devel opments . So j udi
ci ously unhasty i s its capture that the i mage of the hel i copter appears to be
gl ued to the background pi cture of the sky for qui te some ti me, and the
spectator does not actual l y become aware of its motion unti l a smal l por
ti on of a bui l di ng which was not ori gi nal l y i ncorporated i n the scene
becomes evi dent at t he edge of t he frame, si gnal i ng dynami c change .
A subtly vari ed and generally subdued soundtrack, characteri zed by
the al ternation of si mpl e si ngl e- i nstrument pi eces wi th faster themes for
the acti on sequences-articulated i n conj unction wi th an anal ogous chro
mati c osci l lation between dusky and vivaci ous palettes -ftti ngly compl e
ments the fl m's disti nctive rhythm. The character desi gns created by Akemi
Takada yi el d attractively well - rounded personas-largely by recourse t o
fasti di ousl y detai l ed and suggestively shadowed graphi cs-wi thout pan
deri ng to the ethos of cuteness fostered by the same artist i n ani mati ons
such as Maison lkkoku, the hugely popular 1 986 TV seri es di rected by Kazuo
Yamazaki (et al ia ) .
Patlabor 1 was the frst ani me i n the franchi se t o be rel eased t o the
Angl ophone worl d. The Engl i sh dub i s arguably marred by some rather
bizarre changes whi ch at ti mes al ter the mood of a scene. On the whol e,
the language i s more graphi c and the dialogue i s more expl i ci tl y i nt ended
to bol ster the action than i n the ori gi nal , where -as al so i ndi cated by the
relatively l i teral and unadorned English subtitles i n contrast with the dub
a more refective tone tends to be adopted. A parti cularly amusi ng i nstance
of utterly unnecessary adj ustment i s provi ded by the scene where in the
ori gi nal the ai rport ofci al asks the SV2 associ ate Kanuka Cl ancy - i n
Engl ish -" Si ghtseei ng? " and she repl i es-also i n Engl i sh -" No, combat . "
Thi s bri ef exchange has a cri sply humorous i mpact that i s very much i n
keepi ng with the terse and generally l aconic disposition evi nced by Kanuka,
and i t i s hard to i magi ne what could possibly have i nspi red the producers
of the Angl ophone versi on to amend the exchange so t hat the ai rport
ofci al ' s l i ne becomes "Occupation? " and Kanuka's repl y " Labor pi l ot "
thereby yi el di ng a purely and uni nspi ri ngly factual pi ece of language .
Among the recurri ng trai ts of Oshi i ' s si gnature that feature most
promi nently i n t he movi e are bi rd- related symbol i c i mages evocative of
both freedom and entrapment -most memorabl y, i n t he profusi on of
empty and decrepit cages associated with t he numerous apartments i nhab
ited by Hoba prior to hi s sui ci de -and rel igious all usions . As observed in
Part One, Oshii tends to uti l i ze bi rd- related tropes in order to conj ure up
1 1 8 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
metaphorically notions of freedom and transcendence. The associ ati on of
the deranged computer sci enti st i n Patlabor 1 with orni thol ogi cal i magery
i n general i s underscored from the start, the l ast l i vi ng creature with which
Hoba i nteracts bei ng ei ther a raven or a crow ( dependi ng on the i ndivi d
ual criti c' s choi ce ) . 1 When, at the end, Noa reaches the top l evel of the Ark
wherei n its disactivation may be efected, she encounters myriad birds . One
of these i s especi al l y noticeable i nsofar as it fl aunts Hoba' s own I D tag,
beari ng the number 666 upon i t -namely, a tradi ti onal symbol for the
"Anti chri st" or the "Beast . " On one l evel, Hoba coul d i ndeed be regarded
as a free spirit capabl e of pursui ng to the bitter end a whol ly personal dream,
unshackl ed by soci etal l y val i dated mores . On another level, however, the
dream i n questi on proves utterl y poi sonous, and i ts pursui t i nexorabl y
becomes a path to sel f- hatred and, fnally, sel f-erasure . The recurrent use
of empty cages al l udes preci sely to the vacuously del usory character of the
geni us' s vi sion, exposi ng a trap that may ul ti matel y onl y open out onto a
di sconsolate voi d.
Where rel i gi ous references are concerned, Bi bl i cal i magery i s espe
ci al l y promi nent, and consi stently translated i nto technol ogi cal correl a
tives. Thus, the Ark becomes a gigantic factory, whi l e the Tower of Babel
comes to be equated with Tokyo's skyscrapers and, more speci fcal l y, wi th
thei r diabolical connotations as perceived by Hoba ( whose very name, i nci
dentally, coul d be read as a deliberate distortion of the Hebrew word for
God, " Heova," or "Jeova" ) . Oshi i ' s fl m makes subtl e use of the Babel myth
as a qui ntessenti al i ndictment of human arrogance, causi ng God' s wrath
and el i ci ti ng puni shment. I n the Bible, this takes the form of a prol i fera
tion of languages conducive to a total breakdown i n human communi ca
ti on and hence chaos. I n Patlabor 1, Hoba plays God by recourse to the vi rus
i mpl anted i nto the new HOS -and i ndeed tagged " Babel" -as a means of
engi neeri ng an apocalyptic collapse of any options of constructive i nterac
ti on among humans and Labors. The name assigned to the Babylon Pro
j ect i s itself worthy of notice, "Babylon" being the designation given to Babel
after God' s unl eashi ng of l i nguistic diversity and usual ly taken to mean
"confusion," even though -strictly speaking -i t i s act ual ly the Greek adap
tation of the Semi ti c word "Bab- I ll u," which l iteral l y means "The Gate of
God. "
Gi ven the sci enti st' s destructive aspi rati ons, Hoba' s conduct cl earl y
does not contri bute to the i nvestment of the noti on of divi ni ty wi th an
especially impeccable reputati on. Furthermore, he comes across as a di vi ded
and psychologically vul nerable personal ity, as evi nced by the fact that he
concomitantly seeks to delete al l traces of hi s exi stence and provenance by
movi ng repeatedl y from one di l api dated apartment to the next, and yet
appears to yearn to have hi s path retraced after hi s death by fasti di ousl y
1 6-Patlabor 1 1 1 9
cari ng to communi cate hi s mul ti pl e changes of address to the rel evant
authoriti es. Even the words found by Gotoh and by Detecti ve Matsui on
the wal l of the last Hoba resi dence coul d be i nterpreted as a crypti c attempt
on the sci enti st' s part to make contact wi th a future whi ch he cl earl y coul d
not envi sage but to whi ch he nonethel ess felt mysteri ousl y drawn. These
read: " He bowed the heavens al so, and came down: and darkness was under
hi s feet . " Gotoh opi nes that the citation comes from the Ol d Testament but
cannot remember i ts exact source. As it happens, its ori gi n resi des wi th
Psal m 1 8: 9 and its context i s that of a song i ntended to prai se God for releas
i ng David' s soul from hi s enemi es.
Taken i n conj unction, t he textual and visual references di scussed above
are used to suggest that technol ogy hol ds lethal potenti al i ti es in some of i ts
both actual and hypotheti cal confgurations . Hence, the fl m coul d be read
as a di spassionate commentary on the perenni al human fear of technol og
i cal advancement, conducted through the arti culation of the bi rth-gone
wrong topos traceabl e back to the Frankenstei n story ( and very possi bl y
beyond) . Neverthel ess, Patlabor 1 also emphasizes that organized rel i gi on
i s ul ti mately no l ess deleteri ous an i nstrument for oppressi on and mi si n
formation than technol ogi cal devel opment . The evi l s of i deol ogi cal dog
mati sm, as argued i n the next secti on of thi s study, cont i nue pl ayi ng a
pivotal part i n the second Patlabor feature .
1 7
Patlabor 2: The Movie
The second Patlabor feature is set in early 2002, three years after the
adventure depi cted i n Patlabor 1 took place. Si nce the events presented i n
Oshi i ' s frst feature, most of the SV2 members have ei ther reti red or moved
to subordi nate duty. Onl y Captai ns Gotoh and Nagumo have retai ned per
manent ofci al posi ti ons i n their origi nal capaci ti es .
The frst fl m was i ndubitably a politically engaged work tackl i ng the
i ni qui tous pri oritization of fnancial i nterests over the safety of the peopl e,
t he nefari ous efects of rampant and endl ess constructi on proj ects and con
comitant sl eaze, the evolution of technology wel l beyond the boundari es of
common sense, and t he physical and psychol ogical exhaustion of the very
forces presumed to bol ster law and order. Patlabor 2, however, reaches new
heights and a greater level of both thematic and techni cal refnement. Cen
t ral to i t s narrative i s t he theme of war as a concurrently col l ective and per
sonal aberration, i nvolvi ng governmental and i nternati onal i ssues at the
macrolevel, and personal di sappoi ntments and grudges at the mi crol evel .
Thi s poi nt is brought home right from the start by the sequence i n
whi ch t he character of Yuki hi t o Tsuge, t he commander of a Japanese mecha
force who asks headquarters for permission to fre whi l e under severe attack
by enemy troops in a Cambodian forest , i s deni ed consent , and ends up
l osi ng all his subordi nates i n the operati on. Beset by resentment towards
hi s superiors, by the sheer horror of hi s recol l ecti ons of warfare and by a
l atent sense of gui l t brought about by hi s bei ng the sol e survivor, Tsuge
deci des to take revenge by staging hi s own personal war and throwing Tokyo
into utter chaos. He hence engi neers a series of terrori st attacks on the ci ty,
the graphi c rendi tion of whi ch eeri l y anti ci pates a set of i mages now
i mpri nted i n gl obal consci ousness i n connection with 9/11-especi al l y i n
the sequence dramati zi ng the di si ntegration of a bridge i n metropol i tan
Tokyo meant to stand out as one of the ci ty's most promi nent l andmarks .
Tsuge thus ai ms at forci ng ordi nary ci ti zens to experi ence a taste of the
atroci ti es he hi msel f has wi tnessed on the battl efel d.
I n the wake of the explosion, an amateur vi deo of the event i s shown
on the news reports. Thi s faunts the i mage of a Japanese Sel f Defence Force
1 20
1 7-Patlabor 2: The Movie 1 2 1
fghter j et fying overhead moments after the expl osion, i nti mati ng that thi s
plane was responsi bl e for fri ng a l i ve missi l e i nto the car parked on Yoko
hama Bay Bri dge that contai ned the fatal bomb. However, when the
eni gmati c character of Arakawa Shi geki -who cl ai ms to work for an organ
ization named Ground Defence Force -vi si ts Captai ns Gotoh and Nagumo
and shows them another video of the bridge taken from a di ferent cam
era, qui te a diferent pl ane comes i nto vi ew that i s patentl y not of the type
owned by the JSDF. Accordi ng to Arakawa, the j et di spl ayed by the puta
tively undoctored footage of whi ch he i s i n possession was an American
plane comi ng fom a Japanese base . He also mai ntai ns that behind the attack
lie the machi nati ons of the National Defence Famil y, a group of mi l itary
contractors eager to sti mulate Japan's i nterest i n arms to expand thei r busi
ness network. Thi s organization's ai m would be to foster a pervasive psy
chol ogy of anxi ety and fear but not to actual ly tri gger a catastrophi c
acci dent . The twi n facts that t he missi l e fred by t he pl ane was, however,
seriously armed and that the fri ng fghter j et di d not return to base l eads
to t he assumpti on that some other force driven by qui t e a separate agenda
must al so be i nvolved.
It i s thi s speculative trai l that throws Tsuge i nto rel i ef as the pri mary
suspect . As Arakawa expl ai ns to the somewhat bewildered SV2 chi efs, the
l ikely ofender i s a foundi ng member of the Nati onal Defence Family who
has gone on to elaborate a personal plan beyond the ori gi nal aims and obj ec
ti ves of that organization. Tsuge i s said to have coordi nated a UN peace
keepi ng missi onl i n Southeast Asi a i nvolvi ng mi l itary Labors that resul ted
i n calamitous fai l ure i n 1999. The i nci dent i n question i s cl early the one
dramatized i n the earl y sequence menti oned above . Tsuge then vani shed
and no record of hi s moves beyond that fatal event seems avai l abl e . We
l ater di scover that the suspect had also been the founder of one of the pi o
neeri ng Labor school s -the very i nstitution at whi ch Shi nobu Nagumo had
trai ned and gai ned a sterl i ng reputation as a top student . Unfortunately for
her career, Captai n Nagumo had also had an afai r with Tsuge, whi ch was
consi dered rather unpropiti ous i n l i ght of hi s status at the time as a mar
ri ed man.
The National Defence Fami l y i s quick t o strike agai n whi l e the Bay
Bri dge attack i s still the obj ect of anxious speculation among pol i ti ci ans
and the general publ i c al i ke . I n thei r second assaul t, the Japanese Sel f
Defence Force radar system i s hacked i nto, maki ng it possi bl e for the trans
gressor to stage a fake attack on Tokyo. Oshii' s acerbic cri ti que of the spe
ci ous al l i ances quoti di anl y forged, di smantl ed and renovated afresh among
economic, pol i ti cal and mil i tary forces stri kes its di sti nctive chords: the Ai r
Force computers, we are tol d, had been supposed to consti tute a perfectly
sealed and therefore i mpregnable network, but the securi ty system had been
1 22 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopoli t i cs
cri ppled by political priorities and even i ndi rectly sabotaged by them as a
resul t of i nadequate fnanci ng. As a result, the JSDF had ended up l i nki ng
thei r mai nframes to u. s. bases, which i nevi tably i ncreased the possi bi l i ty
of the system bei ng i nfltrated and of phony attacks bei ng thereby staged.
It shoul d al so be noted that thi s portion of the movi e echoes actual
occurrences . In 1 978, a Russian MI G- 25 pilot defected and few i nt o Japa
nese airspace, thus pani cki ng the whol e nati on. Moreover, there i s the noto
ri ous case of a botched- up computerized si mulation i ntended for trai ni ng
purposes which accidentally sent the u. s. to Defcon 3, posi ng the threat of
nucl ear confrontation with what was then the Sovi et Union.
The action rapidly accel erates towards i rreversi bl e cri si s as the Tokyo
Metropolitan Pol i ce endeavors to gai n domi nance over the JSDF, pl anti ng
the seeds for a del eteri ous confict of i nterests between the pol i ce and the
mi l i tary. The government, i n turn, appears keen on empl aci ng the pol i ce
forces themselves i n the role of a conveni ent scapegoat . The enti re coun
try i s thus reckl essl y forced onto a dismal path, the logical desti nati ons of
whi ch can onl y be anarchy and, pot enti ally, a ci vi l war. Arakawa at one
poi nt proposes that thi s i s a "drama" i n which nobody i s wi l l i ng or pre
pared to "play t he lead. "
To exempl i fy the state of pernicious di sunity resul ti ng from human
bei ngs' sectarian defensiveness, Pat/abor 2 makes use of Bibl i cal references
and i magery i n much the same way as the frst feature di d. The fl m cap
tures thi s theme i n markedly forebodi ng terms by recourse to the follow
ing passage from the New Testament :
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather
division:
For from henceforth there shall be fve in one house divided, three against
two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the
mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother ; the mother
in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother
in law [Luke 12 : 51 - 53].
The si tuation preci pi tates as the mi litary occupy Tokyo, whi l e myste
ri ous bl i mps di sabl e the ci ty' s communication networks throwi ng i ts pop
ul ati on i nto total mayhem even as gentl y cascadi ng snowfakes
i ncongruously mantl e the blighted metropol i s i n fai ry tale charm. The SV2
agents, eventually reuni ted by Captain Gotoh to stop Tsuge, once agai n
save t he day, though they cannot be certai n unt i l t he very end whether Shi
nobu i s unequivocally dependabl e or whether there i s st i l l a danger that her
personal feel i ngs towards the terrorist wi l l hamper the missi on.
Pat/abor 2 is arguably the most overtly pol itical ani me ever produced,
stri ki ng as i t does right at the heart of Japan's myths of peace and stabi l ity
1 7-Patlabor 2: The Movi e 1 23
l aboriously constructed and furbished si nce the Second World War and the
ensui ng Occupation. In el l i pticall y commenti ng on Japan's post- WW2 hi s
tory, the movi e al l udes to the hypothesi s that Japanese democracy i s actu
al l y, as cul tural cri ti c Masao Murayama has suggested, a "sham of
democracy" ( Murayama) . It coul d even be mai ntai ned, i n thi s regard, that
Patlabor 2 consti tutes a pol itical ly deconstructive flm, i nsofar as i t i s eager
to contempl ate confi cti ng attit udes to the concepts of peace and war, social
stabi l i ty and transgression, j usti ce and i niquity, and ul ti mately poi nts to
an i nsol ubl e conundrum whereby no one part i cul ar attitude may be
unprobl emati cal l y uphel d as more defensi bl e or demonstrably more l egi t
i mate .
The pivotal eni gma at the core of the movi e is the questi on of whether
an "unj ust peace" i s fnal l y to be preferred to a "just war. " The thesi s exam
i ned by Oshi i i s the notion that wars can never be j ust i nsofar as they are
i nel uctably motivated by dogmati sm, self- i nterest and mi ndl ess pugnac
i ty -as attested to by Japan's cooperation with the Nazi s i n WW2. How
ever, peace i tsel f can onl y be preserved by unj ust means, namel y at the
expense of other countri es havi ng to sufer for the beneft of the pri vi l eged.
As Arakawa observes i n the course of a phi l osophi cal exchange wi th Cap
tai n Gotoh, "Japan's prosperi ty i s bui l t on the corpses of raci al vi ol ence and
ci vi l wars . Our peace comes from i gnori ng the mi sery of the world. " He
l ater adds: " Perhaps some day we' l l real i ze that peace i s more than the
absence of war. " Nevertheless, the fl m refects, it would hardly be equitable,
in recogni tion of this state of afai rs, to allow terrorism to gain the upper
hand. I t i s on thi s front that Patlabor 2's central characters fnd themselves
contending with a concurrently ethical and ideological apori a.
Whereas Hoba's malevol ent i ntent i n the frst Patlabor movi e was qui te
overt and rel ati vel y easy to grasp, Tsuge' s evi l i s more compl ex, potenti al l y
deservi ng of a certai n degree of sympathy and, accordi ngly, more i ntricately
constel l ated. Furthermore, the narrative' s ethi cal ambiguity i s hei ghtened
by the psychol ogi cal and afective confi cts experi enced by the uphol ders
of j ustice themselves-particularly, by Captai n Nagumo who, while endeav
ori ng to apprehend those responsi bl e for the acts of terrori sm, also has to
negotiate the l egacy of her romanti c past with Tsuge .
Ci nematographical ly, both Patlabor features evi nce Oshi i ' s di sti nct ive
penchant for slow and deliberate paci ng. Patlabor 1 may disappoi nt fans of
wal l - t o-wal l acti on, whereas Patlabor 2 contai ns pl enty of ext remel y
dynami c acti vi ty. Yet, thi s diference i s al most negl i gi bl e i f one approaches
the two fl ms as companion pi eces, subtly bound by compl ementary pre
occupations . The second Patlabor feature marks Oshi i ' s frst foray i nto a
sustained i ntegration of traditional cel ani mation and computer-generated
graphics -a techni que desti ned to reach its apotheosi s in the Ghost i n the
1 24 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
Shell movi es. As CGI expert Sei i chi Tanaka has emphasized, digital tech
niques were brought i nto play very di scri mi natel y, on the basi s of Oshi i ' s
genui ne conviction that they would beneft a sequence i n ways whi ch tra
ditional ani mation coul d not aspire to equal, and never for thei r own sake .
An especially tel l i ng exampl e of thi s j udi ci ous approach to CGI is suppl ied
by the early sequence i n which Tsuge' s troops are ambushed and anni hi
lated. The execution of thi s sequence gai ned considerably from the i mpl e
mentation of digital technology but thi s was the resul t of consi dered and
i ncremental experi mentation and not a foregone concl usi on. As Tanaka
expl ai ns,
at the time the Southeast Asia scenes were being composed, the soldiers were only
represented as flat silhouettes. To express the nervous feeling before a battle, the
director . . . came up with the idea of using shadows .... To cut the time needed
for the calculations to render the images, the outlines of the soldiers were high
lighted and traced, then rendered in 2D images [ Tanaka] .
However, t he flm' s techni cal di sti nctiveness i s due not sol el y to i ts
adventurous manipul ation of di sparate ani mational styl es and correspon
di ng methodologies but also, no l ess crucial ly, to Oshi i' s steadfast commi t
ment to camera-based operati ons . I n the fl mi ng of Pat/abor 2, Oshi i
mai ntai ns, particul ar attention was devoted to t he choreography of con
versation scenes. The "basic approach" here employed "was to make the
characters face the same way. I didn' t want to give the i mpression of humans
confronti ng humans, but more of humans faci ng a monitor. I wanted the
idea of ' i nterface' to permeate the overall composition of the fl m. The fl m
i s about peopl e who l ook at monitors and the i nformation on them" ( Oshi i
2003) . Thi s criterion was sustained throughout the execution of Patlabor
2: not merely i n sequences where characters are l iteral l y gazi ng at tel evi
si on or computer screens but al so i n those where the obj ect of attenti on i s
an al ternative form of vi sual display i n which the characters seem far more
i nterested than i n hol di ng eye contact with one another. A paradi gmati c
i nstance i s provided by the scene i n the aquari um where Captai n Gotoh
and Arakawa voi ce thei r respective vi ews ( with Arakawa, as el sewhere,
engagi ng i n a fai r amount of l ecturi ng) regardi ng the i mpendi ng cri si s. The
two characters face a tank unremitti ngly as they converse, never exchang
i ng even the merest glance, the hypnoti zi ng beauty of the tropi cal fsh
therei n provi di ng an unsettl i ng contrast wi t h the gruesome pol i ti cal real
i ty ravaging the outside worl d.
I n Patlabor 2, Oshi i concurrently capitalizes on what may wel l be con
sidered the most el ementary ci nematographical concept, namely that of the
frame, to memorable efect . As the director has observed, a "frame i s used
to see an obj ect more clearly. Your poi nt of vi ew changes, dependi ng on
what ki nd of frami ng you use . You need a parti cul ar frami ng mode to
1 7-Patlabor 2: The Movie 1 25
express an obj ect accurately. " Compari ng the second Patlabor feature wi th
its predecessor i n the franchi se, Oshi i has also noted: "Thi s ti me, I used
people si tti ng i n a row, scenes composed with opposite frames, and mov
i ng vi ewpoi nt s. Last ti me, I focused on confrontational eye contact . Thi s
ti me, I focused heavil y on vehi cl es . I wanted to put across the si tuation
from the cockpit of a vehi cl e, seeing the town from a moving point of view.
And what the people are thi nki ng about from that vi ewpoi nt " -hence, the
sustai ned deployment of l ong shooti ng as a means of al l owi ng the audi ence
to garner and assi mi late the often profuse detai l s of a scene sl owl y and
gradually ( Oshi i 2003; emphasis added) .
As hi nted at i n the above citation, the ci nematographical di sti nctive
ness of Patlabor 2 largely stems from its potent dramatization of both the
actual space and the specul ative notion of the ci ty as a l i vi ng organi sm,
whereby Tokyo ul ti mately asserts itself as its true protagoni st . Patlabor 1,
as we have seen, already pointed i n thi s di rection by consi stentl y engaging
i n studiously orchestrated surveys of urban architecture by means of some
of the most unforgettabl e pi llow sequences ever ofered by an ani mated
fl m. The sequel devel ops the trend i naugurated by the frst movi e, gai n
i ng consi derably from the director' s hands-on i nvolvement i n t he explo
rati on of the actual urban spaces from whi ch the s emi - fcti onal Tokyo
portrayed in the flm would emanate .
To thi s efect, Oshi i undertook careful l y pl anned fel dwork and i nstead
of si mpl y relyi ng on the photographs obtai ned by location scouts ( t hough
hundreds of these were i ndeed taken) , he took part i n hel i copter ri des over
Tokyo which mai ntai ned an altitude comparabl e to that at whi ch a bi rd
would fy and hence enabl ed the di rector to conceive of real i sti c bi rd' s- eye
views of the city. Refreshi ngly, Oshi i i s perfectly capabl e of acknowl edgi ng
the j ocular di mensi on of thi s enterpri se and has i ndeed stated that explor
i ng pl aces one would not normally vi si t and riding unfami l i ar vehi cl es are
part of the "fun" ( Oshi i 2003 ) of making a fl m and that i t i s vital to devise
ways of communi cati ng this sense of fun to the audience and to enabl e
them to parti ci pate i n i t -even i n the context of harrowi ng vi sual narra
ti ves such as Patlabor 2.
Oshi i has al so commented el oquently on hi s personal perception of
metropol itan experi ence and urban expansion, thereby sheddi ng l i ght on
the soci al and psychol ogi cal concerns underl yi ng the representati on of
Tokyo i n the Patlabor fl ms:
I 've been living i n Tokyo for forty-some years . It's easy t o think that this is an
uninteresting city, or that you want to destroy it. The most frustrating thing I
feel when I watch movies such as Akir [ dir. Katsuhiro Otomo, 1 988] is that they
destroy Tokyo so easily. If you depict it as a city which you won't miss even if it
were destroyed, as a fake thing made from only steel and concrete from the begin-
1 26 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopol itics
ning, destroying it won't accomplish anything. It's far from being a real cathar
sis. Even in Tokyo, if you look carefully, if you dig up your memories, you can
fnd some scenery which you are very much attracted to. It can be the evening
at the train crossing, or it can be scenery of some vacant land ... in Tokyo Bay
area. We have scenery we love inside of us l Oshii 1 993].
Most vi tally, in this respect, the Patlabor movi es suggest that space i s never
a uni form real i ty. In fact, disparate real i t i es meet and merge wi t hi n i t s
uncertai n boundari es to creat e a hybri d and composi t e worl d. Thi s i s
typi fed by t he contemporary ci ty: rationalized by electroni c technol ogy as
a neat computational grid, urban real i ty i s neverthel ess often mes s y and
sprawl i ng. The postmodern metropol i s stands out as a mi xture of sani ti zed
vi rtual spaces and l oci of physical decay and anarchy: the i mmateri al geog
raphy of computer networks i s at al l ti mes i nterwoven wi th a corporeal
geography of pollution and decay.
At the same ti me, the ci ty as ideated by Oshi i serves to underscore the
si gnifcance of the specifcal ly bodily di mensi on of space, entai l i ng the plau
sibility of a mutual transformation of archi tectural and organi c bodi es . On
the one hand, human bei ngs can be conceived of as arti fci al struct ures:
here humani ty i s archi tecturalized. On t he other hand, i t i s possi bl e to t hi nk
about bui l di ngs as bodi es: here architecture becomes humanized. Above all,
i t could be argued that ci ti es themselves both are and have bodi es: the city
i s born, grows, conceives, reproduces and dies; i t has sex, as suggested by
the idea of the city reachi ng a cl i max; i t fol lows certai n di ets ; i t devel ops
di seases, neuroses and di sabi l i ti es, such as congesti on, tumorous over
growth, hyperacti vi ty and t he fear of al i en i nfractions; i t exhi bi ts anabol i c
and catabol i c processes, correspondi ng to i ts creati ve and destructi ve
moments; i t has both naked and clothed facets, both seal ed and l eaky el e
ments, and adorns i tsel f, either uni formly or ecl ecti cally; i t contai ns i deal
i zed and monument al body parts to be proudl y faunted, and secret,
i nt i mate parts to be cautious or ashamed of; fnally, i t bears the si gns of the
passi ng of ti me as so many i ndentati ons, folds, l i nes and wri nkl es i n the
ti ssue of i ts architectural make-up. Oshi i ' s urban setti ngs al so consti tute
markedly textual bodi es si nce they are persi stently posi ted as networks of
narratives that peopl e weave as they move through them, constantly remap
pi ng space by creati ng ever new ( evanescent, ghostl y) routes.
Oshi i undeni ably foregrounds t he negative repercussi ons of unre
strai ned metropol ization by subtly i mpl yi ng a transi ti on from a model of
the ci ty based on t he pri nci pl e of implosion, namely t he mobi l i zati on of
disparate activi ti es i n t he servi ce of t he human communi ty, to a cul tural
scenari o domi nated by rhythms of expl osi on, whereby the ci ty bursts open
and di sperses i ts vital organs over a broad landscape . However, one shoul d
also acknowledge the posi tive potenti al i ti es of expl osi on: namel y, those el e-
1 7-Patlabor 2: The Movie 127
ments of plurality and diference -central to postmodern versions of the
deterritorialized city -that serve to unsettle rigidly hierarchical confgura
tions of order and, by extension, to call into question the ultimate value of
thoroughly routinized urban lives.
Ultimately, whichever way one looks at it, Oshii's cinema does not for
a moment allow us to ignore that the contemporary megalopolis has prob
lematized conventional notions of both space and time by positing a difuse
geography wherein space engulfs time and motion, and by underscoring the
vital part played by memory in the apprehension of space. Memory repre
sents not so much a personal attribute or possession as the receptacle for a
collective imagination in which even the most intimate thoughts are end
lessly translatable into public signs. Furthermore, the pervasiveness of elec
tronic systems of signifcation and communication has fostered a
progressive fattening of both spatial and temporal depth by making an
astonishing amount of data simultaneously available across the immaterial
realm of cyberspace -the sum total of the data produced and disseminated
by electronic means. Oshii's engagement with diverse technopolitical pre
occupations by means of the Patlabor movies and of their rendition of urban
hybridity will evolve so as to elect cyberspace itself as the primary arena in
Avalon and in the Ghost in the Shell features.
18
Patlabor WXIII: Movie 3
Patlabor 3 is loosely based on volumes 7 to 10 of the original manga
from which the Patlabor franchise draws inspiration, known as Waste Prod
uct 13 or just Wasted 13, even though it should be noted that in the parent
text, the new detectives portrayed in Fumihiko Takayama's flm did not
feature at all. Work on the movie began in 1994, at which stage it was meant
to be an OVA rather than a feature-length production and was not intended
to contain the word "Patlabor" in its title in consideration of its status as a
side story to the main narrative arc, set between Patlabor 1 and Patlabor 2.
Indeed, the flm only belongs to the Patlabor universe in a tangential sense,
given that it patently does not focus on the SV2 and their Ingrams: mere
cameo appearances, amounting to no more than ffteen minutes of screen
time, are reserved for Captain Gotoh, for Noa Izumi and for Asuma Shi
nohara, and Labor action, limited to the fnale, likewise covers about a
quarter of an hour of the flm's overall 107-minute duration. The project
was eventually promoted to the feature format in 1997 but the production
process dragged into 2002 due to protracted fnancial difculties.
As R.J. Havis has observed, the third Patlabor feature "puts character
development before action .... The appeal of the Patlabor series largely comes
down to the action antics of the Special Vehicle Division Section 2 and their
terrifc machinery. But WXIII takes a diferent stance, relegating the giant
robots to a showcase fnale in an abandoned stadium. Instead, the story
plays out as a delicate sci-f." Thus, even though Takayama's flm is "not as
philosophically complex as its predecessors," it is undeniably "sophisticated
enough to attract a select crowd" and therefore represents an undeniably
worthy complement to the franchise as a whole (Havis) .
Patlabor 3 integrates the usually separate anime subgenres of the giant
robot movie and the monster movie. The former, as shown earlier in this
section, is part and parcel of the mecha tradition, on which the Patlabor ani
mations constitute a refreshingly novel variation. The latter represents a dis
tinctively Japanese artifact normally designated by the label "kaijuu," a term
that could be literally translated as "strange beast" or "mysterious beast."
A more accurate denomination, incidentally, would be "daikai j uu," the
128
1 8-Patlabor WXIlI 129
prefx dai- specifcally indicating the creature's imposing dimensions. The
prototype for this indigenous form is quite unanimously associated with
Godzilla. 1
In Patlabor 3's opening sequence -eerily reminiscent of Oshii's Twi
light Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 in its emphasis on the surreal conjunc
tion of fying vehicles and marine creatures-a fshing boat on Tokyo Bay
spots a malfunctioning plane overhead, as large fsh and other sea species
fall out of the sky, violently rocking the boat. The plane ends up crashing
into the ocean. Two months later, Detectives Takashi Kusumi and
Shinichiro Hata are called to investigate Labor-related accidents in the har
bor: several automata manufactured by "Schaft" have apparently been
attacked and their pilots ruthlessly exterminated. The assaults, of which
four have thus far been recorded, appear to have started ten days after the
plane crash -and attendant fsh deluge -seen in the opening scene, and
it seems feasible to suspect there may be a link between the two sets of
mishaps. Henceforth, the two agents' investigative eforts are subtly inter
twined with a parallel plot pivoting on a discreetly understated romantic
liaison between Hata and the enigmatic female scientist Saeko Misaki, as
the latter struggles to come to terms with the tragedy of a deeply traumatic
double bereavement, having lost both her husband and her only child in
quick succession.
The culprit behind the Tokyo Bay incidents turns out to be a colossal
and eminently adaptive biological mutation worthy of H.R. Giger at his
most gruesomely inspired. When a fragment of the fshy beast's living tis
sue is obtained and subjected to DNA tests, these reveal that its makeup
consists of a combination of cancer cells and special "Nishiwaki" cells that
have the ability to reproduce at a staggering rate. Hata's investigation leads
him to a suspicious medical company where the dejected Saeko is employed
in the capacity of researcher. The plot's intensity suddenly escalates, fol
lowing protracted stretches of methodically paced investigative sequences,
when it transpires that Saeko herself has engendered the calamitous mutant
with the use of cancerous cells from the body of her dead daughter Hitomi
in order to enable the child to live on.2
Central to the flm's philosophy is the idea that the two detectives fnd
themselves in a position to shift gears from a slowly plodding investigation
to the potentially scandalous exposure of a major political drama, and hence
to the murky core of the case, quite coincidentally. The plot thus hints at
the pervasive incidence of random chance and of unplanned contingencies
in human life, tersely reprising Oshii's own persistent emphasis on the
unpredictability of existence, on the mythical character of the laws of both
logic and physics and on the intractably ephemeral nature of the dreamed
and the empirical alike.
130 Part Three: Oshi i 's Technopol i tics
Furthermore, even though Oshii was not personally involved in the
production of Patlabor 3, the movie frequently echoes the thematic con
cerns, cinematographical approach and cumulative tone characteristic of
the frst two Patlabor features. Like Patlabor 1 , the third flm features faulty
Labors as the clue to a broader drama, concurrently incorporating a roman
tic element redolent of Patlabor 2. The flm also revisits the quintessentially
Frankensteinian birth-gone-wrong topos in quite a literal sense. In Patla
bar 1 and in Pat/abor 2, the monstrous progeny was featured in the guise of
perverse ideological agendas-Hoba's and Tsuge's, respectively -whereas
in Takayama's movie, the unruly prodigy is an intensely material and full
fledged genetic aberration. At the same time, however, Pat/abor 3 shares with
its predecessors a foreboding message concerning the ultimate inseparabil
ity of driven idealism and insanity whereby even initially benevolent and
loving intentions may yield nefarious results. Moreover, all three perpetra
tors of varying deviant acts are eventually doomed to suicidal moves, con
sisting of graphic jumps to unseemly deaths in the cases of Hob a and Saeko,
and a more metaphorical but no less poignantly compulsive journey towards
self-annihilation in the case of Tsuge.
From a cinematographical point of view, Patlabor 3 evinces a marked
preference for the same kind of measured and deliberate pace, regularly
punctuated by meditative pan shots, to be characteristically found in Oshii's
own features. This is especially evident in the pillow sequences dramatiz
ing Detectives Kusumi and Hata's frustrating investigation, following their
steps across minutely detailed urban scenery which once again emplaces
the city as the true protagonist. Indeed, the director wished to incorporate
several "ordinary life" sequences to enable spectators to experience a "feel
ing of the era, as well as an urban atmosphere." According to Takayama,
[flilm should not pursue the "why" aspects of the story. Rather, its pursuit should
be "how to present it." I placed a particularly heavy emphasis on the mood in
the air .... While we were working on the story concept of WX1I1, there were some
horrifc events in Japan including the catastrophic earthquake in Kobe and Aum
Shinrikyo Sarin attack in Tokyo. Everyone ... felt the prosperous era of Japan
was coming to an end. You could actually feel it in the air. I wanted to recreate
this mood in Patlabor 3 [Takayama].3
This aesthetic mission inexorably translated into extremely time
consuming production processes, insofar as authentic backgrounds for all
the scenes (and especially those involving cityscapes) had to be executed in
the tiniest details. The director remained adamantly faithful throughout
the movie's laborious gestation to the importance of investing Patlabor 3
with a distinctive visual identity by presenting ordinary situations so that
they would look authentically commonplace and not merely come across
as artifcial approximations to the everyday. To achieve this efect, the ani-
1 8-Patl abor WXIII 131
mators had to devote close attention to those prosaic elements of a setting
that most animations-and indeed many live-action productions, too
tend to gloss over. The result is a stunning plethora of painstakingly ren
dered minutiae that enable even the most obdurately inanimate objects
-fences, rails, fagstones and brick walls included-to come exuberantly
to life.
As supervisor Yutaka Izubuchi has emphasized, the sense of the ordi
nary treasured by the director and his animating team was consistently bol
stered by the use of particular camera angles: "Takayama's camera angles
show each scene from within, as if from the eyes of a person" ( Izubuchi),
thus conveying a sense of intimacy whereby the spectator is absorbed into
the action and encouraged to savor its quotidian favor.
At the same time, Takayama is capable of evoking a paradoxically
haunting sense of tranquility, juxtaposing his visual poetry of glowing sun
sets and tenebrous nights, of melancholy rain and dappled shade, with an
intricate acoustic design underscored by pregnant pauses and grim silences.
Takayama's style also echoes Oshii's in the recursive employment of
refections, refractions, prismatic efects, and the play of light and shadow
on transparent and semi-transparent surfaces. In spite of its forays into
sensational confrontations by more or less vulnerable humans of the awe
some mutant, the overall atmosphere conveyed by the flm is lyrically sub
dued. One can perceive throughout the unfolding of the action a
nostalgically palpable sense of the inexorable passing of time, of missed
opportunities and of irretrievable losses. R.K. Elder's review of the movie
for The Chicago Tri bune captures most faithfully this distinctive mood,
drawing attention to the ubiquitous apprehension of lack under which its
varyingly forlorn characters ponderously labor: "while sci-f conceits still
permeate the plot (alien DNA, rogue scientists), attention to personal detail
foats world-weary, superbly drawn protagonists in a rare movie -a
character-driven animated flm" (Elder).
Kenji Kawai's soundtrack complements ideally the cumulative mood
conveyed by Patlabor 3's visuals. As the composer has stated, his objective
was to generate "a sound which is not melodious, but rather a noise-like
sound representing [aJ worry waiting deep within the mind" (Kawai, K.).
Interestingly, Kawai would use the same approach for Hideo Nakata's The
Ring (1998 ) and for Oshii's live-action feature Avalon (2001 ),4 capitalizing
on a relatively discordant synthesis of string and percussion instruments,
classical themes and folk tunes to evoke a ubiquitous sense of dislocation
and anxiety.
The flm's distinctiveness undeniably owes much to script writer Miki
Tori's determination to transcend established formulae. "My generation is
haunted by monster movies in a way," Tori has stated, "since we grew up
132 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolit i cs
surrounded by them .... One of Patlabor's major premises are robots called
Labors, which are completely fctitious characters .... If we added another
large fctitious monster ... we might end up creating another ridiculous
looking ' Robot Versus Monster' kind of movie, of which I was most afraid.
Thus, I thought the key was how to make a monster feel like a true crea
ture." The script writer has also usefully contextualized the appearance and
role of the creature portrayed in Patlabor 3 with reference to the principal
representational modalities deployed by the conventional kaij uu flm:
"There are four main ways to create monster movies. The frst is to follow
the stereotypes of traditional Japanese monster flms, even if the result lacks
a sense of reality .... Second: create a parody of the traditional monster
movie. Third: depict the monster as a symbol.. .. Fourth: depict the mon
ster as an actual living organism. This requires a lot of research in such areas
as biotechnology and theoretical cosmic mechanisms" (Tori).
Tori has undeniably succeeded, in this regard, managing to make the
mutant appear not only convincingly alive as an organic entity but also
capable of eliciting deeply human emotions, including compassion. In the
pathos of the fnale, in particular, much as we may want to see the beast
conclusively defeated, it is hard not to sense Hitomi's vestigial presence
behind its hideous countenance, and hence to empathize with its and Saeko's
joint predicaments. However, the flm's characteristically restrained dispo
sition remains solidly in place through to the end, and any danger of its
deteriorating into facile sentimentalism is resolutely avoided by the pres
entation of the dire inevitability of Saeko's self-annihilation as the only ten
able resolution to the story. It is at this level that the otherwise preposterous
brute attains to the status of a widely adaptable symbol for the ineradica
ble and incurable alienation under which the inhabitants of Patlabor 3 griev
ously toil -not solely the literal monster but also the constellation of
varyingly disillusioned, embittered or downright deranged humans revolv
ing around its balefully charismatic aura.
Like the preceding Patlabor features, Takayama's movie tackles its fan
tastic subject matter in a dramatically somber and judicious fashion, devel
oping Oshii's own inclination to endow the understated and the
matter-of-fact with no less value than the overtly spectacular. Nevertheless,
as pointed out by "Erick" in his review of the flm for Beyond Hol ly
wood. com, Patlabor 3 "presents death and violence in a very visceral man
ner that's a marked change from previous entries in the franchise. For the
frst time in a Patlabor movie, we see characters die and bleed, though this
is still not enough to warrant the R-rating the movie got for its brief the
atrical run. Being that the basis of the threat is biological rather than tech
nological, it makes sense for the movie to get down and dirty with the blood
and bodies" (Erick). The movie undoubtedly exudes, despite its generally
1 8-Patlabor WXIII 133
subdued and pensively sullen tone, a strong sense of tactile physicality that
makes its take on science fction close to the ethos promulgated by cyber
punk. Threats to both the individual and the collectivity, this ethos inti
mates, do not emanate from the squeaky-clean glass-and-chrome
apparatuses of a crystallinely refned technology but rather from the emi
nently -and often also repulsively -corporeal reality of fesh and blood,
of sweat and tears.
19
Mini pato
Originally conceived and penned by Oshii, and directed by Kenji
Kamiyama, Mil1ipato consists of a set of three lO-minute shorts that adopt
an utterly unique animational style. Its characters are hand-made card
board cutouts attached to chopsticks, and manipulated by their creators in
much the same way as puppeteers would handle their charges in traditional
Bunraku theatre, whose movements are digitally captured, scanned into
the computer and then applied to computer-generated images of the mate
rial characters. The process essentially allows the animators and techni
cians to transfer a set of mathematical formulae extrapolated from real
actions, performed by the puppets by means of their manipulators, onto dig
ital drawings. Intriguingly, the collection derives much of its distinctive
favor and verve not so much fom its standing as a technically ground
breaking intervention in the history of anime (since this aspect is unob
trusively handled throughout) but from its intentional retention of elements
of childlike energy and artlessness in both the rendition of the characters'
appearances and in the deployment of innovative camera angles in order to
produce overtly bubbly and bouncy patterns of motion. The overall pro
duction process encompasses fve key stages:
preliminary character designs are executed by recourse to brush-pens, in
the handling of which the artist Nishio Tetsuya singled out by Oshii for
this project is reputed to be the unchallenged champion;
storyboards delineating the frame-by-frame unfolding of the visual nar
rative are produced, and the action is provisionally timed by recording
the relevant lines of dialogue against each frame;'
cutouts of the various characters in diferent postures, and of individual
body parts in diferent situations are made, stuck to chopsticks and
employed to stage a live-action puppet show against a black background;
the performance is recorded by means of digital cameras and the data
thus obtained are fed to the computer where the subsequent editing moves
referred to above will then be efected;
the computer-generated characters are composited, and clay animation
134
1 9-Minipato l35
is also brought into play where appropriate (e.g., to simulate the pattern
traced by a bullet as this cuts through a semi-malleable substance): ani
mation clay is here chiseled and flmed frame by frame to convey the
impression of its being incrementally penetrated and traversed.
Each short constitutes a mock instructional documentary that shreds
apart the Patlabor universe with irreverent glee. Captain Gotoh is the pro
tagonist of the frst short animation ("Roar Revolver Cannon!"), where the
weaponry is discussed in mind-boggling detail. The second short ("Ah, Vic
torious 98 Model AV") is dominated by the fgure of Shige and is devoted
to the dissection of robot design. This episode also pokes fun at the uni
verse of ancillary merchandise, proposing that the production of spin-ofs
may well be the ultimate priority for the anime industry at large, and that
the Patlabor franchise ought to focus on the creation of endlessly trans
formable Ingrams in order to spawn a virtually interminable progeny of
robot-based toys. In the third ("The Secret of Special Vehicle Unit 2"), Cap
tain Nagumo takes the collection's parodic thrust to absurdist extremes in
addressing an essentially fuf, trivial and inconsequential topic (namely,
the SV2 team's addiction to dried goby) by recourse to an utterly recondite
discourse and a hilariously mock-epic tone. Oshii's script here reveals an
amusing fair for self-satire, insofar as the captain's overinfated rhetoric
could be seen as a deliberately exaggerated version of the type of philosoph
ical expose to be often found in the director's own flms from Beautiful
Dreamer onwards.
The key characters are reproposed in all three shorts in the guise of
super-deformed puppets. Super-deformity-a form of caricatural parody
that can undoubtedly be traced back to ancient times-constitutes a very
specifc convention within the evolution of anime and its inception can be
quite exactly dated. As Patrick Drazen has pointed out, the
spring of 1988 saw two production houses working on "super-deformed" (SD)
comedy projects. Sunrise, creators of the Gundam series, were working on the
movie Char's Counterattack when they came up with SD Gundam, a series of
short episodic OAVs by Gundam director and designer Gen Sa to. Both the peo
ple and the mecha have huge heads, short bodies, childlike appearances, and anar
chistic attitudes ... meanwhile, over at Artmic Studios, the creators of the
all-woman Gall Force crew were working up their own SD project. Ten Little Gall
Force brings us child-body versions of the crew .... From then on, everything was
open to super-deformity [Drazen, p. 24).
Well-known instances of SD anime popular in the West include the
Princess Nine bumpers, the Sailor Moon digressions, and the Record of Lodoss
War bonus materials. It is also worth noting, in this respect, that the car
toon drawing used as the logo for the ofcial Oshii Web site Oshii Mamoru.
136 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopol i t i cs
com2 and entitled "Gabriel's Counterattack" features a super-deformed car
icature of the director as he is playfully set upon by his pet basset hound.
(Elsewhere, Oshii uses an analogous image with inverted roles, supposedly
to comment satirically on his relationship with dogs.)
Masamune Shirow's manga version of Ghost in the Shell, upon which
Oshii's epoch-making 1995 feature flm is based, also employs SD versions
of its characters at particular junctures. SD child-body versions of Major
Kusanagi, specifcally, are provided in situations where she is incensed, and
distortion becomes a way of humanizing her personality by parodic means
so as to throw into relief the fundamentally human nature of her emotions
in spite of her cyberorganic constitution. This is patently the case with
images presented in the context of Episode 9, "Bye Bye Clay," where the
major is evidently angry as a result of Batou not taking her reflections
regarding the Puppet Master seriously enough (Shirow, p. 284) . The use of
child-body images of the heroine gains an extra dimension, retrospectively,
insofar as in the fnale of Oshii's movie, the major is indeed rehoused within
the "shell" of a school-girl -an aspect brought to bear upon the original
manga by Oshii himself. On other occasions, SD fgures serve the purpose
of softening the rather hermetic philosophical tone into which the dialogue
frequently heads-this is evident, for example, in Episode 11 , "Ghost Coast"
(p. 339).
On the whole, Minipato constitutes a ftting conclusion to Oshii's per
sonal involvement in the Patlabor franchise, bringing together his passion
for abstract reflection and theoretical speculation, his commitment to
painstakingly conceived characters and settings, and his eagerness to exper
iment with intrepid camera angles. At the same time, it playfully celebrates
Oshii's refreshing ability to approach his cinematographical agenda with a
keen eye on the sheer fun it may yield for both his audience and himself
despite the overhanging darkness of his recurrent themes and motifs.
20
The Red Spectacles, Stray
Dog and Talking Head
Oshii has also engaged in the dramatization of political issues related
to those brought to the fore by Dallas and by the Patlabar productions in
a range of live-action movies. These flms (in the cases of both feature
length and short productions) tend to refect a political pessimism that
emerged during Oshii's days as a student protester -specifcally against the
renewal of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, which allowed America to main
tain troops on Japanese soil, and against Japan's subsequent collusion in
the Vietnam war.
The somber mood engendered by the director's ideological disillusion
ment with the causes he had passionately embraced in his youth fnds a
potent visual correlative in the particular cinematographical style elabo
rated by Oshii for these productions. Incorporating many of the conven
tions and strategies usually associated with manga and anime into the
province of live-action cinema -such as farcical humor and moments of
disjunctively exaggerated violence juxtaposed with the mellow poetry of
long takes and meditative sequences-the flms deliver a tantalizingly jar
ring alternation of cartoon ish expressionism and photographic natural
ism without indulging in any placid concessions to either fantasy or
realism.
The Red Spectacles-unquestioningly the most manic and surreal of
the productions included in the trilogy -makes explicit reference to Oshii's
political background and involvement in the student protest movement of
the late 1960s and early 1970s. As the prologue informs us, the movie is set
in the late twentieth century at a time of relentlessly escalating crime of an
"increasingly vicious nature," with which the conventional Metropolitan
Police are unable to cope, and related establishment of the "Anti Vicious
Crime Heavily Armored Mobile Special Investigation Unit" in order to deal
with the situation. The unit consists of" [p lolice men and women of supe
rior intellect and physical strength" who harbor an almost fanatical sense
of justice and are tagged Kerberos (a Japanese adaptation of the name Cer-
137
138 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
berus, the Watchdog of Hell). The agents are equipped with special "rein
forcement gear" inclusive of body suits and lethal weaponry.
A potentially brave and even noble endeavor to stem the onslaught of
crime, the Kerberos operation rapidly spirals out of control, as its immod
erately zealous members start employing increasingly energetic, unethical
and eventually brutal investigational tactics: "in their fervent hatred of evil,
their actions were quite severe. Their almost cruel investigation activities
became the target of strong public criticism." When, in the course of a rou
tine mission, a Kerberos agent beats an ofender to death, the unit is dis
solved. Oshii presents this preliminary information as a putative "excerpt"
from "The Glory and Downfall of the Kerberos" by one "Hyohe Shiozawa."
The adoption of this strategy is worthy of notice, since it implicitly invites
refection upon the generic standing of the flm as a whole in relation to
so-called historical cinema. The Red Spectacles is patently not a historical
movie in the sense that it ofers a dramatization of ofcially recorded events.
In fact, the history it depicts is essentially a product of Oshii's personal
speculations. However, this does not automatically entail that it has noth
ing to say about lived history. After all, numerous works claiming to rep
resent historical occurrences in a descriptively transparent fashion actually
provide varyingly fctional versions of history, not history per se. This
becomes instantly obvious if one considers, for example, that the plethora
of war movies produced practically across the globe to comment on legion
disparate conflicts hardly supply objective accounts of ascertainable facts
insofar as they are inevitably colored by local ideological assumptions and
prej udices.
The Red Spectacles is no less historical a flm, in this respect, than those
productions may be deemed to be: although it does not register empirically
verifable occurrences, it does propose a version of history in its own pecu
liar way -namely, that of history as a series of snapshot-like pieces of evi
dence for the ubiquitous incidence of repressive, exploitative and ultimately
downright inhumane drives within diverse political formations. The con
tingent society which necessitates both the establishment and the dissolu
tion of the Kerberos Unit may never have obtained as such, yet its cinematic
articulation operates as a convincing template for virtually any dispensa
tion governed by such drives. In this perspective, the flm could be said to
embrace the ethos of historicity rather that historiography. Whereas his
toriography refers to the discipline that purports to record history through
texts, historicity constitutes the process that makes history through texts
that is to say, brings history into being not by claiming to represent given
facts but by encoding diverse interpretations of lived experience as dis
courses. This term, it must be emphasized, is here employed in accordance
with the signifcance imparted upon it by Michel Foucault (Foucault, 1973;
20-The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head 139
1979 ).1 (A cognate argument to the one outlined above is also eminently
applicable, as shown in a later chapter, to Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. )
In the flm's opening segment, three of the Kerberos Unit's erstwhile
members refuse to disarm and rebel sanguinely against the system, but only
one of them, Koichi Todome, manages to elude capture and flee after prom
ising to his injured companions, Ao and Midori, that he will return. By the
time Koichi does go back, three years later, his city has altered beyond
recognition and faded into an abstruse blur, and the more the ex-agent
struggles to unearth vestiges of his past, the more his environment creep
ily defes his eforts. As the character of the old man Ginji tells the protag
onist, during his absence many things have changed: the "trafc light" itself
is said to have "changed to muddy blue. It may never turn back to clear red
again. Nobody stops for you." These lines paradigmatically capture the
character of the dismal society depicted in the flm as a whole: namely, an
uncaring and befuddled world ruled by an obdurately atomizing ideology
whereby even sitting down to eat in groups at restaurants is considered a
heinous crime. 2 The sense of hopelessness that malignantly extends
throughout this ragged social fabric is tersely encapsulated by Ao's descrip
tion of how, in jail, the ex-"Kerberos" agents went gradually from hope to
despair, and of how the government defeated him and his unrepentant com
rades by destroying their vision to the point that they were rendered utterly
spiritless and hence unworthy of incarceration.
As he struggles to locate his old allies, Koichi is relentlessly pursued
by government-appointed assassins and torturers and haunted by enig
matic feline fgures and by the image of a young woman with cat-like eyes
featuring on posters, monitors and the screen of a large and utterly deserted
auditorium. The feline symbolism could be read as an indicator of Koichi's
alienation: professionally and historically associated with dogs, he evidently
does not belong in a society pervaded by cats. As for the image of the girl,
Musashi has persuasively described it as denoting "[tlhe idea ... of a Big
Sister ... a pair of watchful eyes that follow you everywhere" (Musashi).
When the protagonist does manage to get hold of his former co
conspirators, it is by no means clear whether they are on his side or are
working in the service of the government-employed persecutors, since their
allegiances repeatedly vacillate in keeping with the flm's frequent tonal
shifts across an extensive generic gamut. Indeed, The Red Spectacles draws
on visual and per formative sources as diverse as kung-fu action cinema,
stage drama, vaudeville and flm nair, consistently bathing its black-and
white or sepia-tinted images in stark lighting reminiscent of Fritz Lang's
oeuvre at its most portentous. The overall atmosphere is not merely murky
but tenebrized and quite literally night-soaked. Moreover, as we follow
Koichi along countless stairways, corridors and tunnels, we can palpably
140 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
sense the character's paranoia intensifying at each step. The recurrent inclu
sion of scenes in which the character experiences bouts of volcanically gut
wrenching diarrhea barely alleviates the overarching mood, insofar as the
scatological topos never quite delivers a famboyantly carnivalesque sense
of comic relief but only serves, in fact, to exacerbate the sense of Koichi's
possession by malignant forces. No less unsettling are the sequences in
which the camera suspensefully pans across perfectly anonymous rooms
that are nonetheless rendered ominous by the nightmarish vividness of
materials and textures: nothing can be taken at face value, as even the bland
est door, carpet or basin threaten suddenly to spring to malevolent life.
Despite the nightmarish connotations of its subject matter and its elab
oration of a veritably Lynchian cinematic vision of decay, the flm's mood
often strikes jocularly bizarre notes by virtue of Oshii's ironical use of slap
stick and pantomime elements, theatrical facial expressions, tongue-in
cheek non-sequiturs, hilarious musical touches and, on the whole, an
irreverent disregard for mimetic verisimilitude. While these traits would
not be in the least surprising in the context of an animated flm, their delib
erate and deft insertion into a piece of live-action cinema makes The Red
Spectacles quite a unique experience. Its experimental employment of chro
matic palettes and textural efects, moreover, contributes crucially to the
cumulative experience of this identifable and yet utterly unfamiliar world.
The spaces depicted in The Red Spectacles are especially memorable
insofar as they obsessively rely on a chillingly boxy architectural style redo
lent of Chris Marker's La JeUe (1962), one of Oshii's favorite productions.3
Moreover, these spaces are predicated on the dispersion of the center of
vision through the proliferation of errant lines of orientation and on the
unbalancing of perspective through unpredictable oscillations and rota
tions in the distribution of matter, to the point that depth appears to dis
solve into a loose, unpunctuated becoming. As walls vanish, collapse or
suddenly materialize amid the treacherous play of light and shadow, any
conventional sense of natural form is recklessly forsaken. At the heart of
the flm there lies a spatio-temporal paradox whereby the more things appear
to change, the more they stay exactly the same: the protagonist is trapped
in an inescapable, intensely claustrophobic nightmare that repeats itself ad
i nfnitum as he moves from one scene to the next. An arbitrarily assembled
bundle of purely marginal variations seems to have been thrown into the
mix just to mock him with the illusion of change.
Koichi increasingly appears to be living within the synthetic space of
a flm as everything around him takes on the semblance of a set. Often
inconsequential lines spoken by disparate personae, moreover, come to
sound like portions of a Theatre-of-the-Absurd script intent on parodying
hackneyed plots in the traditions of the gangster movie, the psycho-thriller
20-The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head 141
or hard-boiled detective fction. The eerie attraction of The Red Spectacles
may ultimately reside with this particular facet of its prismatic cinemato
graphical confguration, to the extent that self-refexivity enables Oshii to
deliver a deliberately barmy pastiche not merely of established genres and
styles-which could barely be deemed original-but, more specifcally, of
expressions of popular flmic and narrative forms at their most torpidly
formulaic. Hence, the movie ofers (among other things) a darkly comedic
critique of the degeneration of all manner of codes and conventions as a
result of indiscriminate overuse. Oshii's camera work corroborates this
indictment of the emptiness of words by exhibiting characters that scarcely
look at one another while they spew out their stilted lines, as though they
were subliminally aware that their utterances could never really communi
cate anything. Eye contact is accordingly deemed redundant, since inter
action is quite simply of no consequence. For all they know or care, they
could just as well be addressing a hypothetical black hole on the outermost
edges of the farthest galaxy.
+++
In Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops, a prequel to The Red Spectacles
explaining how Koichi spent his exiled years, a younger member of the Ker
heros Unit named Inui is released after a protracted period of detention
and sets of to fnd Koichi in order to establish why the latter abandoned
his troops and fled. Unsure as to whether what he seeks is merely answers
or -more grimly -revenge, Inui embarks upon a journey that leads him
to Mei, a young girl formerly attached to the now missing Koichi, and the
two decide to trail the elusive man together. At the same time, other mys
terious forces also appear to be looking for Koichi in the conviction that,
as a fugitive from government and as a latent political foe, he represents an
ongoing menace to the system.
As the centerpiece in the live-action triptych also comprising The Red
Spectacles and Talking Head, Stray Dog acts as something of a bridge between
the sinister and bitingly cold desperation of the preceding flm and the tech
nical eccentricity of the next. Stray Dog has unequivocally aforded Oshii
an unsurpassed means of faunting his impeccable directorial style, and
evinces throughout an organic fuidity in the handling of cuts, long takes,
camera positionings and transitions that far surpasses in caliber the flm's
engaging but somewhat unembroidered storyline. As Inui and Mei travel
together in search of Koichi, the action often resembles a documentary,
especially in the use of pillow sequences exhibiting elaborate urban scenes
replete with shops, adverts, temples, pagodas, fairgrounds, congested
142 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
avenues, elegant edifces, desolate hovels and vacant lots. In these sequences,
the camera subtly emphasizes the two characters' roles as spectators in their
own right, thus encouraging us to identify with them and share their point
of view.
Oshii's touchingly unpretentious visual poetry, frequently underscored
by a poignant lack of dialogue, consistently communicates a disarming
sense of mellow, indeed almost whimsical, pleasure. This potentially grat
ifying, serene mood derives much of its cinematographical intensity from
its ironic juxtaposition with the violence that besieges the protagonists' lives
and its ominous potential to erupt without warning. On the whole, there
fore, even though Stray Dog is far sunnier than either its live-action pred
ecessor or its successor, its pivotal concerns are no less somber. This is
evinced by the emphasis which Oshii places on the harrowing themes of
political strife and existential discontent. Likewise afecting is the flm's
allegorical reference to the relinquishment of parental responsibility
through the cardinal symbol of the abandoned dog.
The opening sequence (situated before the credits), where members
of the Kerberos platoon stand still and silent against the aural background
of Kenji Kawai's daunting guitar melody, having just heard that their unit
has been disbanded, could be described as vintage Oshii. The same is true
of the climactic scenes, in which Inui dons for the last time the Kerberos
armored suit and nimbly vanquishes a horde of mimes. The opening por
tion of the movie encapsulates Oshii's preference for methodically paced
and meditative sequences which, in this particular case, seems a highly
appropriate means of communicating the composite mood of disbelief,
anguish and humiliation in which the defeated agents are locked.
The closing section, by contrast, refects the director's ability to han
dle no less profciently rapid-fre action sequences replete with state-of
the-art visual and special efects. Moreover, the flm's hyperdynamic climax
serves to momentarily revive the darkly humorous tone adopted in The Red
Spectacles by means of deliberately exaggerated -and hence latently farci
cal-depictions of legion gory deaths redolent of Quentin Tarantino's cin
ema, and of elliptical references to the visual formulae of a variety of popular
genres ranging from the yakuza movie to the spaghetti western. An even
more outrageous expression of caricatural humor is supplied by Koichi and
Inui's eventual reunion on the beach, a fairly protracted sequence featur
ing much leaping, grappling, knocking and splashing about -as well as
stylized postures reminiscent of Kabuki theatre -which contrast sharply
with the lyrical sublimity of the landscape against which the mock battle
is enacted.
In spite of such occasional revampings of the earlier live-action flm's
ubiquitous penchant for the absurd, Stray Dog essentially ofers a subdued
20-The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head 143
experience even as it engages with the harrowing ethical and ideological
issues alluded to earlier. As Tasha Robinson has noted,
[r]ather than tipping his hand, Oshii simply follows the character on his voyage
of self-discovery, which includes much silent exploration of local scenery, includ
ing one languid ten-minute wordless sequence backed by swelling piano. The flm
marks Oshii's meditative impulses at their most extreme: it draws its central
metaphor clearly enough in a monologue that likens [Inui] to a feral dog, but
apart from some tone-breaking slapstick between [Inui and Koichi], Stray Do
g
seems more like an extended Yanni music video than a narrative flm [Robinson
2003].
The monologue to which Robinson's review refers is delivered by
Hayashi, a shifty character who claims to belong to the "Fugitive Support
Group" and has supplied Inui with information about Mei in the frst place
to help him trace his old comrade. As the flm unfolds, it becomes increas
ingly obvious that Hayashi has his own ulterior motives at heart, and quite
distinct reasons for wanting Koichi's location pinpointed. The monologue
tangentially harks back to the black-and-white, profoundly afecting stills
of abandoned dogs presented under the opening credits, while also sym
bolically alluding to Koichi's and Inui's afliation with canine fgures (inu,
incidentally, means "dog" i n Japanese). Since this portion of Stray Dog
doubtlessly represents the flm's graphic and thematic core and simultane
ously speaks volumes about Oshii's ethical and ideological convictions, it
appears worthy of extensive citation in the present context:
They are stray dogs. Someone might have dumped them, or they got lost. There
are so many of them around here. They co-exist with humans, but from a care
ful distance ... they'll never open themselves to humans. They hold a strong
grudge against the humans who dumped them but they also miss the smell of
their masters so much. They are eternally ambivalent. But they're animals no mat
ter what. They will never know the reason why their master had to dump them.
After a digression citing the "impressive" but "tragic" story of a "dog" who
would never succeed in fnding the "master" and the "future" he yearned
for in spite of his "running continuously on his bloody feet" (an elliptical
reference to Koichi's ordeal), Hayashi declares that the dumping of dogs is
a "historical necessity":
No matter how unreasonable it may sound the dog has to pay for any misfor
tune on his own even if he can't understand the reason why. That's the only les
son and the saddest lesson . .. [a sudden change of tone from the almost unctuously
suave to the harshly menacin
g
occurs at this juncture] ... that humans and dogs
have to learn.
Hayashi is obviously taunting Inui at this point, brutally reminding him
that he, too, is something of a "dumped" dog, forsaken by his former
employers and colleagues alike and forced to live with a loss for which
144 Part Three : Oshii' s Technopolitics
nobody will assume or even share any degree of responsibility. The scene
as a whole is rendered all the more disturbing by the fact that it is unclear
where or when it is supposed to take place. Intriguingly, we have been led
to the derelict yard strewn with remnants of Kerberos suits that ostensibly
constitutes its setting from a fashback of the aforementioned pre-credits
sequence, and this, in turn, was seamlessly introduced as we were follow
ing Mei in her exploration of Tainan's back alleys. This suspension of the
action's reality status both echoes Oshii's inveterate preoccupation with the
interpenetration of the actual and the imaginary (as found in Beautiful
Dreamer and Angel's Egg, for instance) and anticipates the drastically of
kilter assault on the empirical world staged by Oshii's subsequent live
action production, Talking Head.
+++
Talking Head departs from the story arc proposed in the two earlier
live-action flms-thus constituting a sequel in merely the vaguest sense of
the term -by engaging in the politics and crimes coursing the flm indus
try. The movie constitutes a parodic intertextual commentary on the world
of Japanese animation at large, replete with cameos, inside jokes and
behind-the-scenes glances at the secrets of the business, and hence some
thing of a documentary. However, Talking Head could also be described as
a murder mystery, a confessional narrative, a ghost story and very possibly
a zombie-driven horror thriller.
While the entire flm is lit as though it were a stage play, some of its
images are bathed in lights so sensationally stark as to seem indistinguish
able from anime drawings. Talking Head employs a single set with sparse
decor, minimal backdrops and barely any walls. The characters repeatedly
adopt an acting style redolent of vaudeville pantomime, indulging in the
most overtly theatrical displays of both verbal rhetoric and body language
and frequently addressing the audience with authentically Brechtian alacrity.
As Adam Arseneau has pointed out,
the flm seems to exist outside any rational notion of reality; it can safely be said
that Talkin
g
Head does not exist inside the reality of The Red Spectacles and Stray
Do
g
, because the flm exists inside no reality but its own. If you are quick, you
can catch a single fleeting reference to the "Kerberos," delivered through the
guise of a cofee commercial. Finally, the entire flm takes place within a movie
theatre (AKA the animation studio) that appears to be identical to the movie the
atre in The Red Spectacles, with the same washroom, and identical movie play
ing on constant loop (a young woman's face, on a tight close up, focusing on the
eyes) .... Talkin
g
Head completely smash [es 1 any notion of a "fourth wall" . .. in
a very unnerving, meaningful, and aggressive way. Characters will be talking,
20-The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Talking Head 145
then stop talking, gaze directly at the camera, as their monologues continue from
some unnamed, outside source [ Arsenau].
In this respect, Talking Head exhibits intriguing afnities with Dogville
(dir. Lars von Trier, 2003), a flm overtly inspired by Bertolt Brecht's Epic
Theatre. Echoing the playwright's stylistic agenda, both Talking Head and
Dogville consistently foreground the constructedness and enactedness of
their stories, employing nearly bare stages wherein locations are demar
cated by purely conventional lines, a handful of props and the performers'
miming skills-as well as intrusive narrators-in order to distance the audi
ence from the action. This bold stylistic approach could easily have yielded
nothing more than flmed theatre had it not been for Oshii's imaginative
use of the camera, and specifcally his departure from Hollywood's tradi
tional devotion to the shot-and-reverse-shot formal fgure and tendency to
sweep instead across scenes with both subtle and perplexing shifts of focus.
This approach delivers a cinematographical style that is ostensibly the
atrical, yet achieves visual efects that can only be accomplished cinemati
cally. Not even from the front row of a theatre's stalls would the spectator
be in a position to enter quite so intimately, so indiscreetly, the lives of
Oshii's exploitative and rapacious personas. Following the camera as it rest
lessly moves from face to face, posture to posture, gesture to gesture, the
audience are incrementally exposed to the reality of a dissolute industry,
persistently exposing its iniquity from within.
The surreal plot proposed by Talking Head proceeds from the prem
ise that the production of a much anticipated anime has come to a halt even
before the script and storyboards have been fnalized as a result of the sud
den disappearance of its intended director, Rei Maruwa, amid a number of
puzzling deaths. In the original director's absence, the production company
hires a maverick with a reputation for thriving under pressure and for res
cuing doomed projects from certain damnation. A "migrant technical direc
tor," the novel appointee is required to mimic the work of his predecessor
in completing the flm by the stipulated deadline, and thereby bolster a spe
cious illusion of entrepreneurial prosperity on the studio's part.
Oscillating unpredictably between aloof imperturbability and furious
agitation, the director hired to salvage the aborted production visits each
department and interviews the studio's motley crew, and is thereby graced
with a plethora of evasively conjectural lectures-delivered at a staggering
pace -about the history, aesthetic signifcance, ethical import and techni
cal function of a variety of cinematographical concepts and tools. All the
various characters, despite their theoretical diferences, seem to share the
same unfortunate attribute: an inclination to infate obvious and even fairly
pedestrian notions so as to make them sound akin to epiphanic disclosures,
146 Part Three : Oshii's TechnopoL i ti cs
and ultimately precipitate into sheer grotesquerie. For example, the script
writer grandiosely mourns the "old days" in which people thought of the
screen as a form of "magic" and commends the importance of elaborating
novel ways of stimulating contemporary audiences but ends up supporting
this high-principled argument, alas, by recourse to the most hackneyed
circensian tricks: his belly pops open, spilling out a long chain of plump
sausages, and his severed head goes on yattering gleefully after being relo
cated to his lap.
The diferent characters harbor intricate belief about the most dis
parate aspects of flmmaking and related distribution practices-from the
part played by editing to the production and deployment of trailers, from
the politics surrounding the hiring of subcontractors to the artistic impli
cation of the transition from black-and-white to color cinema. The distinc
tiveness of the art of animation is also addressed in the context of one of
the flm's most interesting portions-especially for an animation lover. This
consists of a series of animated line drawings endowed with both graphic
economy and dynamic efervescence, and displaying exquisitely morphing
shapes depicted in a phantasmagoric variety of styles-including an explicit
homage to Picasso's Guernica.
This segment of the flm concurrently comments with a lucidity and
verve that is signally missing from the other theoretical inferences on some
of animation's most salient traits-for example: "there are no characters
that cannot exist in animation .... However, because of this unlimited pos
sibility animation characters are forced to shoulder the ideological demands
placed upon them. In other words, the preferences and personal feelings of
the people involved." These refections succinctly convey Oshii's own
ambivalent feelings about the ethics of animation. As an animation direc
tor, his take on the medium's unfettered freedom is indubitably enthusias
tic. However, the passion is partially tempered by the intimation that the
animated characters that have no choice but to embody the individual
predilections and emotions of their creators are not just lifeless puppets but
also allegorical incarnations of real people, insofar as breathing humans
are also, ultimately, cultural constructs determined by the ideological struc
tures within which they operate and are operated upon.
As he goes about the studio consulting its various employees, the mav
erick cinematographer rapidly discovers that the crew's pompous ravings
and the tight deadline he is expected to meet are the least of his problems:
a spectral entity haunts the venue, while the entire production team is being
murdered. No less chilling a cause for alarm is the growing realization that
the boundary between the director's reality and the movi e under produc
tion has practically dissolved, which lays the foundations for a metafctional
quandary of mind-boggling proportions. Ultimately, therefore, Tal ki ng
20-The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog and Tal ki ng Head 147
Head is principally a self-referential refection upon the cinematic art itself,
and an experimental investigation of the distinctive structures, registers
and rhetoric of flmmaking. This is conducted by means of a radically dis
concerting metamovie, a movie about making movies-or, to be more pre
cise, a movie within a movie which, in turn, is feasibly placed within one
further movie.
Talking Head appears to end with a shot of the director approaching
the foreground as he pushes along a dolly-held camera. The fnal credits
then start scrolling against a black background. However, the actual end
ing is yet to come. What we see next is an audience exiting a movies the
atre, among them a girl carrying a cardboard cut-out of a basset hound to
be seen again in Killers: . 50 Woman. The character of the producer is sub
sequently seen in the act of congratulating a rather gloomy young woman
for completing Rei's work so brilliantly and thereby fully confrming her
reputation as the best of his apprentices. It then transpires, through the
producer's confession, that Rei had become schizophrenic and had accord
ingly been hospitalized -hence his disappearance. Pivotal to his patholog
ical behavior had been the creation of an alternative personality intended
to compensate for the disintegrating one. This had by and by acquired the
guise of an animation ghost director, which indicates that the patient had
somewhat uncannily remained anchored to his initial reality despite the
mounting pressure exerted upon it by his psychotic brain.
Pursuing exclusively fnancial interests, the producer had decided to
indulge Rei's fantasy -hoping he would eventually recover and resume his
role -by appointing a ghost director and inducing the crew to collude in
the game. The original director had never recovered but the production had
eventually been completed, according to this version of events, by the bril
liant apprentice. Although the producer had been satisfed with this out
come, the situation had unexpectedly turned out to be rather more
convoluted than initially suspected. Indeed, Rei had developed rather com
plex feelings towards his crew akin to the urge to kill, and the ghost direc
tor had somehow had to fulfll this fantasy as well. This revelation mirrors
the ghost director's proposition, put forward in one of the early scenes, that
executing a flm resembles perpetrating a heinous ofence: "Making a movie
is the same as committing a crime. No matter how cleverly you hide it,
your methodology and process will reveal your motive. Or the production
scheme, that is." Asked by the studio's gofer whether, in this scenario, he
is expected to take on the role of the "detective," he adamantly asserts that
his task is not to expose a "culprit" but to "complete the crime." 'Tm a crim
inal with no personal motive," he adds. "Simply put, sort of a hit man."
The key to Talking Head-assuming there is really any such thing
would seem to be that Rei's plan was not just to make a movie. In further-
1 48 Part Three : Oshi i's Technopol i ti cs
ing Rei's plan, the ghost director is supposed to be assisting both a com
mercial venture and a personal scheme. However, two complicating factors
should also be taken into consideration. Firstly, the fact that the character
credited with the completion of the flmic product is Rei's assistant and not
the ghost director would appear to intimate that the latter is also a pawn
in a larger web of nefarious machinations-or even, to pursue the absur
dist thread to its most preposterous extremes, a fgment of Rei's scrambled
psyche. Secondly, the assistant divests herself of any conclusive asset by
speculating: "maybe I myself was the third personality conjured up by him
[ Rei) ."
Within this confguration, the original director constitutes, paradox
ically, an absent presence (the Japanese word "Rei, " incidentally, means
"zero"):
a man who is constantly spoken of by others but never shows himself. The exis
tence who rules the situation from outside the frame . . . . The man who cast a
shadow behind every single incident. Everything was done to materialize his
intentions and it progressed according to his plan.
Both the ghost director and Rei's apprentice have been brought into play
purely in order to "materialize his intentions," to engineer situations
wherein they could l end their own performance as actors to the fulfllment
of their absentee landlord's vision.
Talking Head may therefore consist of three concentric circles. The
largest circle, encompassing the other two, is Oshii's flm itself. Within this
lies a second circle: the flm made by Rei's assistant. Within the latter, lies
a third circl e: the flm consisting of the activities undertaken by the ghost
director and his adopted crew and viewed by the assistant. Thus, the ghost
director is a character within the assistant's work, just as the assistant is a
character in Oshii's work. Where exactly this leaves the spectator of Oshii's
flm is something of a moot point. The lingering suspicion with which one
tends to leave this unsettling visual and diegetic experience is that just as
characters in a movie may also be spectators, the spectators of Talki ng
Head-we -may also be fctional personae in our own world.
2 1
Killers: . 50 Woman
Killers, an episode within an omnibus production, provides a quasi
absurdist take on a contract killer's mission that pokes fun at the flm indus
try's dubious ethics with impudent gusto while also retaining the surreal
components previously foregrounded in Talking Head. In his review of
Killers for The Japan Times, Mark Schilling has provided an informatively
amusing evaluation of the compilation as a whole and of Oshii's own specifc
contribution to the project: "Oshii has combined his obsessions with guns,
babes and junk food into the strongest and simplest flm of the lot, which
plays like an erotic daydream-cum-food commercial. It's also an object les
son on how to hold the screen with minimal means. All you really need,
Oshii shows us, is a hot babe, a big gun and plenty of fresh omusubi [ rice
balls] (Schilling).
The direction is typically Oshiian in its emphasis on fastidiously
methodical pacing, as the camera follows the protagonist (played by Yui
Nino) and the bulky wooden crate she hauls along -treating it with the
same nonchalance with which an ordinary businessperson would handle a
briefcase or laptop computer -to the place of her assignment. This is a
room in a high-rise from where the hit woman is supposed to assassinate
a corrupt flm producer (played by Studio Ghibli's actual president, Toshio
Suzuki) who is said to have embezzled 20 million dollars. The camera's
moves are paralleled by Nino's deliberate acting style, whereby meticulous
attention is paid to each minute gesture. This is especially notable in the
sequence where the character removes her sunglasses and artifcial nails
(the camera focuses closely on their decorative pattern, which is subtly con
sonant with the discreetly post-Goth fared-trouser suit), takes of the smart
outft, replaces it with casual clothing and ties back her luxuriant locks as
one would upon returning home after a day at the workplace. Ironically, in
this instance, the job is yet to begin. Before embarking on her next task,
the woman also weighs herself -an act which might appear somewhat irrel
evant to the mission in hand but actually proves pivotal to the short piece's
ideological message. The same punctiliously measured rhythm character
izes the following sequence, detailing the calculatingly clinical assemblage
149
150 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
of the assassin's precision weapon -a monstrous SO-caliber gun capable of
blowing massive holes through all kinds of materials with the aid of incon
gruously elegant-looking shells.
Waiting for her target to emerge, the contract killer whiles the hours
away by satisfying the demands of an appetite the size of Mount Fuji through
the diligent ingestion of preposterous amounts of pasties, rice balls, sand
wiches, buns, wraps, hot dogs and various other snacks of multi
gastronomic derivation, which she no less systematically fushes down with
bottled water. As Nino chomps diligently along with a dedication and sense
of duty suggesting that the gargantuan consumption of convenience-store
junk is her authentic assignment, and that the assassination is something
of an ancillary task casually coinciding with it, we are supplied with the
name of each of the products being eaten and with details regarding brands,
prices and caloric value. These are accompanied by the recurring ping sound
characteristic of old-fashioned tills, which comes to serve as something of
a refrain or acoustic punctuation.
This protracted and wordless sequence comes across, cumulatively, as
a darkly humorous one. Yet, it is also furtively titillating insofar as the pro
tagonist's diligent staging of her interaction with food simultaneously car
ries the visual connotations of an exhibitionist ploy, translating what would
otherwise be an eminently private ritual into a public spectacle for voyeuris
tic consumption by the audience. Moreover, the mise-en-scene allows us to
penetrate Nino's space by means of a key-hole perspective analogous to the
hit woman's take on her prospective victim via her lethal gear, thus mak
ing us marginally complicitous with her nefarious intent. The element of
scopophilia inherent in Nino's food consumption could thus be read as a
metaphorical form of foreplay aptly prefacing the short flm's climactic
blast.
Killers: . 50 Woman resembles an anime production in its use of pre
dominantly silent action. Indeed, the only available sounds ( beside the
aforementioned ping) are those emanating from the monitor through which
the protagonist keeps an eye on the hospital building whence the intended
victim is supposed to materialize. One of the background characters seen
on the screen wears a T-shirt emblazoned with one of the most assiduously
recurrent images in Oshii's cinema, namely the picture of a basset hound.
(A further canine reference, incidentally, is ofered by the logo on the crate
wherein the killing machinery is stored: a pawprint crowned by the simple
caption "dog. ")
The character in question is promoting some new slimming equip
ment in a program that is being broadcast while news reporters await the
fraudulent producer's exit from the hospital. This apparently peripheral
aspect of the flm turns out to be quite axial to its diegetic logic, insofar as
21-Killers 1 5 1
Killers: . 50 Woman ultimately constitutes a deconstructive exposure of the
fashion system: when the assassin weighs herself at the very end, it appears
that she has not gained a single pound despite the amount of food and water
she has been voraciously swallowing since the start of the action.' Oshii thus
intimates that the hit woman's ultimate mission consists of assassinating
two equally infamous sectors of the entertainment industry: the flm world's
pockets of depravity, in a literal sense, and the health-and-beauty circus,
in a metaphorical one.
At the end, the killer is just about to shoot the Suzuki character as he
stands outside the hospital with a nurse, smoking a cigarette, when a young
girl carrying a large cardboard cut-out of a basset hound (redolent of the
one seen in Talking Head) walks past just behind him. The protagonist
therefore shoots the bodyguards' vehicle instead, creating panic and caus
ing the nurse to fee -despite the producer 's slapstick struggle to use her
as a shield. Finally, the hit woman manages to shoot her target: as the pro
ducer 's head explodes in a fashion reminiscent of manga gore, realism is
patently suspended in favor of cartoonish exuberance.
For fnancial reasons, the production of cinematic anthologies has
increased signifcantly in Japan over recent years, allowing budding
flmmakers to beneft from the coexistence within the same collaborative
work of their own flms with those of established directors. Killers,
specifcally, was prompted by the "Gun Action Short Movie Competition,"
a biannual contest sponsored by Gun magazine. Schilling has explained the
genesis and evolution of the project in the review cited earlier: "Three con
test judges-Oshii, manga artist and director Kazuhiro Kiuchi and script
writer and director Shundo Okawa -proposed a cinematic battle royal
between them and recent contest winners. In other words, amateurs vs.
pros, with the results to be screened on satellite television and released on
video. For various reasons, the project has since morphed into a fve-part
omnibus flm, with the contest aspect eliminated." As this same review later
suggests, the "other four directors are equally in love of frepower, but are
more conventional [than Oshii J in their approach to both action and com
edy" (Schilling).
The frst segment, Kazuhiro Kiuchi's "Pay-Of," pivots on the charac
ter of a swaggering contract assassin pretending to be an arms dealer and
his semi-farcical eforts to withstand the lethal onslaught of a bunch of clas
sic babes well versed in all manner of martial skills. The second, Shundo
Okawa's "Candy," introduces us to the charismatic fgure of Megumi, a for
mer ofce secretary who, seeking employment at a cabaret, realizes rather
late in the day that she has been hired as a contract killer and not a cabaret
performer as originally hoped. The action sequences in which Megumi is
consequently involved are among the most exciting portions of the anthol-
152 Part Three: Oshi i's Technopolitics
ogy from a strictly cinematographical viewpoint, especially in virtue of
their deft intermingling of several of the classic formulae associated with
both kung-fu movies and the Western, and felicitous anticipations of the
Kill Bill and the Matrix productions.
The third segment, Takanori Tsujimoto's "Perfect Partner," is closer
in tone to Pulp Fiction, as it follows two hit men who miraculously man
age to retain an enthusiastic partiality for vaporous rhetoric and foolish
gags even as they are hounded down by increasingly blood-thirsty gang
sters. The fourth segment, Shuji Kawata's "Killer Idol," is possibly the clos
est, in thematic terms, to Oshii's own contribution to the project, dealing
as it does with the crimes of the entertainment industry. The short flm
indeed supplies a dispassionately acerbic critique of the idoru ( idol singer
or star) system and of so-called reality television through a comedically
macabre exposure of media sensationalism centered on a cowboy-hatted
idol contract killer.
Throughout the collection, one detects the infuence of Quentin Taran
tino and John Woo, and of classics such as Niki ta (dir. Luc Besson, 1991 )
and the Gun Crazy series. The amalgamation of dark humor, a taste for the
absurd and a deliberately melodramati c exaggeration in the acting style is
arguably the most memorable attribute of the production in its entirety.
Killers: . 50 Woman, specifcally, is indubitably an unusual production,
yet it will not come as a total surprise to viewers acquainted with Oshii's
animated cinema, i nsofar as it derives visual personality and verve from
the very elements that have made the director's anime instantly recogniz
able. Indeed, the short movie's overall mood paradigmatically captures
Oshii's distinctive preference for a paradoxical fusion of the ominous and
the farcical, the somber and the bizarre, restraint and excess, in an ebul
liently satiric treatment of violence.
22
Jin- Roh: The Wolf Brigade
The flms personally directed by Oshii in which the Kerberos world,
with its distinctive iconography and mores, features prominently are, as we
have seen, live-action productions. Nonetheless, it is arguably in the ani
mated feature Jin-Roh, which Hiroyuki Okiura' directed and for which
Oshii wrote the script, that such a universe comes most elaborately and
portentously to life. For this reason, the flm deserves detailed attention in
the context of the present study. At the levels of narrative complexity and
aesthetic specifcity, moreover, Jin-Roh is especially central to Oshii's oeu
vre due to its dispassionate elaboration of a rhetoric and a style that had
found inception in the Patlabor features and in the frst Ghost in the Shell
movie and would reach something of an aesthetic apotheosis in Ghost i n
the Shell 2: Innocence in the following millennium.2
Ji n-Roh' s inception can be traced back to the production company
Bandai Visual's plan to make an OVA based on Oshii's comic book Ken
rou Densetsu that would comprise six episodes, one for each of the origi
nal manga installments. However, Ghost in the Shell was their priority at
the time. In the wake of that flm's sensational success, Manga Entertain
ment -who were familiar with the Kenrou Densetsu story as a result of its
publication in English by Dark Horse Comics in 1994 as Hellhounds: Panzer
Cops-asked Oshii to create an animated version of the story but would
not settle for anything other than a feature-length production. All the var
ious parties involved believed frmly in Okiura's suitability as a director,
and Oshii himself was fully supportive of that choice even though his path
to accepting involvement in the sole capacity of script writer was not exactly
smooth: "I begged [ them J to let me do the script at least and everybody at
Bandai made a wry face," he has stated in an interview conducted by Kenji
Kamiyama for the Production I.G Web site. "Yeah, they'd already appointed
Itoh to do the script. Itoh didn't want to do it so he refused. I knew he was
going to refuse it because he once told me that he didn't want to write a
story that had dogs in it, especially after he wrote Akai Megane [ The Red
Spectacles J. Well, so they asked me to do the script after !toh refused it. . ..
Since I was the original author, nobody needed to argue with anybody else.
153
154 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolit ics
/in-Roh: The Wolf Brigade ( 1 998) . A val iant but tormented member of the Kerberos
the elite uni t formed to combat escal ating crime rates - Fuse has to choose between
his allegiance to the force and his attraction to ex-terrorist Kei . I n the flm's alternate
history postwar Japan -a country defeated and occupied not by the U. S. but by Nazi
Germany - pol itical concerns are i nterwoven with ominous al l egorical references to
the tal e of "Littl e Red Riding-Hood," here al l uded t o by Kei's attire. 1 999 Mamoru
Oshi i/BANDAI VI SUAL Production I. G.
The script always turns out the best if it's written by the original author."
Asked specifcally if he would also have wished to direct the movie
himself, Oshii passionately replied:
Very much so, especially when I wrote the script. Honestly speaking, I still think
that I should've done it myself. I didn't want to give it away to anyone else .. ..
The moment you write, you want to direct. ... I will have no control over the fnal
product that is defnitely going to be diferent, so I only hope that they will try
to do their best. I 'm talking about the pictures here. After all, the fnal product
only comes out as the director wants it. No one knows what's inside until you
open the lid. Directing is nothing but to fnd your ideas and identities in the
already-existing script, and you just use them in what you create [Oshii 1997 ] .
I n what is plausibly the most concisely apposite assessment of Jin-Roh
published to date, Fred Patten has described the flm as "a taut and sus
penseful political thriller" (Patten 2000) . The movie undeniably exhibits
an exceptionally adult sensibility in its approach to anime but not in the
usual "X-rated" sense of the term. Indeed, instead of gratuitously indulging
in lurid depictions of violence, sex and gore, it assiduously engages in the
deeply ethical ramifcations of a society riven by civil unrest, sectarian
22-Jin-Roh 155
antagoni sm, i ntri cate personal connections and the si ni ster i ntri gues that
unrel enti ngly brew in the murky depths of the governmental maze .
The premise upon whi ch the Kerberos world as presented i n /in-Roh
i s erected i s that at the end of t he Second World War, Japan was defeated
and occupi ed not by the U. S. but by Nazi Germany, and that the country' s
struggl e to recover from the economi c cri si s and psychol ogi cal di sarray
caused by the confi ct was severely hampered by ever- escal ati ng crime rates
and by the di sruptive acti vi ti es of anti - Fascist revol uti onari es known as the
" Sect . " As al ready proposed i n the l ive-acti on features The Red Spectacles
and Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops, the government is supposed to have
reacted to this menaci ng si tuati on by establ i shi ng the Capital Pol i ce . An
armored, hel met ed and red- goggl ed el i te force dubbed Kerberos are
speci fcal l y respons ibl e for curbi ng the Sect' s operations . Laudabl e i n terms
of thei r unfi nchi ng commi tment to thei r mi ssi on, the shock-troops are
neverthel ess notor i ous for trespassi ng the boundary of l egi t i mat e l aw
enforcement, and for thus al l owi ng strength of purpose to degenerate i nt o
corporal bestiality. As a consequence, they are admi red and l oathed i n equal
proporti ons . Matters are rendered murki er sti l l by rumors regardi ng the
existence of a rogue element within the Speci al Unit, whi ch troubl e deeply
the government ' s upper echelons, and eventually provide them wi th a pre
text for di sbandi ng the Kerberos altogether -thus attenuati ng the humi l
i at i ng l egacy of mi l i tary defeat and occupation. As we shal l see, Ji n-Roh' s
pr i nci pal characters are vi cti ms of preci sely such a scheme, and especi al l y
of the pol i ti cal determi nati on to move away fom armed acti vi ty i n favor
of di pl omati c phi l anderi ng.
The diegetic premi se outl i ned above makes Ji n-Roh a provocative vari
ation on t he cl assi c sci -f trope of temporal di spl acement , capital i zi ng on
the noti on of an al ternate hi story. Hence, it could be real i stically descri bed
as a hi stori cal movi e i n much the same way as The Red Spectacles, as argued
i n Chapter 20, coul d also be accorded thi s generi c desi gnati on. Even though
it does not presume to provi de ei ther documentary i nformati on about an
i dentifabl e era or a reportori al reconstruction of l ived events ( and nor does
it pander to the conventi ons of costume drama) , Jin-Roh does ofer a sear
i ngl y resonant eval uati on of the very concepts of hi story and hi stori ogra
phy. In this respect , the flm woul d seem to ful l y val i date Robert A.
Rosenstone' s proposi ti ons regardi ng ci nemati c options for refashi oni ng the
past . Whi l e acknowl edgi ng fl m's i mbri cati on wi th hi story by means of
vi sual narrati ves that purport to document actual facts, Rosenstone not es:
"another ki nd of contri bution to our understandi ng of t he past . . . depends
l ess upon data than upon what we might cal l vi si on, upon how we l ook at
and thi nk about and remember and make meani ngful what remai ns of peo
ple and events" ( Rosenstone, p. 6). I n specifcally assessi ng the si gni fcance
156 Part Three : Oshii' s Technopolitics
of al ternate perspectives on the past of preci sely the type one encount ers
i n /n-Roh, the criti c ushers i n t he concept of t he " New Hi story fl m" as a
ci nemati c construct that
tests the boundaries of what we can say about the past and how we can say i t ,
poi nts to t he l i mitations of conventional historical form, suggests new ways t o
envision t he past , and alters our sense of what it is . . . . [T]his past . . . i s somehow
diferent from both fction and academi c history, thi s past . . . does not depend
enti rely on data for t he way it asserts truths or engages t he ongoi ng di scourse of
hi story [ pp. 12-13].
Jin-Roh embraces a revi si onary disposition towards hi story that cl osel y
echoes the stance proposed by Rosenstone, i n posi ti ng the passage of t i me
as a process of fui d becomi ng rather than a frozen obj ect for cl assi cal hi s
tori ographers to contemplate -and damn or idealize by turns i n keepi ng
wi th the whi ms and requi rements of thei r age . I n so doi ng, the fl m for
bears the passive absorption of data and accordi ngly encourages the exer
ci se of the facul ti es of refl ect i on and specul ati on at t hei r keenest .
Concomitantly, it throws i nto rel i ef the vi rtual i nseparabi l i ty of fact and
fcti on by i nterweavi ng t he gri m realities of despot i sm, oppressi on and cor
rupti on with fantasti c el ements derived from tradi tional l ore, and edi ti ng
both sets of materi al s by recourse to a paral l el hi story that i s di sturbi ngl y
real even as i t verges on the utterl y hypothetical . Styl i sti cal ly, the i nterpen
etrati on of actual and i magi ned histori es i s cri sply communicated by the
sequence precedi ng the openi ng credits, where the concatenati on of events
l eadi ng to the state of afai rs portrayed i n Jin-Roh i s vi sual i zed by recourse
to drawi ngs that si mulate the qual i ty of black-and-whi te newspaper pho
tographs ( wi th the occasi onal addi ti on of unobtrusive touches of bl ue and
brown for extra pathos ) . As the account reaches i ts cl i max, the i ni ti al l y sl ow
transi ti on from one pi cture to the next gives way to the j ump- cut modal
i ty, and i ncremental l y unsettl i ng evi dence of bl oody unrest accordi ngl y
accumulates .
Jin-Roh' s openi ng sequence i mmediately i ntroduces the fl m' s central
themes by dramati zi ng a ferce confrontati on between protesters and the
police on the streets of an emi nently Europeanized Tokyo at night . In the
course of the battl e, a young gi rl named Nanami , who i s responsi bl e for con
veyi ng muni ti ons from one set of guerri l l a fghters t o another, hi des i n the
sewers to el ude the pursui ng Kerberos agents and unexpectedly fnds her
sel f face to face wi th a l one cop. I n an act of sel f-sacri fce, Nanami deto
nates the bomb i n her satchel . The Kerberos member who wi tnesses t hi s
desperate act , Kazuki Fuse, i s deeply afected by the experi ence and, i n
refl ecti ng upon i ts i mpl icati ons, i s thrown i nt o a vortex of gui l t , remorse
and sel f-doubt .
So al armed are hi s superi ors by the i mpact of the acci dent on Fuse' s
22-Jin-Roh 157
psychological bal ance that they requi re hi m to retrai n. However, the agent
i s unabl e to rel i nqui sh hi s vivi d recollections of the young sui cide and, hav
i ng obtai ned i nformati on about Nanami from Atsushi Henmi (an old fri end
empl oyed i n the government's Publ i c Securi ty Secti on) , he deci des t o vi si t
the mausol eum wherei n her ashes are stored. Here he meets Nanami ' s el der
si ster and l ookal ike, Kei , who gives hi m a copy of Rotkappchen- one of the
German-language versi ons of the popul ar Li ttle Red Riding Hood tal e -and
urges hi m to accept the young i nsurgent' s death as an i nevi tabl e corol l ary
of both her and Fuse' s respective duti es.
Nonetheless, Fuse remai ns unrel enti ngly haunted by i mages of Nan ami
-whi ch gradually appear to coalesce with more recent memori es of Kei
and hi s concentrati on is hence i mpai red to the poi nt that i n the course of
a trai ni ng sessi on si mul ati ng a battl e, he manages to get hi mself "ki l l ed."
Fuse and Kei begi n to meet regularly, thei r perambul ati ons through the ci ty
di scl osi ng a scenari o that recalls the Patlabor features: namel y, an urban
scape i n the gri ps of ceasel ess demol i ti on and rebui l di ng fuel ed by the
i mperatives of a ruthl ess constructi on state . Duri ng a vi si t to an amuse
ment park, the Kerberos pol i ceman experi ences a vi s i on that coul d be
regarded as the enti re fl m's symbolic core . He sees Nanami fleei ng through
the sewers, and as he runs after her, a pack of wolves materi al i zes behi nd
hi m. When Fuse reaches Nanami , she bafi ngly morphs i nto Kei and i s
merci l essly ravaged by t he beasts, whom Fuse i s powerl ess to keep at bay
despi te hi s eforts .
Abi di ng by the pecul i ar l ogic of dream di scourse, the scene seaml essl y
gives way to two qui te diferent, though symbol i cal l y rel ated, i mages : one
di spl ays Fuse emptyi ng a machi ne-gun i nto Kei , and the other focuses on
the protagoni st surrounded by a pack of wolves in the context of a forbi d
di ng snow-swept setti ng. The sequence bri ngs t ogether i n a poeti cal l y
poignant form some of the movi e' s pivotal preoccupati ons, i ts graphi c vigor
derivi ng much of i ts i ntensi ty from the suspensi on of meani ng and aver
si on to concl usive decodi ngs of the crypti c language on whi ch it thri ves.
The symbol i c analogy i ntroduced i n the sequence menti oned above i s recur
sively sustai ned by the key scenes set i n the Natural Hi story Museum where
Fuse' s fgure i s tantal i zi ngly proj ected agai nst the di spl ay cases housi ng
stufed speci mens of numerous mammal s and, most i mportantly, of the
protagoni st' s l upi ne avatar.
The events that are meanwhi le unfol di ng behi nd the scenes - and i n
Fuse' s t otal i gnorance of hi s part therei n -tur out t o be even more si ni s
ter than t he Kerberos agent 's darkest hal l uci nati ons . I ndeed, vari ous strata
of the pol i ce hi erarchy have resolved to suspend al l forms of armed con
frontation and rely i nstead on counteri ntel l igence strategi es, and a central
component of the pl an consi sts of the di smantl i ng of the Kerberos Speci al
158 Part Three : Oshii' s Technopolitics
Unit -as a branch of the Capital Pol i ce felt to damage the l atter' s overal l
credenti al s due to i ts notori ety i n the deployment of overly physical meas
ures . Fuse, i n the i nt eri m, i s bei ng exploited as an unwi tti ng puppet i n the
game . Hi s so-cal l ed fri end Henmi , it transpi res, has cunni ngl y engi neered
Fuse' s meeti ng wi th Kei -a former terrorist who now works for the pol i ce
and was never actually related to Nanami -i n order to get the cop i nvolved
in a di sreputable attachment bound to lead to a scandal and hence to tar
ni sh i rrevocably the Speci al Uni t's name.
However, t he Kerberos Uni t know about Henmi ' s betrayal and are
even i n possessi on of photographi c evidence for hi s rendezvous wi th Kei ,
whi ch they di scl ose to Fuse . Thus, when the young woman contacts the
agent and asks hi m to meet her at the Natural Hi story Museum, he anti c
ipates an ambush and goes there armed with a pi stol whi ch, evocatively, he
has been conceali ng i n a holl owed- out copy of Tristan und Isolde. Havi ng
eluded hi s pursuers, Fuse revi si ts t he i nfamous sewers wi t h Kei , who has
resolved to stand by hi m out of genui ne afecti on . Here they are met by
Fuse' s former trai ni ng i nstructor, Tobe, and hi s men, and it i s at l ast revealed
that Fuse bel ongs to an underground spl i nter group -a sort of i nner cabal
wi thi n the pol i ce ranks -known i ndeed as the Wolf Bri gade .
When Henmi and hi s forces track thei r prey down to the subterranean
labyri nth thanks to a detector planted on Kei , they are spectacularly exter
mi nated i n a seri es of i ncrementally graphi c ski rmi shes . Once the battl e i s
over, Tobe tersely i nforms Fuse that he i s now l eft wi t h no al ternative but
to ki l l Kei and hi de her body so as to i nduce t he Publ i c Securi ty Secti on to
thi nk that she i s trul y i n the Brigade's hands and alive . Kei desperately hol ds
onto Fuse whi l e reci ti ng the cl osi ng segment of Li ttle Red Riding Hood, unti l
a gunshot i s heard and the young woman slides out of the i l l -fated embrace .
The fnal i mage i s that of Fuse' s copy of the tale abandoned i n a desolate
j unkyard. Although there i s evidence that the lethal bullet emanated from
the gun of one of Tobe's associ ates, the scene' s graphi c composi ti on and
sheer drama al l egor ically allude to Fuse' s own i nherent cul pabi l i ty. A crea
ture l i ke Fuse, i t i s i mpl i ed, cannot al l ow hi msel f to harbor tender emo
ti ons for even the fi msiest of moments.
Fuse epi tomi zes t he dramatic fgure of a man engul fed i n a whi rl pool
of uncontrollable events, desperate to fathom the mystery of hi s personal
i denti ty and to ascertai n the legiti macy of hi s mi ssi on as a law-enforcer.
The fl m's central predator on one level , Fuse i s si multaneously its most
i ntractably pathetic prey on another. Not only i s he tormented by gui l t fol
l owi ng the young terrori st' s suicide, he i s at t he same t i me powerl ess t o
protect t he one person about whom he i s tentatively di sposed to care, and
hi deousl y humiliated by t he obligation to watch her di e i n hi s very arms
l i ke a sacri fci al l amb of old. Thi s ethical perspective i s pi thily i nt ensi fed
22-Jin-Roh 159
by Oshii ' s retel l i ng of the Li ttle Red Riding Hood tale from the wol f' s poi nt
of view. Thi s serves to underscore t he proposi ti on that the rapaci ous pur
suer i s not a free agent but rather a pawn i n a power game engagi ng supe
ri or -and far more omi nously acqui si tive -powers. 3
Thi s di smal fnal e di spassi onately procl ai ms that Fuse was commi tted
from the start to the enactment of a pre-establ i shed scri pt and was never,
therefore , at l i berty to steer the course of events i n accordance wi th i ndi
vidual predi l ecti ons or desi res. The fl m i s t hus domi nated throughout by
the ghastly specter of a seal ed desti ny that al l ows no l eeway whatever for
consol atory escape routes . Thi s mood is succi nctly conveyed by the t em
poral frami ng of t he cl i max. I n t he course of j ust one ni ght , a tangl ed skei n
of decepti ons, betrayals and conspi raci es harrowi ngly unravel s, to cul mi
nate i n a col d dawn utterly devoid of hope . I n dramati zi ng Fuse' s personal
ordeal , Jin-Roh concurrently i nti mates that the very concept of fri endshi p
amounts to l i ttl e more than a speci ous myth: Fuse i s betrayed by hi s puta
tive best fri end, pretends to pl ay the game as though he had not penetrated
the deception and eventually ki l l s him without proferi ng a si ngl e word of
ei ther accusation or regret, l et al one forgiveness.
Each of the personae woven i nto Jin-Roh' s narrative tapestry i s, ul ti
matel y, portrayed as l upi nely predatory: the speci al agents due to thei r
unscrupul ous brutal i ty; the members of the Wol f Brigade i n thei r adopti on
of the i ncontrovertibly Hobbesian dictum "homo homi ni lupus" ( "each man
i s a wolf to the other man" ) ; t he government i n i ts cal l ously conspi rator
i al , ci rcuitous and even overtly mendacious tacti cs; and even the ostensi
bl y i nnocent characters of Kei -for pl ayi ng a dupl i ci tous rol e -and of
Nanami -for abetti ng the i nsurgents' own feroci ty. The fl m' s ti tl e overtly
capitalizes on the i nextricabi l i ty of the human di mensi on from the wol fsh
one . Li terally translated, "Jin-Roh" i ndeed means "man-wolf, " whi ch shoul d
by no means be confused with "werewolf, " the Japanese term for whi ch i s
okami-otoko. Hence, t he emphasi s fal l s on t he natural urge to prey upon
other creatures, i ncl udi ng members of thei r own speci es, that courses i nex
orably through the human race rather than on supernatural phenomena
whi ch, al bei t harrowi ng, could be easi l y relegated to t he provi nce of harm
l ess fantasy. I t i s i n order to convey the gri m i mage of a universe wherei n
no-one i s unequi vocal l y untai nted, and i n whi ch destructi veness i s t he
i nel uctabl e consequence of even t he most benevol ent act , t hat Oshi i chose
to adopt the German versi on of the tradi ti onal fai ry tal e, where the l i ttl e gi rl
hersel f consumes her mother 's fesh. I n a soci ety that consi sts enti rely of
raptors and preys, the two rol es are easi ly mi xed up and, i n the l ast analy
si s, just as easily i nverted.
The fl m' s cardi nal vi rtue, in arti cul ati ng these undeni abl y unsavory
themes, resi des with its cl ear- eyed avoidance of faci l e moral i sti c gl osses. At
160 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
/in-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998). Fuse and Kei tentatively tread the frst steps of a
doomed romance through a semi fctional Tokyo in the process of constant demoli
tion and reconstruction. A dreary compound of old backwaters on which time
scarcely appears to have had any efect, ever-changing skylines and derelict limbos,
the flm's urban setting symbolically replicates the pervasive feelings of displacement
and anomie under which its protagonists painfully labor. 1999 Mamoru
OshiilBANDAI VISUAL Production I.G.
the same ti me, Jin-Roh no l ess adamantly eschews any concessi ons to sen
ti mental i sm: i t i s noteworthy, i n t hi s respect, that t he onl y ki ss whi ch the
mai n characters al l ow themselves to savor belongs more i n the sphere of
comfort than i n that of romance . Given its deliberately restrai ned tone, the
movi e may at frst di safect the vi ewer, and it i s for thi s very reason that it
benefts from repeat vi ewi ngs ( i n much the same way as Oshi i ' s l ive-acti on
Kerberos features do) . Moreover, Jin-Roh gai ns considerably from gradual
assi mi l ati on due to an extraordi nari ly sophi sti cated techni cal executi on
that kept Producti on LG busy for wel l over three years. Character desi gner
Ni shi o Tetsuya's drawi ngs ( based on Oki ura's own sketches) del i ver one of
the most accurate and sol i d rendi ti ons of human physi ognomy to be found
i n t he entire hi story of ani mation.
As George Wu has noted, Jin-Roh' s ani mati onal real i sm appears to be
"i nfuenced by I sao Takahata . . . speci fcal l y Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies
and Only Yesterday, " and thi s is vi vidly borne out by the presentati on of
apparently i nsubstantial gestures that actually contribute vol umes to the
overal l characterization. Wu cites as a paradi gmati c i nstance the scene i n
which " Kei i s walki ng" and "the hair above her ear fal l s down past he r c hi n
al most as i f the ani mators themselves did not noti ce, but then a few beats
l ater, her hand pushes her hair back i n place. " It i s the artful casual ness of
22-Jin-Roh 161
the act that makes it memorable despite its utterly peri pheral status at the
l evel of the action.
It shoul d also be noted, however, that even as it ai med for hei ghtened
photoreal i sm, the ani mati on team si mul taneousl y sought to capture the
afective essence of ti me- honored modal i ti es of performance . The charac
t ers' expressiveness, i n parti cular, i s overtly consonant wi t h t he tradi ti on
of Noh theatre, where body l anguage and obj ects are i nvested wi th central
communicational powers over and above words. I t i s noteworthy, i n thi s
perspective, that Fuse and Kei are the characters endowed wi th the fewest
l i nes of dialogue in the whol e fl m.
I n an i ntervi ew for Producti on I . G with Tetsuya, conducted by Kenj i
Kamiyama ( ani mati on di rector ) and al so i nvolvi ng the parti ci pati on of
Kenj i Hori kawa ( producti on manager) and Masanori Yoshi hara ( ani ma
tor ) , Tetsuya has commented exhaustively on hi s i nvolvement i n Oki ura's
unprecedentedl y daunti ng proj ect, stressi ng that he "had never done a l ong
feature i n ful l vi sta, " encompassi ng "over 10 thousand cel s . " I mportantly,
Jin-Roh is one of the very few fl ms produced i n recent years to have been
ani mated al most enti rely by recourse to hand-drawn cel s. Tetsuya was to
some extent sustai ned by an existing attracti on to the ideological i ssues
arti cul ated i n the fl m: "I had al so been i nterested i n the ' 70s student
activi sts and securi ty threat like the theme Oshi i - san uses i n hi s piece . . . .
I 'd act ually done a storyboard on the topi c of the student activi sts i n the
' 70s for my graduation proj ect . . . . A l ove story among the student acti vi sts . "
Thi s topos, as noted earl i er, has cl early been pursued by Oshi i hi msel f i n
the drafti ng of the scri pt for Jin-Roh t o maxi mum efect . However, Tetsuya
could not merel y translate his j uveni l e eforts i nto an apposi te set of desi gns
for Jin-Roh due to fundamental diferences i n hi s and the di rector' s per
cepti ons of the narrative : "Oki ura- san's i deas are very diferent from those
of mi ne so I can' t i ncl ude any of my i deas i nto the work I 'm currentl y
doi ng . . . . Only the detai l s of thei r looks, thi ngs they carry, etc . were some
thi ng that I had i n my ' drawer ' so I was abl e to uti l i ze them, but the char
acters themsel ves were somethi ng that Oki ura- san had to show me . . . . I t was
l ike a big cul ture shock for me . . . everythi ng seemed new to me. Every day
was ful l of surpri ses . "
Two maj or el ements must be here taken i nto consi deration, both of
which are i nextricably connected with Tetsuya's i nvolvement i n the execu
ti on of Jin-Roh as hi s frst feature-l ength producti on. One of them, referred
to above, i s the sheer number of drawi ngs requi red -a tantal i zi ng task i n
and for i tsel f but al l the more so, i n thi s speci fc context , as a resul t of
Oki ura's commitment to real i sm and to a decidedly non- di gi tal approach
to ani mati on. 4 The other i s the fact that Tetsuya, comi ng from a fundamen
tally TV series-centered professional background, had to l earn a radi cal ly
162 Part Three : Oshii's Technopolitics
new worki ng style that would enable hi m to cope wi th the relatively unsys
temati c and unpredictable character of ci nematic ani mat ion. In the execu
t i on of a TV seri es, t he character desi gner has stated, "[ t 1 here i s no ti me t o
thi nk, debate or worry . . . . Everyone has thei r own task and knows exactly
what to do. There i s al ready a sol i d track and one needs only to fol low the
track" ( Tetsuya) . Thi s was patently not the case with Oki ura's feature, where
the i ncremental testi ng, validation and i ndeed discardi ng of ever vari abl e
hypotheses consi stently took precedence over any stri ct bl uepri nt s .
/in-Roh has been hailed by numerous cri ti cs and commentators as one
of t he most uncompromi si ng, thought-provoki ng and dexterously crafted
ani mati ons ever made . Its ri chness, it coul d be surmi sed, owes much to the
fawl ess synthesi s of a realistically rendered mood of unreli eved moral dark
ness and a graphi c sumptuousness that causes the gloom -paradoxical as
thi s may sound -to become eeri l y resplendent . In accordance wi th Oshi i ' s
own aestheti cs, therefore, i t i s from i ts stunni ngl y detai l ed, mel ancholy
beauty that the fl m's i ntri nsically ugly messages derive psychol ogi cal and
ideological potency.
Part Four
HUMANITY IV IRTU ALITY:
OSHII
'
S POST-RoBOTIC VISION
Cyberspace. A consensual halluci nation experienced daily by bil
l ions of legitimate operators, i n every nation, by children bei ng
taught mathemati cal concepts .. .
A graphi c representation of data abstracted from the bank of
every computer i n t he human system. Unthi nkable compl exity.
Lines of light ranged i n the nonspace of the mi nd, clusters and
constel l ations of data. Like ci ty lights recedi ng.
- William Gibson 1995a, p. 67
Cyberspace is created by transformi ng a data matri x i nto a l and
scape i n whi ch narratives can happen.
- NK. Hayles, p. 269
23
Approaches to
Cybersociety
Styl i sti cal ly, the ani mated fl ms di scussed in thi s secti on are charac
terized by a thoughtful harmoni zati on of tradi ti onal cel ani mati on and
state-of-the- art computer graphi cs that bears ful l wi tness to the Japanese
ani mation i ndustry' s enduri ng commi tment to the art of drawi ng even as
i t adventurously embraces i nnovative digital tool s. Avalon, essentially a l i ve
acti on feature , al so ofers a bl end of tradition and experi ment by i ntegrat
i ng conventi onal footage with wholly computer-generated special efects
and vi sual efects .
Furthermore, the fl ms' dari ng amalgamation of the ol d and the new
on the techni cal l evel i s echoed by thei r treatment of narrative themes that
consi stentl y hark back to anci ent lore and mythology, as wel l as tradi ti onal
tales of both Eastern and Western derivation, whi l e si multaneousl y embark
ing on fut uri sti c specul ati ons about mutati ng noti ons of i denti ty and
humani ty i n i ncreasi ngly technocratic societi es . Blood: The Last Vampire
deploys a range of ground-breaki ng digital tools in arguably unprecedented
ways and i t i s fundamentally for thi s reason that the fl m i s deemed deserv
i ng of i ncl usion i n thi s speci fc part of the book. Avalon and the Ghost i n
the Shell producti ons, for thei r part, marry the i mpl ementati on of dari ng
ani mational methodol ogi es to a sustai ned and unsenti mental phi l osophi
cal assessment of the i mpact of technol ogy on the body, on the mi nd and
hypothetically, at l east -on the soul , too.
Avalon, on t he one hand, engages with t hi s el aborate topos wi t h ref
erence to the di scourse of vi rtual reality - namely, a three-di mensi onal ,
highly photorealistic artifcial environment si mul ated by means of com
puter hardware and software, whi ch can be entered by recourse to speci al
gear i ncl udi ng gloves, earphones, goggles or ful l -body wi ri ng. Whi l e feed
i ng sensory i nput to the user, those devices concurrentl y measure the body's
movements and display them onto a screen, hence meti cul ousl y moni tor
i ng the user's acti ons and react i ons . The Ghost i n the Shell fl ms, on the
other hand, arti cul ate thei r preoccupati ons regardi ng the i nt erpenetrati on
165
166 Part Four: Humanity/Virtuality
of humanity and vi rtual i ty with reference to the fgure of the cyborg, a port
manteau of cyberetic organism. Thi s desi gnates vi rtual l y anythi ng that
crosses the boundary between the organi c and the mechani cal . In recent
and contemporary ci nema and fction, the term has tended to describe pri
mari l y a human bei ng whose body has been taken over wholly or partially
and usually for the purpose of enhanci ng the organi sm's natural abi l i ti es
-by el ectromechanical devi ces. l
Both Avalon and the Ghost i n the Shel l productions partake of many
of the graphi c, conceptual and broadly styl i stic features that have come to
be associated wi th the sci ence fcti onal genre commonl y dubbed " cyber
punk. " As noted i n the I ntroduction, the cyber- in cyberpunk refers to sci
ence and, i n particular, to the revol utionary redefni ti on of the relationshi p
between humans and machi nes brought about by the sci ence of cybernet
i cs . 2 Cruci al ly, for the purposes of the present study, central to research i n
t he fel d of cybernetics i s the notion of t he body as an el ectroni c system: a
communi cati ons network capable of absorbi ng i nformati on through the
senses and of subsequentl y acti ng upon the i nformati on recei ved. Concur
rently, whi l e the human body i s conceived of as a machi ne, i t i s al so con
si dered viable to desi gn machi nes which si mulate the human organi s m. A
machi ne so desi gned is preci sely a cyberneti c organi sm of the ki nd men
ti oned earl i er -that is to say, a technological construct that repl i cates the
human body on the basis of an understandi ng of the structural si mi lari ti es
between machi nes and l i vi ng organi sms. The vi rtual i nterchangeabi l i ty of
human bodi es and machi nes i s a recurri ng theme i n cyberpunk and i s
specifcally i nt ri nsi c t o i ts representations of cyborgs .
If the cyber- component in the term cyberpunk alludes to the fact that
the point of reference of this branch of science fction i s digital technology
rather than i ntergalactic travel , the -punk element refers to a rebellious atti
tude rooted i n urban subcultures. Cyberpunk's characters are people on the
fri nge of society: outsiders, misfts and psychopaths, struggli ng for survival
on a garbage-strewn planet . William Gibson, the novelist generally regarded
as cyberpunk's founding father, uses consistently the Japanese word gomi
"waste" -to designate the rubbish-i nfested environments i nhabited by hi s
varyingly dysfunctional characters. 3 What must be stressed i s that the term
punk i s not employed literally by cyberpunk writers as a context-bound and
context-specifc subculture . Were thi s the case, cyberpunk would now be out
dated. I n fact , punk i s used as a metaphor for rootlessness, alienation and cul
tural dislocation -experiences with which Oshii' s Ash (Avalon) , Kusanagi and
Batou ( Ghost in the Shell features) are onl y too i nti mately fami l iar. In Oshi i' s
cyberpunk, no less than i n Gibson's, the punk element could therefore be said
to refer metonymically to vi rtually any form of subcultural disruption of the
cultural fabri c, played out among the debris of sprawl i ng conglomerates.
23-Approaches to Cybersociety 167
The medi ati ng factor between the potenti al l y abs tract confgurati on of
l i fe postulated by the di gi tal framework ( the cyber-) and the markedl y phys
ical outlook captured by postmodern subcultures ( the -punk) resi des in the
fel d of biotechnol ogy: the mul ti fari ous i nfltration of the body by means
of i mpl anted ci rcui t ry, prostheses and geneti c modi fcation. Bi otechnol
ogy -as dramatized by Oshi i through the vi rtual - reality i nterface i n Avalon
and the genesi s of cyborgs i n the Ghost in the Shell features - partakes at
once of the putatively di sembodying computational di mension and of the
i ntractably i ncarnated urban-posturban di mensi on. As the body i s exten
sively i nvaded by technol ogi es that seem t o anni hi l ate i t s materi al i ty, the
purgi ng, honi ng and sculpting of the physiological apparatus concomitantly
poi nt to an ongoing fasci nation with the most i ndomitably materi al aspects
of embodi ment . In thi s respect, cyberpunk does not si gnal the demi se of
the body but rather stands out as an i rreverent rei nscri pti on of the fesh at
its most unnegotiably stubborn. I n Oshi i 's cyberpunk ci nema, as i n Gi b
son's narratives, the body i s undoubtedly al tered by technol ogy but never
transcended. The materi al component, accordi ngly, goes on playing an axial
rol e. As Bruce Sterl i ng has observed, the corporeal traits of cybercul ture are
of vi tal i mportance to cyberpunk's representation of "the future from the
belly up, as i t i s lived, not merely as dry speculation . . . . In Gibson' s work
we fnd oursel ves in the streets and all eys, in a real m of sweaty, whi te
knuckl ed survival " ( Sterl i ng 1995, p. 11).
The cyberpunk moti fs el aborated i n Avalon and i n the Ghost in the
Shell fl ms enabl e Oshi i to maxi mize hi s i nveterate procl i vi ty to medi tate
upon the qui ntessentially unstabl e nature of human subj ecti vi ty, i nsofar as
the el usive atmosphere of transi ence and unrel enti ng fux characteri sti c of
that genre enabl es t he director to create ideal backdrops for t he depi cti on
of hi s personae' s i nner struggl es. At the same ti me, cyberpunk's persi stent
emphasi s on the personal and col l ective destabi l i zation of sel fhood i n the
postmodern worl d afords scope for a systemati c probl ematization of the
rel ati onshi p between the concept of i denti ty and the art of ani me i tsel f.
I ndeed, the latter ul ti mately depends on sustai ned di slocati ons and trans
formati ons of the real that could be seen as analogous to those perpetrated
by cyberpunk at i ts most efective . Susan Napi er has evocatively captured
thi s i ssue i n the fol l owi ng statement : "[IJdenti ty i n ani me . . . cannot be
taken for granted. The metamorphi c process lying at the heart of the ani
mated medi um ensures that bot h characters and vi ewers can explore the
rewardi ng, though someti mes oppressi ve , possi bi l i t i es of creat i ng and
encapsul ati ng worl ds" ( Napi er, p. 116). The features exami ned i n thi s part
bravely endorse ani me' s commi tment to the confrontation of such al terna
ti ve di mensi ons, paradoxically portrayi ng them as most graphi cal l y gor
geous preci sely when they are al so least ami cabl e .
24
Blood: The Last Vampire
Wi nner of the Best Theatrical Feature Fi l m Award at the Worl d Ani
mati on Celebration hel d i n 2001 , Blood: The Last Vampire ( di r. Hi royuki
Ki takubo) was the frst theatrically rel eased Japanese ani mati on produced
enti rely by digital means . Oshi i ideated the fl m's concept and ori gi nal story
and also took part i n its maki ng i n the capaci ty of executive producer. The
storyl i ne i tsel f i s qui te si mpl e : a seri es of mysteri ous sui ci des are reported
and a team of undercover agents i s sent to i nvesti gate these suspi ci ous
events. Meanwhi l e, Saya -a nocturnally chari smati c l oner ostraci zed from
both human and preternatural ci rcl es-i s dispatched by a secret organi za
ti on to vanqui sh the blood-sucki ng "chi ropterans" ( a race of hol l ow-boned
shape-shi fters) that have i nfltrated human soci ety and are actual ly respon
si bl e for the aforementi oned deaths. Garbed in a typi cal Japanese school
uni form quai ntl y i ncongruous with her ferce nature, and equi pped wi th
an anci ent Samurai sword, Saya must penetrate the Ameri can school withi n
the Yokota mil i tary compound, unearth the root of the scourge and quash
i t .
Saya i s described as an "origi nal , " which -i n t he l ogi c of the fl m -
entai l s that the creatures she hunts and el imi nates are actually her rel ati ves
( although Blood: The Last Vampire l eaves the exact nature of the rel ati on
shi p tantal i zi ngly unexpl ai ned) . Throughout the bul k of the acti on, the
heroi ne shows no compuncti on about destroyi ng her ki n. At the very end,
however, Saya's deci sion to ofer a few drops of her own blood to a chi
ropteran ( whi ch she has j ust slashed out of the sky wi th one si ngl e stroke
of her formi dabl e weapon) i n order to al l evi ate i ts agony i nt i mates some
vesti gi al loyalty to the beleaguered speci es. Thi s touch adds a real i sti c qual
i ty to a character that mi ght otherwise have been perceived as a cardboard
versi on of the "tough gi rl " stereotype . Saya's somewhat di vi ded nature i s
corroborated by the vesti mentary attributes alluded to earl i er, the school
uni form she dons for the mai n part of the fl m representi ng a concessi on
to many fans' attraction to the feti sh of i ngenuous eroti ci sm associ ated wi th
school gi rl s i n much ani me, yet contrasti ng starkl y wi th her portrayal as
utterly emoti onl ess, merci l ess and, qui te frankly, i nhuman.
168
24-Blood 169
Al though Blood: The Last Vampire is not an overtly pol i ti cal movi e,
Oshi i' s i deol ogi cal concerns can be detected, especi al l y i n t he stagi ng of the
acti on agai nst the backdrop of the Vi etnam war and, i mpl i citly, of i ssues
surroundi ng the l egal i ty of Japan's i ndirect support of mi l itary operati ons .
Thi s aspect of the fl m i s underscored, where setti ng i s concerned, by the
central i ty of the Yokota Ai r Force Base whence the U. S. mi li tary machi n
ery to be deployed i n Vi etnam i s suppl i ed. An i ntense mood of forebodi ng
and vi ol ence domi nates the compound as F4 combat planes take of i n qui ck
succession. The endi ng also carri es a political message, as the character of
the school nurse ( who functi ons as an i ntradiegetic representative of the
audi ence) draws an i mpl i ci t comparison between the heroi ne's massacre of
the monsters and human bei ngs' ongoi ng sl aughter of one another. Her
refecti ons are made al l the more omi nous by the concomi tant si ght of a
pl ane l eavi ng the compound and by a radi o report announci ng revamped
fghti ng i n Vi etnam. The cl osi ng credi ts unfol d over digitally distorted l ive
acti on pictures drawn from news coverage of the confi ct .
Bei ng set i n 1966, on the iconographi c and representati onal pl anes
Blood: The Last Vampi re does not -and clearly could not wi thout becom
i ng utterly anachroni sti c - evi nce the degree of stunni ng refnement to be
found i n productions set i n the more or l ess di stant future . Thi s, however,
has not in any way prevented its makers from experi menti ng audaci ousl y
wi th the speci fcal ly techni cal el ement, i n order to del i ver a worl d pi cture
that i s i ndeed i nspi ri ngl y vi si onary. There i s even a sense i n whi ch the
i mpl i ci t contrast between the rel ati ve pri mi ti veness of the technol ogi es
avai l abl e to the fl m' s characters i n 1966 and the sophi sti cati on of those
avai l abl e to i ts makers i n the twenty- frst century serves to underscore the
magnitude of Oshi i 's and hi s team' s accompl i shment .
Bl ood: The Last Vampi re i s characteri zed by extraordi nary pi ctori al
ri chness: an aspect of the production that i s i ntri gui ngly counteracted by a
no l ess remarkabl e narrative conci seness, as a corollary of whi ch the audi
ence i s not suppl i ed wi th protracted i ntroducti ons to ei ther the drama ti s
personae or thei r ci rcumstances, and i s i nvited i nstead to extrapolate the
storyl i ne from the action i tsel f as thi s progresses. Abetted by efective char
act er desi gn, profci ent voi ce act i ng and t ensi on- bui l di ng orchestral
mel odi es that match ideally the action's mood, the fl m opts for an eco
nomi cal l y suggestive -rather than expository -approach that ofers el o
quent evi dence for ani mati on' s abi l i ty to evoke memorabl e characters
without recourse to narrative spoonfeedi ng. Furthermore, pl ent y of back
ground i nformati on i s di scl osed by means of di al ogue and fash shots, in a
compel l i ng al ternati on of rapidly paced and suspenseful sequences .
However, Blood: The Last Vampire's ostensi bl e rel uctance t o dwell on
background i nformati on can be ascribed t o pragmati cal l y commerci al no
170 Part Four: Humanity/Virtuality
l ess than styl i sti c reasons . I ndeed, the fl m consti tutes j ust one porti on of
a mul ti medi a project conceived by Production l . G that also compri ses three
novel s ( the frst of whi ch, Night of the Beasts, was penned by Oshi i hi m
sel f ) , a manga and a videogame for PlayStation 2. The endeavor t o develop
a narrative across a mul ti medi a platform harks back to Oshi i ' s -and the
Headgear team' s -creation of the extensive Patlabor saga. Spectators ( pri
mari l y Western ones) who are not acquai nted wi t h t he books and game
related to Blood: The Last Vampire may experi ence a margi nal sense of di s
satisfaction i n the face of the movie' s narrative sparseness. Thi s i s a prob
l em whi ch the Patlabor franchi se would not, by contrast , have posed due
to t he rel ati vel y free- standi ng character of each of i ts bl ocks . However,
many audi ences wi l l have pl ausi bly deri ved compensatory sol ace from
Blood: The Last Vampire's pi oneeri ng techni ques and pai nterly opul ence
and, relatedly, from the real ization that ani me may have more to ofer than
a word-laden tal e.
Furthermore , even though it i s l ikely that some viewers woul d have
wi shed to learn more about the protagonist of this macabre story, if not nec
essari l y about the supporting personae, there i s a surreal i sti cal l y captivat
i ng aura surroundi ng Saya which could have easi l y been di ssi pated by a
more exhaustive portrayal of her character, origi ns and desti ny. As she races
to hunt down the monsters before the school' s Halloween party turns i nto
a carnage far more horri fc than even the most gore- rel i shi ng reveler would
ever fancy, Saya remai ns cloaked i n mystery. The sheer fact that she mate
ri al i zes out of an obscure and unmappabl e past and that , once her mi ssi on
has been accompl i shed, vanishes agai n without trace and as expedi ti ousl y
as she came contri butes vital l y to the sense of bewi l derment whi ch the
ani me seeks to evoke, and i ndeed mai ntai n, to the end of the movi e and
beyond.
The sustai ned uti l i zation of digital technol ogy del ivers hi ghl y detai l ed
and smooth ani mation without , however, the vi ewer' s awareness of CGI
i mpai ri ng the movie' s overal l reali sm. I n fact , it i s at ti mes tempti ng to for
get that what one i s watchi ng i s an ani mated rather t han a l i ve- acti on fl m.
This applies most typically to the action sequences involving transporta
ti on, where both warpl anes and ground vehi cl es appear to have been shot
i n real l i fe and i n real ti me . Thus, Blood: The Last Vampire accompl i shes a
fui d synthesi s of self-consci ous artifce and mi meti c credibi l i ty that cap
tures the core ai m of al l ani mati on -whether tradi ti onal or computer
assi sted -as a wi zardly evocati on of convi nci ng scenari os by t he mos t
patently manufactured means .
On the speci fcally technical pl ane, the movi e derives i t s di sti nctive
look from the mel di ng of mul ti pl e tool s, abetted by the persuasive depl oy
ment of di ferent camera angles and by a sol i d di rection unwi l l i ng to i ndul ge
24-Blood 171
in superfuous footage . Most i mportantly, it must be emphasi zed that al l
the character ani mati on was i ni ti al ly hand-drawn and onl y subsequently
scanned and mani pulated by recourse to digital ink and pai nt, as wel l as
the superi mposition of l i ghti ng and textural efects . Japanese ani mati on's
steadfast commi tment to tradi t i onal techni ques as its foundati ons thus
remai ns unscathed - i ndeed, even the textures used to render 3D CG
obj ects were drawn i n a conventi onal fashi on pri or t o thei r i ncorporation
i nto computers . The balance of manual and digital art i s so i mmaculate that
it i s vi rtually i mpossi bl e to diferentiate between the graphic status of a
computer-generated aeropl ane, for i nstance, and that of the hand- drawn
winged fend on i ts trai l : the traditional cel components, therefore, never
stand out as l ifel ess cutouts i n a digitally rendered 3D context, as i s j ar
ri ngly the case i n other technologically ecl ecti c productions of Blood: The
Last Vampi re' s own generation.
Al so notable is the proclivity, revamped i n the Oshi i - di rected feature
Ghost i n the Shell 2: Innocence, to draw the human fgures with consi der
able graphi c economy, whi ch serves to make the l avi shl y detai l ed back
grounds and meti cul ousl y rendered props stand out as even more
di squi eti ngly and i nspi ri ngly poetic . As ani mati on supervi sor Kazuchi ka
Ki se has emphasi zed, a maj or di fcul ty i n the handl i ng of the speci fcal l y
drawn el ement stemmed from the necessi ty of bal anci ng each i mage' s
graphi c i ntensi ty so that i t would come across as sati sfyi ngl y sl i ck and raw
at once, and hence pi thi l y convey the paradoxical synthesi s of el egance and
brutal i ty on whi ch Saya's own character i s centered. "At frst, " Ki se has
noted, "the character came out too cartoon- l ike, no matter how hard we
tri ed. So al l the works i nevitably became very cl ean and neat . Then I would
say, ' No, i t has to be more rough!' It was hard" ( Ki se ) . As i n- between ani
mati on checker Chi eko I chi manda has expl ai ned, the probl em was tackl ed
by recourse to di ferent "scri pt si zes, " whi ch were i ntroduced at the story
board stage of the product ion process, each endowed with varyi ng degrees
of l i ne- densi ty and vi sual refnement. Thus, scri pt A would feature "more
detai l and broader l i nes, " scri pt B would use "thi nner" graphi cs but still
contai n "a moderate amount of detai l , " and scri pt C would consist of per
fectly "normal thin l i nes" of the kind one may expect to fnd in a basic
sketch, whi ch vari ous ani mators could easi ly "trace . " Subtle mani pul ati ons
of even the si mplest of l i nes, moreover, made it possi bl e to evoke parti cu
lar moods i n an unobtrusi vel y tasteful styl e. For exampl e, a scene' s enti re
atmosphere coul d be made "scari er" by si mpl y addi ng a few l i nes on Saya's
forehead to convey her i re, aggravation and estrangement : "somethi ng that
most ani mators don't do to a heroi ne!" ( I chi manda) .
Given i ts doubtlessly ground-breaki ng approach t o the art of ani ma
ti on, Bl ood: The Last Vampi re may wel l come to be regarded, as James
172 Part Four: HumanitylVirtuality
Cameron has contended, as "the standard of top quality i n di gi tal ani ma
t ion" ( endorsement of Blood: The Last Vampire presented on the front cover
of the Manga Entertai nment DVD, Region 2, 2001) . Whi l e the flm cl early
looks forward to the future of computer-generated i magi ng, however, i t
concurrently perpetuates a ti me- honored l egacy steeped i n Japan's artistic
hi story and its i nveterate commi tment to vi sual stylization and graphi c l i n
eari ty. It woul d therefore be unjust t o cel ebrate thi s accompl i shment sol ely
i n terms of i ts i nnovativeness without acknowledgi ng the gl ori ous extent
to whi ch i t has concomitantly enabled i ts creators to remai n l oyal to the art
of drawi ng even as they endeavored to cul tivate di gital photoreal i sm.
+++
In the wake of Blood: The Last Vampire's enthusi asti c recepti on the
worl d over, Production l.G decided to create a sequel of sorts that woul d
devel op Saya's story wi thi n a more decidedly modern setti ng, namely the
TV seri es Blood+ ( di rected by Juni chi Fuj isaku and ai red i n Japan from 8
October 2005 ) . Oshi i has contributed to the seri es i n the capaci ty of co
pl anner, hi s i nvolvement i n the ori gi nal production i n an anal ogous rol e
contri buti ng substantially to the evocation of a cogent sense of thematic
and narrative cont i nui ty across the two story arcs. What i nstantl y stri kes
the viewer as a marked departure from the earl i er fl m, conversely, i s the
overal l approach to character design. The arti st responsi bl e for creati ng the
ori gi nal Saya and her hi deous antagoni st, Katsuya Terada, exhi bi ted a di s
t i nctive preference for stern facial expressi ons and forceful body l anguage,
persi stentl y i mbued with an i mpalpabl e yet compel l i ng sense of preternat
ural chari sma. The character desi gner behi nd Blood+, Chi zu Hashi i , has
endeavored i nstead to make Saya appear as normal as any attractive young
woman si tuated i n an ani me context may be expected to be .
Beside refecti ng a particular aesthetic predi l ecti on, the styl e favored
by Hashi i i s qui te i n keepi ng with the new story' s i ni ti al l y prosai c prem
i ses and atmosphere . I ndeed, the TV seri es opens wi th a portrayal of Saya
Otonashi as an ordi nary teenager with a passion for athl eti cs and a hearty
appeti te, who appears to l ead a perfectly regul ar l i fe wi th a l ovi ng fami l y
even though she s ufers from a medi cal condi ti on that requi res her t o
undergo routi ne bl ood transfusi ons . The onl y somewhat unusual t hi ng
about her exi stence i s her absolute i nabi l i ty to recol l ect anythi ng s he may
have experi enced pri or to the past year, combi ned wi th i nexpl i cabl e fash
backs of bloodshed and helicopters . After one of her peri odi c transfusi ons,
Saya meets the handsome cel l i st Hagi , a hi ghl y profci ent fghter wi th a
mutated claw who, by merely ki ssi ng her i n what coul d be read as a dark
24-Blood 173
parody of the Sleeping Beauty topos, resuscitates the memory of her forgot
ten sel f: a warri or endowed wi th unearthly ski l l s and a parti cul ar fai r for
extermi nati ng vampi ri c shape-shi fti ng monsters (once agai n desi gnated as
"chi ropterans" ) .
I t gradual l y transpi res that i n the aftermath o f the events depi cted i n
Blood: The Last Vampi re, Saya had ended up entombed i n a n Oki nawa mau
sol eum bel ongi ng to the Mi yagusuku fami ly. The character of George ( a
supporti ng rol e i n the feature fl m) had here worked as her keeper unt i l the
moment when she had eventually woken up, whereupon he had resol ved to
raise her as his own daughter. As Lesl i e Smi th has poi nted out, " Saya has
no memori es of her previ ous i ncarnation, and the frst few epi sodes show
her shock at trying to reconci l e her teenaged sel f wi th the slayer that she
once was, and the trai ned ki l l er that she becomes at the taste of bl ood"
( Smi th) . The heroi ne's discovery -and pai nful adj ustment t o-the unsa
vory truth regardi ng her ori gi ns and past acti ons i ndeed consti tute the dra
mati c hubs from whi ch the narrative proposed by the TV seri es derives
both i ts momentum and i ts pathos.
25
Avalon
As argued i n t he next segment with reference t o Ghost i n the Shel l and
Innocence, Oshi i i s deeply concered wi th the fate of humani ty i n the face
of rampant i nvasi ons of t he human body by technol ogi cal extens i ons .
Avalon, for i ts part, exami nes a di ferent mani festati on o f technol ogy' s
i nfl tration of the sensori um i n the form of vi rtual real ity. By di nt of its
status as a hybri d of l ive-acti on and ani mated CGI , moreover, the fl m
draws attenti on to the technological signi fcance of amal gamati ng di sparate
styl es and media as a ci nematographi cal correlative for the types of human
nonhuman fusi ons tackl ed by means of themes and i magery.
It can also be argued that Avalon' s composi te nature as a seaml ess bl end
of conventional ci nematography and CGI does not merely i mpact on its own
di sti nctive look and feel but also on a broader understandi ng of the rela
ti onshi p between l i ve-acti on ci nema and ani mati on, i nsofar as the CGI are
no l ess animation, ul ti mately, than they are live-action. Hence, what the flm
contributes to hybri di ze, i n the fnal analysi s, i s the very barri er between
ani mated and non-ani mated spectacl e . Comparabl e accompl i shments can
be found i n the Matrix and Lord of the Ri ngs trilogies, parti cul arly in the
use of the bul l et-ti me techni que ( to be returned to l ater i n thi s chapt er) ,
and i n t he generati on of numerous synthespi ans ( di gi tal equival ent s of
actors) by recourse t o motion capture and universal capture . '
Whi l e The Matrix i s overtly i ndebted t o Ghost i n the Shell, Avalon i s
Oshi i ' s way -among other t hi ngs-of gett i ng hi s own back, as i t were, by
fashi oni ng an al ternative version to t he one proposed by the Wachowski s
of t he noti on of a si mulated uni verse . I n Oshi i ' s vi si on, t he uni verse i n
questi on i s an ultravi ol ent game structured around archetypal personas . As
t he fl m's prologue i nforms us , i n the "near future" i n whi ch Avalon i s set,
"some young peopl e deal wi th thei r di si l l usi onment by seeki ng out i l l u
si ons of thei r own -i n an illegal vi rtual - real i ty war game . Its si mul ated
thri l l s and deaths are compulsive and addi ctive . . . . The game i s named aft er
t he l egendary i sl and where t he souls of departed heroes come to rest
Aval on. "
The i sl and i n questi on i s told about i n Arthuri an l egends and i s sai d
174
25-Avalon 1 75
to be guarded by the Ni ne Si sters of Morgan Le Fay. Oshii ' s adopti on of
moti fs drawn from cl assi c Arthuri an lore, and i nvi goration thereof through
the i nfusi on of vi brantly topical rel evance i nto the ol d tal es, are especi al ly
noteworthy. Also remarkable is the amalgamation of those mythol ogi cal
al l usi ons wi th el ements of hi s own personal phi l osophy, and ongoi ng pre
occupation wi th the concepts of i l l usi on, si mulation, escapi sm, di splace
ment and desi re . Through an el egant reconceptualization of the ancestral
themes of bi rth, death and rebi rth, Oshi i concurrently proposes a cutti ng
cri ti que of i mperi al i sm, mi l i tari sm and oppressively ubi qui tous survei l
l ance strategi es.
The game on whi ch Avalon pivots i s a compound of concepts drawn
from not onl y the di scourse of VR but also rol e pl ayi ng games and
vi deogames. As i n most rol e playing packages, t he fl m's players don head
sets that serve to i mmerse thei r sensori um in the l udi c real m and take part
in the acti on as characters from certai n ranks or cl asses ( e . g. , Warri or,
Bishop, Thi e f ) , progressively augmenti ng thei r ski l l s and accumul ati ng
experi ence poi nts that enabl e them to progress upwards wi thi n the game' s
i nternal hi erarchy. At the same time, Oshi i' s game abi des by rules and pri n
ci pl es famil i ar to players of videogames, especi ally t he idea that i n order to
compl ete diferent levels, the parti ci pants have to defeat end-of-I evel l ead
ers. Avalon reveals the i nfuence of the rol e pl ayi ng game Dungeons and
Dragons, hugel y popular i n the 1980s, replicating the di e used i n that game
t hrough the pri smati c shape seen on the protagoni st' s screensaver. The
game Wizardry ( desi gned i n the 1 980s by Robert Woodhead and Andy
Greenberg) has also clearly i nspired Oshi i ' s narrative through i ts own han
dl i ng of symbol i c locati ons, level-based mi ssi ons, and character categori es
and teams.
Al though t he game Aval on i nvolves the l ethal danger of i ts pl ayers
becomi ng brai ndead whi l e engagi ng with i t, it also enabl es highl y expert
vi rtual warriors to make a proft out of the l udic vent ure . Among the most
ski l l ed subj ects i s Ash, a young woman who appears patheti cal ly vul nera
bl e i n the context of the supposedly real world and its humdrum occupa
ti ons but i s capabl e of fghti ng with tremendous pluck withi n the si mulation
and of eking out a living by her eforts .
The di chotomy between Ash' s experi ences i n the real world and her
expl oi ts i n the vi rtual real m i s rei nforced by the fl m's emphasi s on the
ti mel ess repeti ti veness of her quoti di an exi stence, i n contrast wi t h the
adrenal i ne-charged action of the game-centered events. Neverthel ess, whi l e
it is doubtl essl y the case that i n compari son wi th the bl eak and rundown
world putatively i nhabited by Ash outside the game, the vi rtual world of
Avalon i s el ectri fyi ng, the al ternative existence it afords hardly seems more
palatabl e . In essence, Aval on i s i ndeed a colossal battl efel d over which the
176 Part Four: HumanityIVi rtuality
spectral prospect of vi ol ent death hovers rel entl essly, i ns i nuati ng itself i nto
the t i niest nooks and most secl uded crevi ces of the hosti l e l andscape .
Around Ash's own adventures revolve the dest i ni es of other members
of the now defunct team of Avalon players known as "the Wizard, " namel y
Stunner, a pl ayer associated wi th the archetype of the Thi ef who fnds i t
hard to perform s i ngl e-handedly, and Murphy, a pl ayer rendered brai ndead
by hi s quest for a secret level of the game dubbed "Speci al A, " apparently
only accessi bl e with the ai d of an el usive femal e known as "the Ghost . "
Havi ng pursued numerous l eads i n the hope of solvi ng the mystery
surroundi ng Speci al A and thus retrievi ng Murphy' s absconded brai n, and
havi ng encountered crypti c references to Arthuri an l egend i n the course of
her research, Ash di scovers that her best chance of getti ng anyhere near
the secret l evel i s becomi ng a Bi shop: that i s, an exceptionally tal ented char
acter type that can onl y be attai ned to by accumul ati ng a vast amount of
experi ence poi nt s. A meeti ng with an exi sti ng Bishop and the decision to
form a new team wi th hi m l ead to a tense acti on sequence from whi ch Ash
awakens to fnd that she has now entered "Cl ass Real " -a highl y advanced
l evel of VR technol ogy whose appearance contrasts starkly wi th the Aval on
she i s used to and recalls, i n fact , a modern and l i vel y European ci ty.
Ash's task wi thi n Class Real is to destroy the "Unreturned" Murphy,
whi ch she does with aplomb only to di scover, however, that her ful fl l ment
of the assi gnment does not deliver her back to the real worl d after al l : the
customary "Mi ssi on Compl ete" si gnal i s not , thi s ti me round, granted, and
the message she recei ves i nstead i s the befuddl i ng capti on " Wel come to
Aval on. " A del iberately open- ended fnal e , the message succi nctl y conveys
the nebul ousness of the boundary supposedly separati ng the vi rtual and
the real , t he evanescently dreamed and t he empi ri cal ly enacted. The fl m's
ambi guous endi ng also i mpl i es the possi bi l i ty of the enti re acti on havi ng
taken place withi n a ludic domai n -and of none of t he levels vi si ted by Ash,
accordi ngly, bei ng real -whi ch potentially places the spectators themsel ves
i n the posi ti on of vi rtual pl ayers.
Thi s theory woul d seem to be corroborated by the ostensibl y del i ber
ate omi ssion of certai n detai l s: for exampl e, the appearance of bl ank key
boards and of books fl l ed enti rely with empty pages coul d be j usti fed by
the fact that in a VR game, the actual existence of such mi nuti ae does not
matter -what matters i s the players' ability and wi l l i ngness to act as though
the details were there . Further evidence for the comprehensively vi rtual
character of the movie' s reality i s conceivably suppl i ed by the sudden di s
appearance of Ash' s dog. I f Avalon' s world i n i t s enti rety consi sted of a l udi c
space, thi s eni gmati c occurrence coul d be expl ai ned on the basi s that i nso
far as Ash i s no longer i n total control of her fate at t hi s j uncture i n t he
narrative i nsofar as her actions are bei ngs steered by t he Bi shop, the pet
25-Avalon 177
might have been removed by the more powerful player as a mi nor and hence
di spensabl e adj unct to the game' s worl d.
Aval on bears i nteresti ng afni ti es with Davi d Cronenberg's eXistenZ
( 1999 ) . Thi s movi e, so ti tl ed after the eponymous game on whi ch the pl ot
hi nges, opens with the attempted assassi nati on of game desi gner Al l egra
Gel l er by rel i gi ous fanati cs at a focus group. Allegra fees the blood-thi rsty
rage of the " Real i sts, " who want "the demoness" destroyed for her unhol y
experi ments i n vi rtual real i ty, and soon comes to the concl usi on that i n
order to ascertai n whether or not the gami ng equi pment contai ni ng the
ori gi nal versi on of "eXistenZ" has been "i nfected" by the attempt on her
l i fe, she hersel f has to pl ay the game . At thi s poi nt , a seri es of unexpected
l udic options i s unl eashed whereby i t becomes i ncreasi ngly difcult to tell
who i s who, and where "eXi stenZ" begi ns or ends .
Paradoxi cal ly, although we might expect Al l egra not to be surpri sed
by el ements of a game she hersel f has desi gned, she i s by no means i n con
trol of the si tuati on and of i ts random rami fcations, and her adventures i n
the vi rtual space of "eXistenZ" suggest that even a program meti cul ously
desi gned accordi ng to stri ct rul es may run amok. At the same ti me, the
movi e i nt i mates that si mul ati ons should not be di smi ssed as purel y vi rtual
toys devoi d of materi al consequences through its emphasi s on the entan
gl ement of digital games wi th both l ethal i ndustri al ri valri es and bigoted
i deol ogi cal agendas.
The compl ications i nherent i n thi s tangled si tuati on fade i nto near
i ns igni fcance, however, as the movie reaches i ts denouement and we real
i ze that each character i s actually a participant i n a game of "TransCen
denZ" -the conception of the i l l ustri ous computer game desi gner Yevgeny
Nouri sh -bei ng pl ayed by another focus group that eventual l y cul mi nates
wi th the real Al l egra Gel l ar and her partner professi ng to be " Real i sts" and
assassi nati ng the "demon Yevgeny Nouri sh. " Cronenberg' s obfuscati on of
the boundary between real i ty and vi rtual i ty, and hi s coupl i ng of that topos
with a daunti ng commentary on the lethal outcomes of bl i nd fanati ci sm,
are the traits that draw Avalon and eXistenZ most i nti mately together. More
over, the two di rectors exhibit a shared procli vi ty for subtle and thought
provoki ng shi fts of gears i n the ci nematographical orchestration of thei r
thematic preoccupati ons .
Ci nematographi cal ly, one of Avalon' s pri me attracti ons l i es wi th i ts
employment of di gi tal mani pulation as a means of expl ori ng Ash' s vari ous
reality l evel s: the computer makes it possi bl e for col ors to be sel ectively
stripped away from the i mage as the action shi fts from one level to the next .
The palettes used for the majori ty of the scenes set i n the real world osci l
late between stark monochrome and sepi a, wi th more col or fl teri ng through
to the i mage the further Ash moves from the frigidly i nhuman technol ogy
178 Part Fou: Humanity/Vi rtuality
of the game' s spuri ous nirvana. Furthermore, in order to draw attenti on to
the di ssonance between the protagoni st' s putative real i ty and the vi rtual
domai n, the movi e uses chromatic contrasts based on food i magery wi th
remarkable graphi c economy. For example, the col orl ess mush served i n the
Avalon canteen contrasts sharpl y with the lusci ous green and l urid red of
the cabbage and meat prepared by Ash i n her apartment , i n order to pro
vi de her dog with an appropriately nutri ti ous meal even though her own
di et apparently consi sts excl usively of dry cereal , vodka and ci garett es.
The song used i n t he course of t he fl m and i n t he concl usi on rei n
forces thi s aesthetic of contrasts and i ndeed carri es i ntensel y i roni cal con
notati ons, si nce i ts menti on of the l egendary Aval on' s "appl e groves , "
"heroes" and "faery" and i t s status as a "holy i sl e" i s the very anti thesi s of
Ash's world. The only l i nk between the two di mensi ons, pathetically, i s the
ubi qui ty of "mi st . "
I n assessi ng t he speci fcally ci nematographi cal di mensi on, i t shoul d
al so be noted, as Vi nce Leo has stressed, that " [ f ] or all of i ts hi gh-concept
theori es about what i s real and what i s si mul ati on, Avalon actual l y scores
more poi nts as a uni que visual experience . . . than as a ri chl y detailed story, "
though i t i s also that i n many commentators' eyes . " Oshi i ' s brand of sto
rytel l i ng i s i nherently vi sual , uti l i zi ng symbol s, i cons and atmosphere to
allow the vi ewer to pi ece together what 's really goi ng on" ( Leo) . Pursui ng
a cognate argument , Teri Tom mai ntai ns that Avalon
is everything mai nstream American cinema is not. Qui et . Del iberate . And di s
turbi ng. Not i n an overtly violent or heavy-handed way -but one t hat is achi ngl y
truthful . . . i t has stunning imagery . . . Matrix-like freeze-frame CGI . . . even a
l i ttl e action i n the game sequences. But unl ike those sci -f proj ects that give the
genre a bad name , Avalon employs these devices i n the service of asking the big
questions. Lonel i ness. Isolation . . . . Thi s is a slow flm. And that i s part of what
makes it so compel l i ng. We hear a lot these days about how we're constantl y
bombarded by stimul i . How we're unabl e to sit alone i n sil ence because we might
not like the company. Watchi ng Avalon is a bi t like that, as Oshi i forces us to
confront those issues that are usually buried under the s uperfcial noi se i nfect
i ng most Hol l ywood fl ms. Avalon is beautifully unsett l i ng [ Tom) .
Oshi i hi msel f has confrmed the crucial i mportance o f the themes of
l onel i ness and i sol ati on, and commented on thei r chal l engi ng techni cal
repercussions for the representation of the afected characters at thei r l east
vivaci ous and dynamic :
For the scenes in Ash's apartment . . . . I have sought to stress the suspension of
time . My style draws inspiration from t he European fl ms J l ike best for their ori g
i nal way of "freezing" ti me, the sense of wai ti ng. I l ike to dramatize ti me as l i ved
by a person i n a pl ace where she fnds herself alone. Gestures, attitudes, and faci al
expressions alter wi thi n that sol i tude. That's what concerns me. I take as much
pl easure from shooting such scenes and expressions as I do from shooti ng the
25-Avalon 179
characters i n fght scenes. Peopl e are at their most sincere when they are on their
own [ Oshi i 2002 ] .
The open i ng sequence o f Avalon' s highly sophisticated gameworld
wi th i ts rol l i ng tanks, heavy-duty arti l l ery fre, hel i copter rai ds and amber
hued di l api dated edi fces - i s not hi ng short of awesome and ful l y
encapsul ates the fl m's ci nematographical disti ncti on. When bodi es are hi t,
they fatten i nto 2D proj ections before di si ntegrati ng i nto myri ad tri angu
l ar fragments. Furthermore, Oshi i fel i citously deploys bul l et-ti me technol
ogy i n the expl osi ons presented i n thi s sequence. Thi s techni que rel i es on
the use of slow moti on to convey a comi c-book qual i ty to acti on scenes
whi l e, however, al l owi ng the di rector to move the camera at regul ar speed.
I n practical terms, two moti on cameras are pl aced at the begi nni ng and at
the end of the shot, and several sti l l cameras are evenl y spaced between
them. Both moti on picture cameras are rol l ed and each st i l l camera i s fred
i n rapi d sequence, one after the other, to produce a seri es of i mages i n
whi ch the poi nt of vi ew moves around the actors . The sti l l pictures are then
fed i nto the computer i n order, and i nterpolation i s i mpl emented i n order
to create extra frames between the exi sti ng pictures and hence generate a
smooth bl end.
The use of Pol i sh locations, fl med by i ndi genous ci nematographer
Grzegorz Kedzierski , contributes substantially to the evocation of an oppres
sively nightmari sh atmosphere . The flm, i ncidentally, was fnanced by Japa
nese i nvestors but shot in Pol and with an enti rel y Pol i sh cast and crew,
which makes it a disti nctive hybri d on a further level beyond that of its tech
nical execution. Furthermore , as Igor Sandman has emphasi zed, the "East
ern Europe acti ng style i s so compatible with Mamoru Oshi i ' s rhyt hms and
atmospheres. The i ntensi ty of Ash' s i ntrospection i s tangibl e thanks to Mal
gorzata Foremniak's attenti on to detai l s. Bartek Swi derski gave so much
personal i ty to Stunner he i s i nstantly consi dered as a fri end whi l e at the
same ti me he i nspi res di strust i n a patheti c way. The same goes for Dari usz
Biskupski , from whom emanates such a wi sdom" ( Sandman) . " Foremniak's
terri fcally understated performance, " argues Tom, i s the key factor that
"hol ds Avalon together . . . she conveys the sadness j ust beneath her detached
exteri or with a refreshi ng subtlety and ease" ( Tom) .
I n eval uati ng the qual i ty o f the acti ng, human performers shoul d not
be the sol e focus of i nterest, however. Cri ti cs have frequently commented
on the cardi nal role pl ayed by the fgure of the basset hound i n Avalon ( and,
i n fact , t hroughout Oshi i ' s output i n i ts ent i rety) . Where Aval on i s
specifcally concerned, t he central i ty of the cani ne pet i s touchi ngly under
scored by the protagoni st' s habi t of feedi ng hi m much better than she feeds
herself, as borne out by the meti culously detai l ed and chromatically enti c-
180 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
ing sequences ( al l uded to earl i er) in whi ch she prepares his meals wi t h
exqui si te tenderness and her body language i nvests the i ngredi ents wi th
sensuous pal pabi l ity. However, what should be stressed more emphati cal l y
than has arguabl y been done thus far wi thi n the cri ti cal domai n i s Oshi i' s
keen grasp of ani mal movement i n thi s fl m, as i ndeed i n ani mated pro
ductions wherei n dogs also feature promi nently.
The body language exhibited by Ash's dog is unquesti onabl y one of the
flm' s most memorabl e aspects, especi al ly i n the scene i n whi ch we frst
encounter the pet . As he hears Ash approachi ng the front door, hi s anti ci
pation and exci tement bui l d up exponentially, crowned by an ent husi asti c
reception of the homecomi ng owner. As he proceeds to consume hi s di n
ner , t he hound's floppy ears i nexorably send bi ts of food fyi ng out of the
bowl and all over the foor. Later, the dog appears to be asl eep as Ash si ts
at her computer, but subtle detai l s i n hi s posture i ndi cate that he i s actu
al l y awake and "keepi ng an eye" on the young woman, as i t were . The dog' s
afectionate concern for hi s owner i s even more vividly conveyed, in sym
bol i c terms, i n the l ater scene i n whi ch he appears uncharact eri st i cal l y
al armed at the preci se poi nt at whi ch Ash makes contact wi th the "Ni ne
Si sters" -t he promi si ng but potenti al ly hazardous l i nk to t he mysteri ous
l evel of Aval on she seeks to penetrate .
A comparison between Avalon' s basset hound and hi s ani mated coun
terpart i n Ghost i n the Shell 2: Innocence wi l l feasibly suggest that the car
toon creature' s motion cumulatively displays greater fuidity and l i vel i ness,
whi ch coul d be read as an i ndi rect paean on Oshi i' s part to the unparal l el ed
freedom of the ani mated medium. It shoul d also be observed, however, that
i n directing the l ive-action and the drawn pets, Oshi i has not merely explored
the technical potenti al i ti es of two disti nct art forms but has also endeavored
to create two substanti ally diferent personal i ti es . The hei ghtened vivaci ous
ness of Batou's pet i n Innocence compared wi th the endeari ng ponderous
ness of Ash's dog corresponds to a generally more playful di sposi ti on. As a
resul t, whi l e i n the later movi e the fgure of the basset hound serves largely
to i nfse an element of cheerful ness i n an otherwise bleak real i ty, in Avalon,
i t metonymically encapsulates the entire flm's unrel i eved gloom.
Oshi i ' s use of the i mage of the dog as a recursive trope al so cal l s atten
ti on to the symbol i c si gni fcance of thi s ani mal i n Japanese cul ture . As J. e.
Cooper notes, "Ai nu2 mythol ogy has dogs stati oned on the road to the oth
erworld at vari ous poi nts so that they can di rect soul s on thei r way and see
that they go to t he ri ghtly deserved pl ace. The dog i s al so consi dered psy
chi c and can detect t he presence of any ghost " ( Cooper, p. 78 ) . I n Aval on,
thi s symbol i c function i s ell iptically underscored by the appearance of dogs
watchi ng Ash as she walks along the streets of both her own ci ty and the
metropol i s i n Cl ass Real . 3
25-Avalon 181
The mood of ubi qui tous perpl exi ty i nstantly summoned up by Avalon
ri ght from i ts openi ng moments escalates preci pi tousl y in the sequence
where we are gradual l y acquai nted wi th one of the whol e movi e' s most
befuddli ng i nci dent s: namel y, the aforementi oned vani shi ng of the protag
oni st' s dog. As Ash approaches the front door of her humbl e abode, enters
the space and goes about prepari ng a meal for the pet, we can hear hi m
s nufi ng around. However, when s he s et s down t he food bowl , he i s
nowhere i n sight . Si nce he i s hardly l ikely t o have r un away - l et al one di ed
of negl ect -the most feasi bl e explanation woul d seem to be that we are
movi ng across diverse levels of vi rtual real i ty rather than deali ng wi th cl ear
cut transi ti ons between the i nside and the outsi de of Aval on.
From thi s poi nt onwards, the pace of Ash's quest accel erates. Havi ng
embarked upon thorough research i nto Arthuri an lore i n order to ascer
tai n i ts relevance to the game from which she makes a meager l i vi ng, she
obtai ns addi ti onal , i ntri gui ng detai l s from Stunner about the Speci al A
di mension of Avalon (whi l e the shi fty Thi ef gorges hi msel f on a l uri dl y col
ored breakfast ) . It here transpi res that a Bi shop i s present whenever the
Ghost appears - not j ust any Bi shop, to be preci se, but one who i s " Cl ass
A Complete . An Archbi shop, above Level 12. " Stunner specul ates that Ash
might l i ke to swi tch from Warrior to Bishop but needs doubl e experi ence
poi nts to do so. Moreover, he argues, a player needs a party to back her or
hi m up i n order t o succeed i n such an expensive task. Fi nal ly, he t aunt s Ash
by i ns i nuati ng that she probably would not be abl e to pul l i t of anyway,
though thi ngs might have been diferent if Murphy were sti l l around. ( Thi s
coul d be read as a hi nt at a past romantic l i ai son between the heroi ne and
the brai ndead player. )
These al l usi ons to Ash' s future rol e i n the VR game are dramati cal l y
devel oped i n the ensui ng segment of the fl m, as the character of the Bi shop
vi si ts the heroi ne at her flat and she takes hi s i ntrusi on ful l y on board by
bol dl y declari ng : "I want to form a party wi t h you. The usual si x mem
bers . " The Bishop crypti cal ly states that " [ f l or the best players the game
becomes i ts own reward, " concomi tantl y maki ng reference to the rumor
accordi ng to whi ch the Wizard team di spersed because "a certai n Warri or
ignored her orders and cal l ed ' reset . ' " A fashback showi ng the Wizard' s last
mi ssi on appears to confrm the suspi cion that i t was i ndeed Ash' s sudden
pani c that caused the assi gnment to fai l . I t i s noteworthy, however, that
Stunner wi l l later assume responsibility for the party' s dissolution ( "I t wasn' t
your faul t that we got wi ped out. The one who ran . . . was me. I wanted to
tel l Murphy that . " ) , and that Murphy hi msel f wi l l ul ti mately turn out to
be true cause of the probl em. Fi nally, the Bishop i nstructs Ash to meet hi m
at "Flak Tower 22" at midnight t he fol l owi ng day.
Ash' s vi si t to the Avalon faci l i ti es, where she usually j acks i nto the game
182 Part Four: HumanityIVirt ual i ty
assi sted by the Game Master, problematizes further the status of Speci al A
as the Termi nal Manager i n charge at frst deni es that thi s level exi sts, and
then qual i fes her statement by sayi ng that a level that you cannot reset from
is no longer a game, i mplyi ng that it does exi st after al l : "There' s no such
thing . . . . Not i nside Avalon. No matter how real i t seems, Aval on i s just a
game . But a programme you can' t clear isn' t a game anymore . That' s why
i t' s hi dden away . . . a forbidden feld. " Hence, it coul d be opi ned that Spe
cial A i s not a game proper because i t cannot be cleared by resetti ng - hence
i t cannot be consi dered, strictly speaki ng, to be a part of Aval on as such.
These already thorny matters are by no means si mpl i fed by the di scl osure
that the Bi shop has hi s own termi nal and cannot, therefore, be tracked: he
merely t urns up i n t he game i n hi s own t erms as and when i t sui t s hi s own
schemes.
Once Ash has accessed vi rtual reality and located the Bi shop, t he enig
mati c character explai ns that he works for the game, mai ntai ni ng the bal
ance of i ts di sparate mi ssions . The best game, he al l eges, i s "one you t hi nk
you can cl ear but can' t , one that looks i mpossi bl e but i sn' t , " and handl i ng
thi s state of afai rs requi res a knack of "fndi ng out the subtl e bal ance . "
Havi ng compl eted a n especially arduous mi ssion i nvolvi ng the anni hil ati on
of a " Citadel" -a mi ghty battl e tank -Ash di scovers that she i s sti l l wi thi n
t he l udi c realm wi thout t he option to "l og of" as would customari l y be the
case . The Ghost next materi al i zes by the wal l that gives proper access to
Speci al A: to enter that l evel , one must shoot the appari ti on j ust as she
attempts to l eave the wall . Ash manages to accompl i sh thi s feat and to pass
through the gate, at whi ch poi nt the phantasmatic gi rl di sassembl es i nto a
seri es of rectangular surfaces whi ch then reel i nto a spi ral of si l very bl ue
l i ght and eventual l y fade out altogether. Concomi tantly, t he VR surround
i ngs fade to bl ack and are replaced by swi rl i ng patterns of data. The pro
tagoni st' s own body subsequently segments to be replaced by myri ad orange
digits, tangenti ally hi nti ng at her utter assi mi l ati on to the i ntangible space
of Avalon.
Ash is next seen i n her own apartment -the dog' s food bowl is there
and so, rather mysteriously, is a virtual-reality chair. As the heroine removes
her hel met, the computer monitor in the room di splays the bafi ng mes
sage "Welcome to Cl ass Rea\ . " The Bi shop then materi al i zes on the screen
and announces that she has penetrated the wal l guarded by the Ghost and
entered Speci al A. Thi s l evel of Avalon, accordi ng to the hooded pl ayer, i s
an extremely complex network of data and i s al most fawl ess : to trul y com
pl ete i t , one last task must be undertaken and Ash is the appoi nted agent
namely, "fnish of the Unreturned. " The rules are relatively strai ghtforward:
Ash has "one pistol " and "one cl i p of ammuni ti on" at her di sposal ; there
are neutrals operati ng under free wi l l who must not be harmed; there i s no
25-Avalon 183
ti me l i mi t . The onl y exi t poi nt for thi s mi ssi on is "compl eti on" and no
"reset, " accordi ngly, i s allowed. The Bi shop fnal l y states : "If you get back,
you can be one of us, " us referri ng to the creators of the al ternative world
encoded in the programme.
A tremendous amount of detail has undoubtedly been channel ed i nto
the construction of Speci al A. I n approachi ng her mi ssi on, whi ch wi l l take
her to the concert hall hosti ng the Fil harmoni a Narodowa's performance of
a pi ece entitled Avalon, and publ i ci zed by means of a poster that exhi bi ts a
basset hound strongly remi n i scen t of her own former pet, Ash is even sup
pl i ed with an apposi te eveni ng gown, hi gh heel s, a ri ng and earri ngs. The
program creators' hi ghly di l i gent take on the rendi ti on of VR thus ftti ngl y
echoes Oshi i ' s own meti cul ous approach to fl mmaki ng, i nfusi ng the fl m
with a r ivet i ng el ement of sel f- refexivity.
I n sharp contrast wi th Ash' s putatively real ci ty, the advert- packed
metropol i s i nt o which the heroi ne emerges on her way to the ul t i mate
assi gnment i s unexpectedly smart, el egant , vi brant and - above al l -col
orful . Once Ash has reached her desti nation and met Murphy, the movi e
rapidly bui l ds towards a cl i max that sui tably encapsul ates the concurrently
perplexi ng and begui l i ng Chi nese-box character of Aval on the game and
Avalon the flm i n their enti rety. I nteresti ngly, from a ci nematographi cal
poi nt of vi ew, the mel odi c pace of the concert taki ng pl ace i n the back
ground qui ckens at the same rate as the rhythm of the exchange between
Ash and Murphy gai ns momentum. It i s al so worth noti ng, i nci dental l y,
that the exchange takes pl ace in the concert hall garden, where the most con
spi cuous pi ece of ornamentation is a rather i ncongruously situated ol d can
non : thi s detail operates as an efectively conci se remi nder of the story' s
mi l i tary di mension.
Ash asks Murphy if he came here j ust to be a vegetabl e i n a hospital
bed but Murphy advocates the genui ne real ness of Cl ass Real , stati ng that
he caused the Wizard party to disband because he wanted to "go al l the way"
in his own terms. He cl ai ms to have always bel i eved that " [ rl eal i ty is noth
i ng but an obsession that takes hold of us. " "Why, " he then adds, "shoul dn' t
I make this my real i ty?" As they keep on argui ng over the reality i ssue, Mur
phy mai ntai ns that when one of them shoots the other to death and the dead
body does not di sappear, the survivor wi l l gai n i ncontroverti bl e proof that
the l evel they currentl y occupy authentically obtai ns . Neverthel ess, Mur
phy' s al legation i s bl untl y refuted by the fate met by hi s body once Ash has
shot hi m. Seei ng the character' s supposedly corporeal substance di ssolve in
an expl i citly computer-generated spi ral efect, we cannot avoi d questi on
ing the veraci ty of hi s asserti ons. The scene that follows i rrevocably confrms
the empi rically unveri fabl e nature of Cl ass Real : whi l e Ash approaches the
concert hal l , an enthusi asti c round of appl ause i s sti l l audi bl e i n the back-
184 Part Four: Humanity/Virtuality
ground but upon ent eri ng the space she fnds that i t i s al most enti rel y
deserted -the sol e exception bei ng t he now smi l i ng Ghost standi ng on t he
stage . As alluded to earl i er, t he movi e does not ofer any concl usive reso
l uti on, the fnal e consi sti ng, qui te si mply, of the starkly sibyll i ne message
"Welcome to Avalon. "
26
Ghost in the Shell
Oshi i ' s epoch- maki ng cyberpunk feature Ghost i n the Shell ofers an
i nspi red treatment of t he arguably most elusive metaphysi cal , sci enti fc and
ideological questi on - namely, what makes us human? I n both Ghost i n the
Shell and in i ts sequel Ghost i n the Shell 2: Innocence, the director addresses
thi s i ssue wi th reference to the i ncremental i nfl trati on of both human
organi sms and mental i ti es by technol ogi cal , arti fci al and synthetic com
ponents that cannot be unprobl ematically categorized as auxi l i ary prosthe
ses but actually constitute i ntegral parts of a person' s bei ng.
Ghost i n the Shell i s based on an i mmensel y popular manga wri tten and
drawn by Masamune Shi row. 1 Several themes el aborated by Shi row' s manga
whi ch Oshii' s fl m probl emati zes deserve special noti ce in this context . Shi
row's story arcs place considerable emphasi s on the ever-growi ng sophi s
tication of advanced cybertechnology, posi ti ng the fgure of the "cyborg" as
a " human whose body has been partially or al most compl etely al tered by
the use of substi tute arti fci al organs and parts, " endowed not merel y wi th
a "normal appearance" but also wi th l i fel i ke physi ol ogi cal afects, i ncl ud
i ng "oral sensation" ( Shi row, p. 103 and "Author's Notes" ) . The manga al so
specul ates that a synthetic sensori um i s a handy tool i n the peddl i ng of
"vi rtual - experi ence software" whi ch "allows several members of the same
sex to share i n the enjoyment of a sexual experi ence, on several l i nes si mul
taneously. " The more refned the "prosthetic body" i n questi on, the more
sensati ons are possi bl e and the greater the entertai nment provi ded accord
i ngl y i s ( "Author ' s Notes" ) . Shi row' s emphasi s on the pervasi venes s of
arti fci al bodies i s j ocul arl y rei nforced, at one poi nt , by the i mage of a wait
ress sport i ng a logo and a "Made i n Japan" caption on her scantily cl ad
backsi de ( p. 1 23 ) .
The fl m l eaves out the cybersexual di mensi on altogether. Moreover,
even though the protagoni st hersel f, Major Motoko Kusanagi , i s undoubt
edly attractive, she i s i mparted a far l ess cute and substantially more somber
mi en by the flm' s character desi gner Hi royuki Oki ura than i s ever the case
i n the parent text . Relatedly, where the manga humorously i ndul ges i n overt
representati ons of nude femal e bodies that verge on soft porn and may even
185
186 Part Four: Humanity/Virtuality
Ghost in the Shell (1995). One of Oshii's most memorable pieces of visual poetry,
Maj or Motoko Kusanagi's biotechnological "birth" vividly dramatizes the hybrid
nature of the cybernetic organism as a seamless synthesis of machinery -epitomized
by the cables jacked into the bioports that punctuate the character' s body - and
fesh -foregrounded by the palpable carnality of Motoko's feminine curves and by
her fetuslike suspension in the digital equivalent of amniotic fuid. 1995 Shirow
Masamune/ KODANSHA BANDAI VISUAL MANGA ENTERTAINMENT.
be i nterpreted as concessi ons to feti shi sti c scopophi l i a, in the fl m, nudi ty
i s employed as a means of succi nctly conveyi ng the mai n character 's ul ti
mate vul nerabi l i ty as a concurrently physical and psychologi cal di mension
of her divided bei ng, and hence an allusion to her i nherent humani ty.
No l ess central to Shi row's manga than the cyborg fgure is the con
cept of "hacki ng" - namely, the technological operati on that makes it pos
si bl e to "brai n- dive" i nto another person's sensori um and experi ence her
or hi s situation as though one were actually i nhabi ti ng her or hi s body. A
brai n-di ver can become an unl awful "ghost control l er, " penetrati ng other
mi nds so as to brai nwash them ( pp. 1 7-20) . A hacker, i n Shirow's defni ti on,
i s "a computer cri mi nal who i nfl trates other cyberbrai ns, steals i nforma
ti on, manipulates data and programmes, pl ants vi ruses, and otherwi se cor
rupts them" ( "Author' s Notes" ) . As shown l ater i n thi s section, thi s noti on
plays a pivotal role i n Oshi i' s plot .
Despite Oshi i' s deliberate engagement with the geni us of the bizarre
and the absurd i n the elaboration of occasional aspects of Ghost i n the Shell' s
storyl i ne and graphic register, the fl m's harrowi ngly topical cogency on the
26-Ghost in the Shell 187
sociopol i ti cal and economi c pl anes can hardly be underesti mated. I ndeed,
the movi e consti tutes pri mari ly a trenchant cri ti que of hi erarchi cal and
corporati onal mental i ti es, the abuse of authority and power, and human
i ty' s haphazard romance wi th technol ogy. Moreover, as Patri ck Drazen has
noted, even though Ghost i n the Shell "will i nevitably confuse frst-ti me
viewers, deal i ng as i t does with the Byzanti ne round of backstabbi ngs and
power pl ays that characteri ze Japanese pol i ti cs i n the future, " the movi e
actual ly encapsulates harsh cultural real i ti es :
With the bursting of the economic bubbl e, Japanese pol i ti ci ans and the rul i ng
Liberal Democrati c Party had troubl e fndi ng anyone l eft to run the shi p of
st at e -especi al l y aft er reports began surfaci ng of fnanci al sweetheart deal s
between assorted pol iticians and business i nterest s. Nobody seemed to be cl ean
of the stai n, and the tendency of those al ready i n power to continue to rely on
the ol d boy network to get thi ngs done only assured that nothi ng would get done .
Skepti ci sm turned to cynicism [ Drazen, pp. 338-9 ] .
The manga i tsel f makes i nsi stent reference to embezzl ement , money
l aunderi ng, smuggl i ng (of people no l ess than of goods ) , i l l egi ti mate trans
acti ons, the appropri ati on of publ i c funds by unscrupul ous i ndi vi dual s,
di pl omati c i nfractions, and the utterl y unethi cal expl oi tati on of spuri ous
el ectoral mani festos.
Furthermore, Oshi i ' s version of Ghost i n t he Shell compl i cates a num
ber of i deol ogi cal preoccupations adumbrated by t he Patlabor features i n
that it comments dispassionately on t he col l usi on of actual hi stori cal phe
nomena and technol ogical advancement i n a largely -though not undi l ut
edl y -dystopi an vei n. I n thi s respect , the fl m coul d be sai d to substanti ate
Susan Poi nton' s arguments concerni ng Japan's atti tude towards technol ogy
as a dubi ous gai n rather than an unprobl ematic bl essi ng : "It is obvi ously
no acci dent , " Poi nton mai ntai ns, "that , i n the years fol l owi ng the bomb
i ng of Hi roshi ma and Nagasaki and the subsequent evol uti on of the Japa
nese ' economi c mi racl e, ' Japanese cul tural products . . . have become
progressively focused on narratives of technological oppressi on and pre
moni ti ons of di saster" ( Poi nton) .
The flm foregrounds from the start the col l usi on o f i nternati onal pol
i ti cs and technol ogi cal ventures i n a scene dramatizi ng the covert meeti ng
between a foreign dignitary and a computer programmer i n whi ch "Pro
j ect 2501 " i s somewhat cryptically al l uded to. Pol i ce forces make a theatri
cal entrance i nto the bui l di ng and the di gnitary i nstantly cl ai ms di pl omati c
i mmuni ty. Major Motoko Kusanagi presently descends from the top of the
building to the level of the room where the fracas i s occurri ng wi th the aid
of a special cord, assassi nates the foreign politician and escapes by donni ng
"thermoptic camoufage" t hat enables her t o merge wi t h her surroundi ngs .
Kusanagi is a member of Secti on 9, a branch of the Mi ni stry of Forei gn
1 88 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
Afai rs fghti ng technological terrori sm and polari zi ng a wide range of pol i t
i ca forces from vari ous parts of the world, wi th thei r varyi ngly dubi ous eco
nomi c and di pl omat ic pri ori ti es.
Like the Tokyo Metropol i tan Pol i ce Special Vehi cl e Di vi sion 2 from
the Patlabor producti ons and the Kerberos Panzer Cops from the Kerberos
flms, Section 9 i s regarded ambivalently by both the government and the
rest of the pol i ce hierarchy as a cruci al component of the law- enforci ng
machi ne, on the one hand, and an embarrassi ngly uncompromi s i ng body
of agents trai ned to ki l l without hesitati on, on the other. Al though no other
organization or department would ever wi sh to get thei r own hands di rty
through di rect parti ci pation i n the mi ssi ons allocated to Secti on 9, Maj or
Kusanagi' s squad i s more often grudgi ngly tolerated than posi tively recog
ni zed. As frequently, the scandalous i nformati on whi ch i ts i nvestigations
repeatedly tend to disclose i s conveni ently pushed under the di pl omati c
carpet by the upper echel ons of government and accordi ngly sani ti zed to
sui t the mai ntenance of exi sti ng al l i ances and i nterests .
The sequence j ust described is a paradi gmati c example of Oshi i ' s use
of rapi d- fre acti on sequences i n t he very openi ng of a fl m i n order to set
i ts tone and economically i ntroduce themes desti ned to acqui re cardi nal
i mportance at a later stage . A diferent take on technology i s ofered by the
stunni ng montage presented under the openi ng credi ts i n whi ch Kusanagi' s
cyberneti c birth i s vividly depicted: the pace slows down dramatical ly, and
roari ng spectacl e gives way to a daunting chapter of sheer vi sual poetry. An
analogous sequence i s proposed in the early segments of Innocence with
comparable graphi c and afective i ntensi ty.
A careful reconstruction of the story' s somewhat baroque i nvol uti ons
and convolutions -whi ch may necessitate repeat vi ewi ngs-can hel p us si t
uate the si gnifcance of the i ncident presented i n the openi ng segment of
t he action wi thi n a broader context , and hence appreciate fully i ts i deol og
i cal and phil osophi cal i mpl ications. Such a reconstructi on i ndi cates that i n
the mi d- t o late 2020s, the Mi nistry of Forei gn Afai rs of the unnamed Asi an
country i n whi ch Ghost i n the Shell i s set deci des to embark on a collabo
rative proj ect wi th u. s. researchers i n the fel d of arti fci al i ntel l i gence so
as to develop a computer program capabl e of hacki ng i nto ordi nary peo
pl e, and hence control l i ng them to make them commi t al l manner of i l l e
gal deal s on thei r behalf.
The program thus created, an unthi nkably compl ex pi ece of software
origi nally designated "Proj ect 2501 , " becomes successfully operati onal and
numerous cri mes are perpetrated at i t s behest i n vari ous parts of t he worl d.
The most cruci al tool used by the program t o penetrate and mani pul ate
other bei ngs consi sts of prosthetic memori es whi ch the i mpl anted subj ects
unquesti oni ngly accept as genui ne recol l ections. Thi s theme echoes Ri dl ey
26-Ghost in the Shell 1 89
Scott 's Blade Runner ( 1 982) . I ndeed, both Oshi i ' s and Scott' s fl ms empha
si ze peopl e' s dependence on materi al vesti ges of the past i n the gui se of
photographs whi ch, by supplyi ng them with memori es, are concurrently
supposed to i nvest them wi th a sense of i dentit y. Ironi cal l y, the photo
graphi c fragments of reality wi th whi ch the fel oni ous program provi des i ts
human mari onettes are themselves a fabri cati on. In proposi ng that the
human brai n can be hacked i nto analogously to a computer, Ghost i n the
Shell i s also redol ent of Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall ( 1 990) and Kathryn
Bigelow' s Strange Days ( 1996) . It i s preci sel y Proj ect 2501 's knack of gov
erni ng i ts vi cti ms' mi nds and bodi es that by and by gai ns i t the nickname
of "Puppet Master" or " Puppeteer" ( ningyouzukai ) .
The program is deployed for the frst ti me i n the country of Ghost i n
the Shell i n 2029, exactly at the ti me Oshi i' s story unfol ds, as a means of
resolvi ng a thorny di pl omati c conundrum. The Mi ni stry of Forei gn Afai rs
are eager to fnd a pol i tically acceptabl e excuse to deport the former l eader
of an overthrown mi li tary di ctatorshi p, Colonel Mal ez of the Republ i c of
Gabel , who seeks asylum i n thei r country. They therefore use the Puppet
Master to hack into the brain of a petty cri mi nal and implant a si mulated
i denti ty therei n, i n order to i nduce hi m to bel i eve he i s a bi g-ti me vi olator
of i nternati onal law employed by the Embassy of Gabel to hack, i n t urn,
i nt o t he brai ns of key di plomatic fgures expected t o participate i n t he nego
ti ati ons, i ncl udi ng the Pri me Mi ni ster' s personal i nterpreter. When the
brai n-hacked ofender i s arrested by Secti on 9 and it becomes cl ear that he
has no connecti on whatsoever wi th hi s putative employers and i s actual l y
a mere pawn i n the Puppet Master' s massive operation, the si tuati on takes
an unpl easantl y compl i cated turn.
It becomes increasi ngly evi dent that whi l e the Puppet Master is pre
sented as a dangerous cri mi nal to be brought to j usti ce, it i s not actually the
government's enemy but one of i ts most precious tool s. Regrettably, j ust as
the program promi ses to enable the Mi nistry of Forei gn Afai rs to smoothly
solve a potenti ally embarrassing situation over the Malez issue, i t unexpect
edly manages to develop an i ndependent identity and autonomous senti ence,
and break free . The reputation of the Mi ni stry of Forei gn Afai rs i s now
sorel y at ri sk and it i s i ncumbent upon them to use any avai lable weapon
and measure to regai n control over the rogue program. To achi eve this ai m,
they l ure t he Puppet Master i nto a "designated body," that of a bl onde femal e
cyborg produced by the Megatech giants. However, the program and i ts host
flee the factory, are run over by a truck and suspiciously turn up at the Sec
ti on 9 headquarters . It i s here that the Puppet Master makes i tsel f sensati on
ally heard by speaki ng through the cyborg torso rescued from the acci dent,
and sol emnly states: "I am not an AI . . . . I am a l ivi ng, thi nki ng enti ty that
was created i n the sea of i nformation. "
190 Part Four: HlmanitylVirtll al i ty
It now becomes cl ear that the transgressor, havi ng attai ned consci ous
ness, i s aware of bei ng a runaway from t he government and hence seeks
pol i ti cal asyl um. Moreover, it transpires that the program i s ai mi ng to com
municate specifcally with Maj or Kusanagi . ( The Puppet Master' s desi re to
make contact wi th the heroi ne had emerged l ess conspi cuously earl i er on
i n the form of a spectral voice quoti ng from the Book of Cori nthi ans 13,
1 1 : "What we see now i s onl y a di m i mage i n a mi rror. Then we shal l see
face to face . " )
As the fl m races towards its elaborate cl i max, the cyborg torso i s mys
teri ously abducted from Section 9, and the Maj or endeavors to retri eve i t
wi th the i ntenti on of "divi ng" i nto i t so as to fnal ly communi cate wi th the
Puppet Master and discover i ts true goal . The mai n motivati on behi nd
Kusanagi' s acti ons, however, i s her conviction that t he enti ty i s i n a posi
t i on to hel p her shed l i ght on her own most i nti mate perpl exi ti es. Ripped
apart by a mul ti -l egged tank sent to stop her, the protagoni st i s saved by
her loyal colleague Batou's antitank rife and decides to i nterface di rectl y
wi th the Puppet Master by havi ng her own remnants hooked up to the
cyborg torso. The Puppet Master reveal s that the reason it has persi stently
attempted to communicate with Kusanagi i s that i t aims to "merge" with
her i n order to gai n the biological component i t needs to ensure species sur
vival . Through thi s unorthodox marri age, the Puppet Master avers, thei r
"chi l dren" wi l l be born i nto the "i nfnity of the Net . " The enti ty i s eventu
al l y destroyed but Batou manages to salvage Kusanagi' s functioni ng remai ns
and to rehouse her "ghost" i n a new body -that of a school gi rl , as i t hap
pens, due to the scarcity of viable "shells" on the bl ack market .
Kusanagi's dive i nto the Puppet Master is both ci nematically and dieget
ically cruci al in establ i shi ng Ghost in the Shell's i coni c uni queness. When the
heroi ne enters the Puppet Master, the latter starts speaking through her
mouth in a male voi ce . At the same t i me, the perspecti ve shifts from
Kusanagi's eyes t o t he Puppet Master' s hosting body, so that we ourselves
are encouraged to perceive the si tuation through the eni gmati c entity rather
than through the protagoni st. The overall efect i s a bafing sense of di sl o
cation. From the vi ewpoi nt of Western l i beral humani sm, thi s strategy may
be seen to al lude to an irretrievably l amentabl e l oss of sel fhood and sel f
contai nedness, yet from an Eastern perspective, the di ssol ution of Kusanagi' s
identity and personal boundaries carries positive connotations . I ndeed, it is
consonant with the Japanese concept of seishinshugi: namely, spi ri tual cathar
si s and growth through suferi ng and self-deprivation. Thi s i dea i s echoed
by the Puppet Master' s own words i n the flm's cl i macti c sequence :
Li fe perpetuates itself through diversity and this i ncludes the abi l i ty to sacri fce
i tsel f when necessary. Cells repeat the process of degeneration and regenerati on
unti l one day they di e, obliterating an entire set of memories and i nformati on,
26-Ghost in the Shel l 191
only genes remai n. Why continually repeat thi s cycl e? Si mpl y to survive by avoi d
i ng the weaknesses of an unchangi ng system.
Relatedly, it coul d be argued -fol lowi ng Susan Napi er -that Ghost in
the Shell "rai ses the possi bi l i ty of technology' s positive potenti al . . . i n terms
of the possi bi l i ty of spi ritual development . " The probl em, i n thi s respect ,
i s that thi s possibi l i ty is granted to a cyborg, not to a human, and i ndeed
the fl m "does not ofer . . . much hope for the organi c human body, whi ch
i s seen essentially as a puppet or a dol l . . . to be mani pul ated or t ransformed
by outsi de sources" ( Napi er, p. 1 05 ) .
I t i s also noteworthy, however, that the central cyborg character i s her
sel f not presented as unambi guously strong but rather as "both powerful
and vul nerabl e . " Thi s i s borne out by the openi ng sequence, where the
Maj or' s dauntl essness i s counterpoi nted by hi nts at her potenti al weakness:
Because t he vi ewer is at frst not pri vy to t he fact t hat t hi s is a carefully arranged
assassi nati on, his or her frst reaction to Kusanagi' s fal l is one of unease. She is
. . . prey to the currents of the ai r . . . her body encapsul ates both presence and
absence, si gni fed frst by her disembodi ed voi ce outsi de the wi ndow, and then
by the next scene i n whi ch . . . we see her become i nvi sible . . . al l owi ng the viewer
to suddenly see, through the disappearing outlines of her body, the vast electronic
hi gh-tech city toward whi ch she fal l s [ po 109 ] .
Kusanagi ' s ambi gui ty i s rei nforced by the fl m' s depi cti on o f her phys
i cal appearance i n terms of a fai rly stereotypical notion of femi ni ne sexi
ness replete wi th al l uri ng curvaceousness, and its concurrent emphasi s on
the fact that even when she appears to be nude, she i s actually donni ng tech
nologi cally enhanced fesh-col ored body sui ts i ntended to abet her per
formance -and thus agai n i nsi nuati ng her l atent vul nerabi l i ty.
Endowed with a 95 percent artifcial body throughout the bul k of the action,
Kusanagi i s understandably plagued by doubts concerni ng the actual extent
of her humani ty. As Jonathan Cl ements and Hel en McCarthy aptl y remark,
this aspect of her personality makes the Major "an angst - ridden platoon
leader . . . who can' t l eave the servi ce because, l i ke the ori gi nal Bi oni c
Woman, parts of her are government property" ( Cl ements and McCarthy,
p. 1 41 ) . "Cyborgs l ike myself have a tendency to be paranoi d about our ori
gi ns, " Kusanagi refl ects at one poi nt . "Maybe there wasn' t a real me i n the
frst place and I 'm completely synthetic . " Propelled by these torturi ng quan
dari es, she forces hersel f i n defance of both safety and l ogi c to engage i n
scuba- di vi ng expedi ti ons, even though the wei ght of her cybernet i c
enhancements coul d easi l y drag her i nto t he ocean' s depths for good, i n
order t o t est her emoti ons and, specifcally, her very abi l i ty to experience
fear, el ati on or pl easure . I n the cl i mactic sequence wherei n the Maj or wi t
nesses the Puppet Master' s transfguration, her humani ty i s vi vidly demon
strated by the wel l i ng up of tears i n her eyes. Thi s scene corroborates the
1 92 Part Four: Humani ty/Virtuality
fl m's proposition, voiced through Batou, that "even a doll can seem to have
a soul" -a topos desti ned to be i nvested with fresh resonance in Innocence.
Oshi i' s most i nsi stentl y ( and al most obsessi onal l y) revi si ted theme
throughout hi s corpus to date - namely, the i nterpenetrati on of real i ty and
fantasy -stri kes once more sonorous chords i n Ghost i n the Shell. I n rep
resenti ng si mulated- experi ence technologies, the movi e radically challenges
conventi onal humani st model s of memory and hence unset t l es rel ated
noti ons of real i ty. I f an i ndividual' s brai n i s hacked i nto and she or he
undergoes a si mulated experi ence whi l e i n a consci ous state, t he experi
ence could be sai d to partake i n equal measures of fantasy and real i ty. On
one l evel , t he event i s unreal i nsofar as i t di d not actual ly take place i n t he
real worl d. Yet , on another level , i t cannot be di smi ssed as a mere del usi on
on the person' s part i nsofar as i t emanated from a real program runni ng
i nsi de hi s or her vi olated nervous system.
I n assessi ng the aliveness of cyborgs i n Ghost i n the Shell-and i ndeed
i n i ts sequel -i t i s i mportant to acknowledge the i nfuence of Shi nto upon
Oshi i ' s vision. Accordi ng to the world vi ew promulgated by Japan' s ofcial
rel i gi on, all sorts of obj ects and substances ( i ncl udi ng rocks) host spi ri tual
and dynami c energy. Relatedly, manga-ka Shi row has stated: "I thi nk al l
thi ngs i n Nature have ' ghosts . ' Thi s i s a form of panthei sm, and si mi lar to
ideas found in Shi nto . . . . There are, after all, humans who act more like
robots than robots" ( Shi row, "Author's Notes" ) . As Drazen has noted, "Japan
has . . . spent centuri es comi ng to terms wi th machi nes that seem human.
Karakuri ningyou-clockwork wooden doll s that resembl ed peopl e -were
frst bui lt i n the Tokugawa period [ 1 603-1 867J . Such dolls woul d ' bow'
thei r heads whi le carrying cups of tea on a tray. Li ft i ng a cup from the t ray
would stop the doll unti l the cup was replaced" ( Drazen, p. 340) . One such
automaton features at a crucial poi nt i n Innocence.
It i s also useful , i n evaluati ng Ghost in the Shell' s dramatization of cl ose
encounters between humans and machi nes, to appreci ate the frequently
equivocal and someti mes overtly paradoxi cal nature of the associ ati on
between technology and ani mation i tsel f. As James Cl arke argues, a
product of the mechanized, modern age, ani mation often tel l s stories that pl ay
up the usual l y hapl ess rel ationship between humans and thei r i nventi ons . . . .
Somewhat i roni cal l y, it was by mocki ng and parodyi ng the modern world of
machi nes that animation really broke i nt o mai nstream cul t ure, i tsel f becomi ng
a mass-produced form i nvolving huge numbers of ani mators, pai nters, design
ers and techni ci ans [ Cl arke, pp. 2-3 ] .
Moreover, the "tradition of the ani mated fl m i s also . . . the starti ng poi nt
for people' s appreciation, understandi ng and sheer enjoyment of t he magi c
of what we now thi nk of as special efects" ( p. 2 ) . Relatedly, " [ t J oday' s l i ve
acti on fl ms are becomi ng i ncreasi ngly l i ve-action-ani mati on fusi ons, most
26-Ghost in the Shell 1 93
notably Star Wars: Episode J, The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings tri logy"
(p. 10) . Ghost i n the Shell fully confrms the central i nci dence of technol
ogy i n the ani mated medi um as a set of both themes and tool s. At the same
ti me, by r ival i ng l i ve-acti on ci nema at the l evel of i mage qual i ty, the fl m
i nvi t es us to refl ect on t he cont emporary phenomenon hi ghl i ghted by
Cl arke, whereby ani mati on can no longer be regarded as a second- rate form
seeki ng -and generally fai l i ng -t o emulate i t s l i ve-acti on counterpart but
shoul d actually be approached as somethi ng of a prerequi si te for the ci ne
mati c process i n i ts entirety.
A maj or corollary of di gitization i s that speci al efects, once rel egated
to ci nema's margi ns, have become the staple of computer-assi sted fl mmak
i ng, for the reason that they capi tal i ze on the generation of i mages i nde
pendentl y of external referents . However, ani mati on has always done
t hi s-wel l before t he advent of CGI -and i t could therefore be argued that
ani mati on i s the form that l i es at the very foundati ons of contemporary ci n
ematography.
In the domai n of digital ci nematography, ani mati on does not merel y
pertai n to techni ques used to bri ng cartoon-l ike characters to l i fe . In fact ,
i t permeates the enti re fl m- maki ng apparatus, playi ng a cruci al rol e i n the
rendi ti on of both archi tectural and organi c structures. The i mportance of
ani mati on i n digital ci nematography poi nts to an i ntri gui ng shi ft i n the hi s
tory of fl m, whi ch Lev Manovi ch has descri bed as a parti al return to the
medi um' s i nfancy. Manovi ch mai nt ai ns that the earl y t echni ques from
whi ch ci nema evolved "all reli ed on hand-pai nted or hand-drawn i mages"
and that " l i l t was not unti l the last decade of the ni neteenth century that
the automatic generation of i mages and their automatic proj ecti on were
fnal l y combi ned. " I t was at thi s poi nt that the art of ani mati on came to be
bani shed to the very peri phery of the hi story of movi ng i mages: " [ 01 nce
the ci nema was stabi l i zed as a technology, it cut al l references to i ts ori gi ns
i n artifce" and ani mation became a "bastard relative . " What li ve-action ci n
ema seemed to di sapprove of most sangui nely was ani mat ion's most di s
ti nctive feature : namely, t he fact that i t "foregrounds i t s arti fci al character,
openl y admitti ng that i ts i mages are mere representati ons, " where l ive
acti on ci nema, by contrast, "works hard to erase any traces of i ts own pro
ducti on process . . . . It deni es that t he reality it shows often does not exi st
outsi de of the fl m i mage . "
Over t he past two decades, however, the rapi d expansi on of di gi tal
tools and thei r i ncreasi ng deployment by the fl m i ndustry have meant that
the techni ques margi nal ized by ci nema in order to eface i ts arti fci al i ty
( e. g. , front and rear proj ecti on, matte pai nti ngs, green- screen and bl ue
screen photography) have been regai ni ng pivotal status: the " [ m] anual con
struction and ani mati on of i mages gave bi rth to ci nema and sli pped i nto
1 94 Part Four: Humani ty/Virtuality
the margi ns . . . only to reappear as the foundation of di gi tal ci nema. The
hi story of the movi ng image thus makes a ful l ci rcl e. Born from ani mati on,
ci nema pushed ani mati on to its boundary, only to become one parti cul ar
case of ani mat ion i n the end" ( Manovich) .
Ghost i n the Shell i nnovatively partakes o f recent devel opments i n the
fel d of computer graphi cs, and has played an i mportant hi storical role i n
rescui ng ani mati on from its Ci nderell a-l ike posi ti on by i mpl i ci tl y drawi ng
attention, thanks to the stunni ng photorealism of many of i ts scenes, to l i ve
action ci nema' s own dependence on ani mati onal strategi es . To thi s ext ent ,
i t eloquentl y confrms Manovich's argument . I n t he producti on of t he fl m,
Oshi i 's team resorted consistently to Di gitally Generated Ani mation ( DGA) ,
the ensembl e of processes through which hand-drawn cel s, CGI , live- acti on
footage and audi o are amalgamated and translated i nto digital data that can
be further mani pul ated i n the computer. Comput er-generated graphi cs
encompass three i nterrelated category: digital cel work; vi sual displ ays; and
i mages as they are perceived by the cyberneti cally enhanced brai ns of the
key characters.
Digital cel work refers both to the use of computers for composi ti ng
purposes and t o computer-assi sted camera work. One of t he mos t di sti nc
ti ve aspects of the latter i n Ghost i n the Shell i s the use of di storti on to con
vey particular moods and emotions : a classic case is suppl i ed by the shot of
Kusanagi ' s face i n the foreground duri ng the key sequence i n whi ch she
ri des a boat down a Newport canal with Batou, refecting on the meani ng
of humani ty. Here the protagoni st' s features and proporti ons are subtl y
di storted i n order to evoke her gnawi ng doubts on the subj ect and her
mounti ng apprehension as she catches a gl i mpse of what l ooks j ust l ike her
doubl e . ( Thi s sequence wi l l be returned to l ater i n thi s chapter. ) Al so
notabl e i s t he empl oyment of fl ters i ntended to create perspectival efects:
for i nstance, the scene where the major i s shown faci ng the vi ewer with the
toweri ng Newport edi fces behi nd her, seemi ng to get gradually smal l er and
to di sappear i nto the background as the background, i n t urn, appears to
advance towards the foreground and engulf her, deploys those tools to evoke
an overwhel mi ng sense of claustrophobia.
Di gi tal cel work also i ncl udes the adoption of ground-breaki ng TI MA
software , speci fcal l y i n t he sequences where t hermopt i c camoufage i s
donned. Thi s enabl es the CGI team t o isolate i ndi vi dual frames of a back
ground and to mani pul ate or deform them i ndependently so that the i ni
t i al background remai ns undi sturbed. The warped frames ar e then
superi mposed on the ori gi nal scenari o to convey the i mpressi on of the
cloaked character's motion agai nst it without afecti ng i ts actual i mages and
text ures .
Vi sual di spl ays are grids whose purpose i s t o ofer graphi c visual i za-
26-Ghost in the Shell 195
Ghost ill the Shell (1995) . From the vertiginous heights of futuristic Newport City,
Maj or Motoko Kusanagi prepares to descend upon her unsuspecting victim in the
opening sequence of Oshii's epoch-making cyberpunk thriller. The exaggerated per
spective, extremely low camera angle, somber atmosphere, and play with vertical and
diagonal lines to suggest dynamism even in static frames are among the director's
best-known trademarks. 1995 Shirow Masamune/KODANSHA BANDAI VISUAL
MANGA ENTERTAINMENT.
tions of vari ous aspects of future technol ogy, such as maps of wi red brai ns
and analogously advanced cyberneti c and bi otechnol ogi cal apparatuses, as
well as el ectroni c maps that are accessed by the characters i n the course of
thei r mi ssi ons by recourse to i nterfaces pl ugged directly i nto thei r senso
ri um. I mages as perceived by the brai n, for thei r part, reveal how the fl mi c
characters themselves perceive thei r surroundi ngs when they are hooked up
to vast data networks by means of cabl es . Both the vi sual di splays and the
i mages perceived by the brai n are rendered i n the typi cal green hue that
has been conventi onal ly associated with fl mi c representati ons of di gi tal
technol ogy si nce Ri dl ey Scott' s Alien ( 1977) and has more recentl y been
i mmortal i zed by the Matrix tri logy and its non- ci nemati c ti e- i ns and spi n
ofs .
Ghost in the Shell' s cityscapes, so ri ch i n detail and chromatic nuances
as to frequentl y appear to have been fl med from l i fe, were executed with
the assi stance of the Rotoscope . This devi ce, patented by Max Fl ei scher i n
1 91 7, proj ects l ive-acti on footage frame by frame onto a smal l screen, upon
which drawi ng paper i s pl aced. Ani mators can trace the l i ve- action fgures
i n each frame, thus achi evi ng stunni ngly real i sti c resul ts . ( A formi dabl e
1 96 Part Four: HumanityIVi rtuality
i nstance of the i mpl ementation of thi s techni que can be seen in the repre
sentati on and ani mati on of the Fai ry Godmother i n Di sney' s Cinderella
[ 1950 ] . ) 2
Although the movie' s i nspi ri ng adoption of state-of-the-art technol
ogy deserves careful consi deration, its si mul taneous devoti on to t raditional
ani mati on shoul d not be underesti mated. Thi s i s borne out by the collab
orative eforts of vari ous members of Oshii' s team. Art di rector Hi romasa
Ogura was responsi bl e for i deat i ng ani mati on backgrounds based on a
highly and refreshi ngly unconventional use of the relati onshi p between l i ght
and shadow, whereby i n scenes with stark contrasts between l i t and dark
porti ons ( of whi ch there are several ) , the dark ones were made i ncremen
tally darker unt i l none of thei r details could be i denti fed, and i ll umi nated
ones remai ned bri ght throughout and fl l ed wi th i nt ensely vi si bl e detai l s.
The ani mation di rector Toshi hi ko Nishikubu was especially concerned wi th
accompl i shi ng real i sti c vi sual and speci al efects i n the rendi ti on of the
act i on pi eces, and worked especi al ly hard on t he sequence depi ct i ng
Kusanagi' s confrontation with t he tank wi th t he obj ective of communi cat
i ng convi nci ngly the i mpression of bullets hitting diferent surfaces-addi ng
sparks i n t he case of metal but not i n that of stone -to transcend t he ani
mati onal stereotype whereby sparks are unthi nki ngly thrown i n whenever
a bul l et makes i mpact wi th any materi al whatever.
Ghost i n the Shell exerted a vi tal i nfl uence at both the themati c and
the vi sual levels on the Wachowski brothers' semi nal flm The Matrix ( and
i ts sequel s ) , as wel l as on the seri es of ani mated shorts col l ected under the
ti tl e of The Ani matrix ( di rs. Andy and Larry Wachowski , et al. ) . Sal i ent
si mi l ari ti es between Oshi i' s production and t he Wachowski s' work are al so
thrown i nto rel i ef by The Art of the Matrix, a documentary vol ume that
expl i citly substanti ates the al l egi ance to Japanese ci nema of those recent
i nstances of Western ci nema by clearly demonstrati ng that the storyboards
underlying the Matrix flms and ani mations are aki n not j ust to comi c books
in general (as storyboards often are) but specifcally to manga, due to thei r
i ncorporation of that medi um's di sti nctive use of formal features redol ent
of camera acti ons .
As far as Oshi i ' s ci nematographical approach i s concerned, Ghost i n
the Shell i s made especially memorable by the dynami c capture of li ght as
a means of enhanci ng a setti ng's credibility ( e . g. , i n the renditi on of vehi
cl es and adverts ) or, alternatively, of suspendi ng real i sm so as to conj ure
up a feel i ng of pri smati c magi c ( e . g. , i n the scenes where a rai nfall refract s
t he l i ght i n quasi - kal eidoscopi c chromatism) . The refl ecti ons and refrac
ti ons of light i n and through water -from vast expanses to si ngle dropl ets
are al so i magi natively handl ed. At the same ti me, i n order to mi rror vi sually
the ethically shadowy character of the world he portrays, Oshi i resorts t o a
26-Ghost in the Shell 1 97
studi ous use of chi aroscuro efects - most notably, i n the shots where shad
ows i nundate peopl e' s faces and sink them i nto unfathomabl e darkness. A
si gni fcant proportion of the setti ng's forbi ddi ng feel emanates from Oshii ' s
handl i ng of the di sori enti ngly shi fti ng perspecti ves of skyscrapers i n rel a
ti on to the vehi cl es dri vi ng past them.
Ci nematographically, one of the most unforgettabl e sequences ofered
by Ghost i n the Shel l i s i ndubi tabl y the aforement i oned depi ct i on of
Kusanagi' s cyberneti c genesi s . Thi s dramati zes the cyborg' s concurrentl y
organi c and technol ogi cal assembl age, seaml essl y harmoni zi ng the two
di mensi ons i n order to evoke thei r i nextricable i nterconnecti on. The maj or
i s frst portrayed as an abstract set of di gital data. She next takes the shape
of a mi ni mal i sti c anatomi cal frame, as vari ous i mpl ants are i nserted i nto
the skul l area so as to programme the cyborg' s functi ons . The character
then proceeds to assume i ncrementally more real i sti c - and hence more
overtl y human - physiological attributes: her fesh- encased body foats i n
a fetal posi ti on wit hi n a vat fl l ed wi th a substance remi ni scent of amni oti c
fui d and i s eventually ej ected i nto the world as a ful l - fedged adul t .
No l ess memorable i s t he pi llow sequence located mi dway through t he
movi e, l asti ng two mi nutes and thi rty-four shots and paradi gmati cal l y typ
i fyi ng the di rector' s approach to montage . Thi s i s the sequence, referred to
earl i er, i n whi ch the major and Batou are seen ri di ng a boat down a New
port Ci ty canal . The audi ence i s i nvited to look through the protagoni st's
eyes at a motl ey gal l ery of lonely and somber i ndi vi dual s uncari ngly l icked
by urban neon as they plod along the rai n- fll ed streets . Backed up by an
appropriatel y haunt i ng musi cal score, the sequence communi cates a potent
sense of t he human condi ti on at l arge as a si tuati on of atomi zed di scon
necti on , and thereby prompts us to refl ect upon Kusanagi ' s personal
di l emma regardi ng the extent of her own humani ty as a corol l ary not so
much of her cyborg status as of her exi sti ng at al l . I t i s preci sel y the tor
menti ng i nt i mati on of l onel i ness that ul ti matel y makes the maj or human ,
and accordi ngly enabl es her t o hear whispers i n her "ghost, " over and above
any physi ol ogi cal markers. This i s therefore the sequence in which one can
sense most palpably the heroi ne' s vul nerabl e humani t y. I t i s at t hi s j unc
ture, as Drazen observes, that one ful l y appreci ates that " [ s l he i s, i n spi te
of hei ghtened strength and abi l i ti es, an ordi nary mortal ! aski ng the same
old questi ons mortal s have asked si nce the dawn of ti me : Who am I? Is
there a reason why I 'm here? What happens after I di e?" ( Drazen, p. 340) .
At one poi nt , a s the boat gently dri fts past a gl ass-fronted cafe, Kusanagi
suddenl y sees a woman equipped with preci sel y the same model of cyber
neti c body as her own on the other side . A further Kusanagi lookalike fea
tures l ater i n the sequence i n the gui se of a mannequi n i n a departmental
store di splay. 3
1 98 Part Four: Humanity/Vi rtuali ty
Although refecti ons pl ay a promi nent rol e in vi rtually al l of Oshi i ' s
producti ons, thei r use i n thi s fl m i s especi al l y pervasive and si gni fcant
i nsofar as they serve as ci nematic paral lels for the story' s themati c focus on
the tropes of i denti ty and selfhood, and for its preoccupation wi th the pre
cariousness of an i ndividual' s boundari es. A movi ng commentary on the
issues of humani ty and identity that concisely summari zes the entire movi e,
the canal sequence fully testifes to Oshi i' s penchant for ideati ng scenes and
sequences i mbued wi th wordless pathos. On the specifcally ci nematograph
i cal pl ane, Oshi i establi shes a tantalizi ng tension at t he begi nni ng of the
sequence between the shots that are percei ved from the protagoni st 's poi nt
of vi ew and the supposedly more obj ective shots of streets and edi fces taken
from high angles . Withi n the montage, Oshi i deftly accommodates al l the
most di st i nctive trai ts of hi s characteri sti c si gnature : water, refective sur
faces, narrow passages, metropolitan crowds, artifcial bei ngs and, of course,
a waggy- tailed basset hound.
The orchestration of sound efects contri butes vi tal l y to t he overal l
atmosphere, conveyi ng a realistic sense of motion as sounds become l ouder
or softer i n accordance wi th the characters' movements towards or away
from the acti on's focal poi nt . As a resul t, the spectators are i mmersed i n
the spectacle by vi rtue of not only what they see but also what they expe
ri ence acoustically. Si l ence itself, at acutely suspenseful poi nts i n the fl mi c
narrati ve, can be afecti ngly heard.
Cumulatively, on the ci nematographical plane, Ghost i n the Shell comes
across as a fl m of contrasts . I t undeniably ofers the vi ol ent gun- fghts,
hi gh-speed chases and voluptuous femi ni ne curves that many manga fans
customari l y cheri sh. Yet , most vi ewers wi l l ul ti matel y remember i t as a
pensive contemplation of fundamentally exi stenti al i ssues . These, as i ndi
cated, are arti culated pri ncipally with reference t o Kusanagi' s percepti on
of her hazy subj ecti vi ty, and to germane refections on the nature of her ori
gi ns and desti ny. The wistful tone that these troubl i ng specul ati ons evoke
fnds a perfect i coni c correl ati ve in Oshi i ' s depi cti on of rai n- drenched
ci tyscapes wherei n vi si ons of architectural decay, semi oti c overl oad ( i nfo
mani a) and overal l sense of al i enation symbolically fuel the cent ral char
acter's personal apprehensi on of unrel i eved solitude .
Ghost in the Shell is therefore si multaneously mel anchol y and cerebral ,
lyrical and savage, concisely terse and fui dl y meanderi ng, j ust as its pro
tagoni st i s at once a ruthl ess titani um-rei nforced shel l and a lonel y, emo
ti onal l y fragi l e ghost. Innocence wi l l elaborate these vi sual and themat i c
el ement s t o engender a mul ti -faceted universe, endowed wi t h a mesmer
i zi ngly dreaml i ke, yet pierci ngly provocative, aura.
27
Ghost i n the
Shell 2: Innocence
Oshi i ' s keen abi l i ty t o pose questions about sci ence fction' s essenti al
cornerstones and to lay bare mul ti pl e connecti ons between that genre and
our quoti di an l i ves, al l the ti me cul tivati ng an approach to vi sual s that
pushes the boundari es of the ani mation format, has reached somethi ng of
an apotheosi s with Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. All of the axial preoccu
pati ons evi nced by Oshi i ' s ci nema si nce the mi d- 1980s have made a spec
tacular return i n Innocence. At the same ti me, thi s fl m i s hi s frst product ion
to concentrate expl i ci tl y on Japan since Patlabor 2. More than in any of
Oshi i 's earl i er movi es, i n Innocence the science fctional substratum i s i ndeed
frml y anchored i n i ndi genous tradition, and parti cul arly i n the bel i efs and
ri tual s associ ated wi th the ni ngyou ( dol l ) fgure . Though eager to chart the
mutati ng si gni fcance of the organi sm i n contemporary and approachi ng
technoscapes, Innocence i s ul t i mately more concerned wi t h the human el e
ment s that manage to subsi st i n t he face of i nvasive technol ogi es t han i n
how such technol ogi es al ter humani ty.
I f Ghost in the Shell' s i ntel l i gent medi tati on on the human soul was
deservedly hai l ed as a ground-breaki ng achi evement in 1 995, when the
Japanese ani mati on i ndustry was still busy establ i shi ng its trademark by
means of huge- eyed magi cal school gi rls and giant robots, Innocence has
transcended even more radi cal l y the genre ghetto by l aunchi ng i ts prede
cessor' s exi stenti al preoccupat i ons i nto the stratosphere, and usheri ng us
further i nto t he fut ure of cybertechnol ogy than any fl mmaker has ever
done before .
The flm is set i n 2032, three years from where Ghost in the Shell l eft
of, and revolves around the Special Anti -Terrorist Agent Batou ( a support
i ng character i n Ghost in the Shell ) , employed by Public Safety Di vi si on Sec
tion 9. The prequel ' s heroi ne, Major Kusanagi , has putatively di ssol ved i nto
the ether merel y l eavi ng behi nd a di sembodi ed, spectral voi ce whi ch Batou
loves uncondi t i onal l y and i ndeed descri bes as hi s "guardi an ange l . "
Kusanagi is l i sted as "mi ssi ng" whi l e government agents are sti l l l ooki ng
1 99
200 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
for her i n the knowledge that she is l i kely to possess top- secret i nforma
ti on regardi ng the notorious "Proj ect 2501 . "
The pl ot' s convol uti ons are predicated upon t he premi se that by 2032,
t he di vi di ng l i ne between humans and technol ogi cal apparatuses wi l l have
faded vi rtually beyond recognition. This theme is i ntroduced right from the
start in a mesmeri zi ngly beautiful sequence that dramati zes in a stylized
fashi on the genesis of cyberneti c organi sms . While redol ent of the sequence
unfol di ng under the openi ng credi ts of Ghost i n the Shell i n whi ch Maj or
Kusanagi' s "bi rth" i s articulated, the sequence ofered by Innocence i s tech
nically more sophisticated, thus attesti ng to the exponential refnement of
computer-assisted ani mation si nce 1 995. However, the two sequences some
what compl ement each other i nsofar as they coul d be regarded as compan
i on pi eces wi thi n t he broad context of Oshi i 's sel f- refexive employment of
di gi tal technology as a means not merel y of flaunti ng hi s team' s technical
fai r but also-and more i mportantly -of commenti ng on the generation
of technohuman syntheses at the thematic and di egeti c l evel s of fl mmak
mg.
A sol i tary, expressi onl ess and hulking cyborg, Batou nonethel ess pre
serves hi s humanity i n hi s unfalteri ng pursui t of j usti ce and i n hi s deepl y
loyal attachment to hi s pet basset hound, an unbi ased wi tness to human
folly i n both i ts crassest and i ts most patheti c mani festati ons . 1 The unob
trusively real i sti c shots i n whi ch Batou afectionately tugs the dog' s soft ears
out of hi s feedi ng di sh, havi ng prepared the microwavabl e di nners that con
sti tute the onl y l uxury i n hi s modest dwel l i ng, are among the most heart
breaki ngl y memorabl e i n the ent i re movi e . Besi de the hound, ot her
unforgettable i mages proposed by Innocence are l ikewise associ ated wi th
organi c l i fe, i ncl udi ng a fsh i n i ts bowl and the meti cul ousl y detai l ed
pl umage of a seagul l .
A paradi gmati c i nstance of Oshi i 's central preoccupation with the vi ci s
si tudes of the human el ement as it struggles to endure i n the face of i ncreas
i ngly i nt rusi ve technol ogi es i s suppl i ed by the scene i n whi ch the mai n
character, whose wounded bi otechnological arm has been replaced wi t h a
l i mb cloned from hi s own DNA on the basi s that thi s procedure is more
ti me- and cost- efective than heal i ng the ori gi nal , wonders: "where' s my
real arm? " As he flexes hi s new-utterl y syntheti c and yet utterl y real i s
ti c -fngers, t he doctor repl i es phlegmatically, "We threw i t out, " evi nci ng
no si gn of acknowledgement of, l et alone sympathy towards, t he exi sten
ti al di l emma coursi ng through the tortured protagoni st ' s cyberbrai n .
Throughout the fl m, the character i s portrayed as a cal cul ati ngl y cl ever
mental gymnast , as wel l as a physically i mposi ng ki l l i ng machi ne . How
ever, as Jul i an Boyance has aptly remarked, he i s al so "startl i ngly confi cted
for a cyborg . . . . Goi ng to such outlandish l engths as to have an expensi ve
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 20 1
' real' dog, a tense moment of danger is created when [ he ) goes to buy l i q
ui d rather than dry dog food. Unknowingly hacked i nto, Batou goes on a
berserk shooti ng spree in a crowded grocery store . . . . Our hero's confl i cted
nature gi ves [ hi m) an appeal i ng sardoni c edge that bel i es a soft i nt eri or"
( Boyance ) .
Batou and hi s mostl y human partner Togusa ( whose humani t y i s
underscored by a tormenti ng fear o f deserti ng hi s fami l y) are responsi bl e
for i nvesti gati ng a case i nvol vi ng a mal functioni ng gynoi d - namely, a l i fe
l ike femal e dol l wi t h eeri l y suppl e l i mbs desi gned for sexual ent ert ai n
ment -that went berserk and murdered he r owner. I n t he wake of the
murder, numerous other dol l s go awry, di smal l y teari ng thei r humanoi d
ski n apart as thei r eyes and i nternal gears pop out of thei r comel y faces i n
a veri tabl e gl ut of technological grotesqueri e .
As Batou and Togusa endeavor to delve i nto the seemi ngly i nscrutabl e
manufacturi ng defect across the ci ty' s retrofuturi sti c underbel ly, havi ng to
fght of thugs, sufer brai n hacks and negotiate with corrupt corporate exec
uti ves and devi ous bureaucrats, they i nspect a CSI l ab, a yakuza haunt and
a cyborg factory, on the trai l of an el usive software programmer cal l ed Ki m
who may be responsi bl e for the cri me and i ts gori l y bizarre aft ermat h.
I ndeed, al l the mal functi oni ng gynoi ds turn out to come from the same
place, the corporation Locus Sol us, an i ndustrial gi ant revol vi ng around Ki m
that vaunts an eccentri c crew of hi ghl y ski l l ed techno-arti sans resi di ng i n
a di sused battl eshi p of the coast of Chi na. The sequences set i n the vi l l ai n' s
palati al resi dence, replete wi th some of the most hypnoti zi ngly beauti ful
archi tectural and ornamental details ever seen i n the ani mated medi um to
date, hol ographi c si mulations of humans, bi rds, pl ants and roari ng fames,
and a col ossal musi c box spl endidly rendered down to i ts mi nutest cog and
wheel , evi nce total dedication to the puncti l i ous representati on of al l sorts
of materi al s and textures, l i ghti ng efects and chromati c pyrotechni cs .
Diegeti cally, the sequences consti tute al ternate facets of the massi ve
cybermaze created by Ki m to avert Batou and Togusa from the case . Batou
manages to break free, to release Togusa and to capture the cri mi nal , and
proceeds to search for further i ncri mi nati ng evi dence i ntended to ascer
tai n i ncontrovertibly Ki m's part i n the murders by i nfltrati ng the vi ll ai n' s
doll factory. Although the cri mi nal' s brai n- hacki ng strangl ehol d has been
neutralized, there has al so been sufci ent disruption i n the system to awaken
the dol l s hosted wi thi n the factory. The franti c gynoi ds merci l essl y attack
the protagoni st , who i s rescued j ust i n the nick of time by a rei ncarnati on
of Maj or Kusanagi ' s ghost i n a doll' s body. I t t ranspi res that Ki m' s com
pany had ki dnapped chi l dren and used a ghost-dubber to create degraded
replicas of their soul s for i mplantation into the dolls, and thus endow the
arti facts with a hi gher degree of humani t y that one woul d expect to
202 Part Four: Humani ty/Virtuality
encounter i n the domai n of artifcial i ntel l i gence. A programmer had then
tri ed to hel p the chil dren by weakeni ng some of the constrai nts placed on
t he copi ed ghosts, which had enabled t he chi l dren themselves to i nduce the
dolls to cause probl ems that woul d attract the attenti on of the rel evant
authori ti es and eventual l y l ead to thei r rescue . Batou' s "guardian angel"
shuts down the system, thereby l osi ng an arm in a scene vividly remi ni s
cent of the sequence i n whi ch she di ves i nto the Puppet Master i n the frst
Ghost i n the Shel l fl m. She then promi ses Batou that she wi l l al ways be on
hi s si de withi n the vast di gi tal matri x before di sappeari ng once more and
l eavi ng merel y the dol l ' s empty "shell" behi nd.
The case at t he heart of Innocence i s not merel y a matter of l aw and
order, however. I n fact , whi l e presi di ng over a cri mi nal i nvestigation, Batou
concurrentl y ponders i ntractabl e exi stent ial questi ons concerni ng t he
essence of humani ty and humans' i nveterate tendency to i mmortal i ze thei r
i mage i n synthetic counterparts, alluded t o by recourse t o tangenti al quo
tati ons and aphori sms drawn from Confuci us, Rene Descartes, John Mi l
ton, Jakob Gri mm, Isaac Asi mov, Jean- Luc Godard, Ludwig Wittgenstei n
and the Bi bl e . I ntertextuality i s undoubtedly one of Innocence' s defni ng
cachets. Os hi i took great care i n sel ecti ng rel evant quotati ons and i nter
l eavi ng t hem seamlessly with t he dialogue, and has acknowl edged Godard
as the pivotal i nfuence behi nd hi s adopt ion of thi s parti cul ar approach.
Innocence, i nci dental ly, echoes Godard's Alphaville i n both i t s cumulative
vi sual rhythm and, more specifcally, i n the representation of Locus Sol us .
The i ntegrati on of textual el ement s from other authors and stori es i s a
means, accordi ng to Oshi i , of foregroundi ng ci nema' s fai r for ongoi ng sel f
renewal i nsofar as the i nsertion of a preexi sti ng pi ece of language i nto a
novel producti on does not onl y enri ch the latter but also revi tal i zes the for
mer's emoti onal and i ntel lectual i mport .
Innocence thus both develops and probl emati zes Ghost in the Shell' s
themati c concerns, whi l e concurrently taki ng ful l advantage of the tremen
dous advancement of digital technology si nce t he creati on of t he earl i er
movi e, to del i ver some of t he most stunni ng vi sual s ever yi el ded by an
ani me producti on. Nevertheless, the manually drawn component retai ns
cardi nal i mportance i n Oshi i ' s aesthetic vi si on. The resul t i s a bl end of pol
i shed and el egantly edi ted traditional 2D ani mati on ( used mai nly i n the
drawi ng of the characters) and eye- mel ti ngl y gorgeous 3D CGI ( employed
for the machi nery and the backgrounds ) . The fl m was four years in the
making and the festival segment alone took up over a year, ul ti mately pro
vi di ng a "perfect match of sound and i mage . . . somethi ng Hitchcock and
Bresson spent thei r lives searchi ng for . . . ' pure ci nema, ' somethi ng t hat i s
unable to be reproduced i n comi c books, TV shows, or novel s" ( "Destroy
All Monsters Review of Innocence" ) .
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 203
The chromati c palettes are subtl y orchestrated, rangi ng from gol den,
washed- out sepi a and amber hues ( i n contrast with i ts predecessor' s pref
erence for cool green and bl ue tones) to darkly sumptuous nuances for the
more expl i ci tl y fut uri sti c nocturnal scenes. At the same time, the ani ma
t ion' s overal l style faithfully refects Oshi i 's customary devoti on to the ren
di ti on of the mi nutest facets of hi s i magi nary universes:
I enj oy making t he worl d [ of t he fl m] as detailed as possi bl e. I get absorbed i n
t he fner poi nt s-like what t he back of a bottle label looks l ike when you see i t
through t he gl ass. That's very Japanese, I suppose . I wail t peopl e to go back t o
t he fl m again and again to pick up things they missed t he frst t i me [ Oshi i 2004aj .
Above al l , as stated i n a press rel ease coi nci di ng wi th the screeni ng o f Inno
cence at Cannes, Oshi i adamantl y bel i eves that the "strength of Japanese
ani mation i s based i n the designer' s penci l . Even i f it mi xes 2D, 3D and com
puter graphics, the foundation is sti l l 2D. Just doi ng 3D does not i nterest
me" ( Oshi i 2004b) .
As i n much ani me, s o i n Oshi i 's fl ms generally and i n the Ghost i n the
Shell producti ons speci fcal ly, eyes play a crucial rol e as tel l i ng i ndi cators
of a character 's personal i ty, di sposi ti on and i nt ent . At ti mes, the acti on
depends al most excl usively on the nuances of ocul ar moti on, as Oshi i i s fre
quently more i ncl i ned to communicate the pathos of a speci fc shot or scene
by capi tal i zi ng on the merest gl ance than by ani mati ng the enti re body.
Paradoxically, the display of a character' s response to a situation by recourse
to such expressive mi nuti ae often succeeds i n evoki ng the shot or scene' s
dramatic i ntensi ty more el oquently and more enti ci ngly than the overtl y
sensational adoption of full -bodied action. Moreover, the characters' eyes
rarely appear to be still i nsofar as the vagari es of light and shadow upon
their receptively moi st surfaces conti nually endows them with chromati
cally dynami c radiance . Thi s techni que pl ays a pivotal rol e i n the i nfusi on
of vital i ty i nto even the most ostensibly stereotypical or cardboard persona
( e . g. , the gangsters confronted by Batou and Togusa i n thei r i nvesti gati on) .
The pupi l hol ds pride o f pl ace i n eye ani mation wi thi n the domai n of
ani me general l y ( and Oshi i 's works ar e no except ion ) , feel i ngs bei ng oft en
conveyed preci sely by t he play of l i ght on t he pupi l , rendered i n the gui se
of whi te ci rcl es of varyi ng di ameters, and through i ts total di lati on at ti mes
of hei ghtened emoti on. An i l l ustrative exampl e of si tuati ons i n whi ch eyes
are accorded an especi al l y promi nent rol e, drawn from the frst Ghost in
the Shell feature, i s the scene showi ng Kusanagi' s reacti ons to the sight of
her surroundi ngs upon emergi ng from her cyberneti c bi rth: her expressi on
comes across as si mul taneousl y apprehensive and i nqui si t ive and gai ns
pathos from the unspoken suggestion that at thi s stage i n t he narrati ve, the
character combi nes the i nnocence of the newborn and the experi ence of an
adul t . Most i ntri gui ng, where the handl i ng of ocul ar ani mati on in both of
204 Part Four: HumanityIVi rtuality
the Ghost i n the Shell fl ms i s the concerned, i s Os hi i' s abi l i t y to i nvest
Batou's countenance wi th a tremendous vari ety of feel i ngs -rangi ng from
outrage to afection, from anger to dej ection -through the ski l ful repre
sentation, paradoxi cal as thi s may sound, of the fickers of l i ght fashi ng
across the cyborg's utterly bl ank, expressi onl ess eyes. Gi ven the central i ty
of the character of Batou i n the second Ghost i n the Shell feature, i t coul d
be argued that Oshi i ' s handling of thi s parti cular ani mational strategy con
sti tutes one of the flm' s ci nematographically most memorable trai ts .
Where ci nematography i s concerned, no l ess stri ki ng i s Oshi i ' s deploy
ment of the camera as a means of orchestrati ng poetically refned vi sual
tabl eaux, penetrati ng all possi bl e angl es and oferi ng al ternati ve perspec
ti ves on a gi ven scene. A perfect example i s suppl i ed by the sequences i n
whi ch Batou and Togusa confront the vi l l ai n Ki m i n hi s mansi on. The three
concatenated sequences tease the audience' s memory wi th nightmari shl y
Prousti an gusto by reiterati ng the same nexus of events wi th subtl e shi ft s
of pace and pattern, as wel l as vari ati ons i n emphasi s and rhythm. Thi s
play wi th our mnemoni c facul ti es parall el s the fl m's ubi qui tous preoccu
pati on wi t h the rol e played by recol l ecti ons i n defni ng t he essence of
humani ty.
Al l three sections of the movi e open in the same qui ntessenti al l y sur
real location: a carpeted octagonal deck beari ng an enormous scul pture
wi th a no l ess ti tani c foot as its pedestal and l eadi ng to Ki m's mansi on by
means of an equally carpeted and seemi ngly endl ess footbri dge stretchi ng
across a vapory abyss. Varyi ngly subtle vari ati ons on thi s openi ng set enabl e
Oshi i to characteristically suspend the boundary between real i ty and i l l u
si on, prompti ng the audience to wonder to what extent the i mages on ofer
refl ect Batou's and Togusa's actual percepti ons of tangible enti ti es, and to
what they vi sual i ze the i mpalpable fgments concocted by Kim to sustai n
hi s exqui sitely di abol i cal domai n. I n all three vari ati ons on the same basi c
sequence, Batou and Togusa traverse the i mprobabl e bridge and enter a
magni fcent hall wherei n a huge musi c box of kal ei doscopi c compl exi ty
and a magni fcent staircase tower above a gl eami ng foor.
The frst version of the sequence i ntroduces us to arti fci al rendi ti ons
of Major Kusanagi as seen at the end of the frst Ghost i n the Shel l feature,
absorbed i n the act of touchi ng the pol i shed foor as though i t were a di g
ital i nterface i n order to summon up cryptic codes, and of Gabri el the bas
set hound. The syntheti c character of these two enti ti es i s confrmed by the
fact that when Batou's cybernetic brai n scans thei r bodi es, the message he
recei ves unequivocally states: "Biological Reaction Negative . " The protag
oni st i s next seen hurryi ng al ong corridors i nto whi ch mul ti - col ored li ght
fl ters through maj estically executed stai ned-gl ass wi ndows . The mansion' s
i ntr icate archi tecture and decor are mi nutely depi cted, oferi ng a mesmer-
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 205
izing plethora of chromatic palettes, decorative patterns and stylistic moti fs,
as well as i l l usory chambers flled with eeri l y photoreal istic hol ograms. I ts
mul ti fari ous materi al s and text ures, moreover, appear throughout thei r
i nebri ati ng profusi on to have been pati nated wi th the transl ucent pages of
a dark yet al l uri ng history of secrecy and subterfuge.
Prompted by Togusa, Batou then enters Ki m's luxurious study, where
the cybercri mi nal fnal l y makes an appearance i n the shape of a mechani
cal corpse attached to cabl es that i ntri gui ngly recal l a puppeteer's stri ngs.
The sequence reaches i ts cl i max as Togusa, havi ng accepted a cup of tea
from a ningyou waitress i n Ki m's service, opens a hi dden closet wherei n an
extremel y compl ex architectural model i s stored, and i s seemi ngl y sucked
i nto a kind of black hole. At thi s poi nt, we are l ed back to the octagonal
pl atform.
In thi s sequence, the character of Kim comments on the rel ati onshi p
between humans and dol l s i n ways whi ch shed l i ght on the movie's whol e
phi l osophy: "The human," he mai ntai ns, "i s no match for a dol l , i n i ts
form, its el egance i n moti on, its very bei ng. The i nadequaci es of human
awareness become the i nadequaci es of l i fe's real i ty. Perfecti on is possi bl e
onl y for those wi thout consci ousness, or perhaps endowed with i nfni t e
consci ousness. I n ot her words, for dol l s and for gods." He t hen adds "ani
mal s" to t he l i st, stati ng, as concl usive evi dence for hi s hypothesi s, that
"Shel l ey's skyl arks are sufused wi th a profound, i nsti nctive joy. Joy we
humans, dri ven by sel f-consci ousness, can never know. "
The second variation - in which Kim features agai n as an automaton
but i s al so e ndowed wi th Togusa's somati c attri butes-cul mi nates wi th
Batou's face bursti ng and reveal i ng a disturbi ng mechani cal consti tuti on
beneath the i l l usi on of fesh. I n thi s sequence, Ki m's specul ati ons tackl e
another pivotal theme that resonates not onl y throughout Innocence but
al so Oshi i 's overall ci nemati c exploration of the relationshi p between the
natural and the syntheti c, the ani mate and the i nani mate: "The doubt i s
whether a creature that certai nly appears to be alive, really i s. Al ternativel y,
the doubt that a l i fel ess object might actually be alive. That's why dol l s
haunt us. They are model ed on humans. They are, i n fact, nothi ng but
human. They make us face the terror of bei ng reduced to si mpl e mecha
nis ms and matter ... science, seeking to unlock the secret of l i fe, brought
about this terror. The notion that nature is cal cul abl e i nevi tably l eads to
the conclusion that humans too, are reducibl e to basi c, mechani cal parts."
The thi rd vari ati on, where Kim assumes Batou's mi en, ofers a more
markedly spectacul ar cl i max than the previous ones, as massive expl osi ons
devastate the futuri sti c ci ty, Togusa is ostensibly shot i n the chest, and hi s
torso splits asunder to reveal i n t urn an arti fci al skeleton. The metamor
phoses undergone by Togusa i n this scene and by Batou i n the cl i macti c
206 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
shot of the precedi ng variation graphi cally encapsul ate the "terror" ensu
i ng from the realization t hat t he human organi sm may amount to a mere
machi ne expounded upon by Kim earlier i n the flm. The acti on then shi fts
to a cl ose- up of Togusa -very much al i ve but evi dentl y troubl ed -hol d
i ng the same cup he had earl i er obtained from the ni ngyou as Batou, hav
i ng realized that hi s partner's "e-brain" has been fed "a tangl e of vi rtual
experi ence," i ntervenes and puts an end to the cyberni ghtmare.
On all three occasions, the Kusanagi repl i ca's manipulation of i nvisi
bl e codes, apparentl y embedded i n the phantasmagoric floor of the man
sion's hal l , conj ures up words that eventual ly turn out to be secret messages
specifcally addressed to Batou. I n the frst version of the sequence, the word
in question is aemaeth, which means "truth" i n Hebrew (alternative spel l i ng:
emeth). Thi s refers to the Sigillum Dei Aemaeth or Seal of God's Truth
namely, "a pictorial seal gi ven to Dee and Kelley by the Angel Michael i n
an early seance hel d on the 14th of March 1582 .... Thi s seal was then to be
used i n al l seances i n the form of wax replicas placed under each of the l egs
of the tabl e" ( Sigillum Dei Aemaeth [Emeth n. The l i nk between "aemaeth"
and the esoteri c tradition of divi nation i s discreetly perpetuated by Oshi i 's
fl m i n the deployment of the character of the synthetic Kusanagi as a sort
of medi um provi di ng Batou wi th a symbolic connection to another world
not the world of the departed, in thi s case, but the no l ess perpl exing uni
verse of mystery and i ntrigue underpi nni ng Kim's nefarious operation. The
latter could i ndeed be regarded as a technological adaptation of the mytho
l ogi cal Hades at i ts l east agreeabl e. Moreover, the angel ic l egacy associ ated
wi th the Sigillum is echoed by Batou's aforementioned reference to the major
as hi s "guardian angel . "
An equally i nteresti ng symbolic use of the term aemaeth-arguably
even more di rectly rel evant to the world portrayed i n Innocence-consi sts
of i ts tradi ti onal employment as a means of i nsti l l i ng l i fe i nto arti fci al
bei ngs that coul d be regarded as legendary forerunners of ash i i ' s own dol l s,
mannequi ns and cybernetic organi sms: that is to say, the golems. These are
clay statues modeled according to the refection of a face i n a mi rror, i nto
which animating energy is infused by registering on their face that very
word. Shoul d the golem become harmful by acqui ri ng excessive i ndepend
ence, it would be possible to neutral ize it by erasi ng the syl l abl e "ae-" and
l eavi ng only "maeth," which means "death. " This i s i ndeed the term evoked
by the artifci al Kusanagi i n the second variation -pl ausibl y to al l ude to
the rapidly i ntensi fying threats to which Batou and his partner are exposed
as a corollary of Kim's brai n-hacking ploys.
The metamorphosi s of "aemaeth" i nto "maeth" i s i nst rument al to
Batou's realization that Kim's palace i s a lethal trap, since it i s by recal l i ng
the version of the golem legend as recounted by Jacob Gri mm that he arri ves
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 207
at the conclusi on that "no truth would be found wi thi n these wall s. " The
si nister i mpl i cati ons associated with "maeth" are di ssipated by the even
tual appearance, on the hall's foor, of the digits "2501" -the Puppet Mas
ter's ofcial designation in Ghost in the Shell which Batou and Kusanagi
agree, at the end of that flm, to adopt as a private password should they
ever meet agai n. Symbol i c of the Maj or's undyi ng l oyal ty to her cyborg
partner and hence of positive energy, "2501" also becomes, by extension, a
reassuri ng si gni fer of l i fe i n contrast with the gri sly perversity of Ki m's
world. Moreover, as hi nted at earli er, it turns out that Kusanagi's "ghost"
i s the very agent responsibl e for breaking through the frewalls whi ch enabl e
Kim to further hi s brai n-hacki ng plan and that, havi ng penetrated the si m
ulati on, she has empl oyed the coded variables "aemaeth," " maeth" and
"2501 " preci sel y to alert Batou to the vi llai n's deceptive schemes.
The movi e's visual multidi mensionality i s matched by the pri smati c
quality of i ts soundtrack, whi ch ranges from the choral mel odi es and tra
ditional drum musi c already used i n Ghost in the Shell, through the epic
cadences used for the most overtly spectacular sequences, to the mellow
ness of the cl osi ng tune "Follow Me," executed by the j azz si nger Ki miko
Itoh and set to the second movement of Joaqui n Rodrigo's Concierto de
Aranjuez-arguably the most soothi ngly mel anchol y ani me theme song
ever conceived. Moreover, the col l usion of l i ghts, colors and aural efects
i n the flm's most overtly surreal porti ons comes across as di sturbi ngly
ftti ng -uncannily hyperperfect, as it were. These moments are made all
the more i mpressi ve by the studi ous j uxtaposi ti on of i ncurably squalid,
damp and shadowy underworl d scenes, on the one hand, and the awe
i nspi ri ng yet demented opul ence of the expli citly retrofuturi sti c urban
scapes, on the other.
A number of diferent doll types are encountered along the way, i nclud
ing a damaged and mute android, a femal e automaton vi rtually i ndi sti n
gui shabl e from a human, a bunch of robots burned i n efgy by a
revenge-thi rsty human crowd, and a man who has adopted the semblance
of a corpse i n the conviction that this will enable him to transcend human
frai l ty. Batou hi mself becomes more and more aki n to an arti fci al dol l as
the flm progresses, hi s i nitial cyberorgani c makeup requi ri ng additional
mechanization as a result of a near-fatal wound. Through the eyes of these
vari ous non-human -or only barely human -characters, Oshi i delivers a
vari ety of alternative percepti ons of the human speci es, recursively empha
sizing the i nsol ence and di shonesty that the dol l s i nevi tably detect in thei r
organi c count erparts. What the dol l -based sequences dramati ze most
potently i s the corrupti on of i nnocence.
The probl em with the anthropomorphic constructs ideated by humans
to perpetuate to i nfni ty thei r sel f-i mage and hence keep temporari l y at the
208 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
bay thei r awareness of i nel uctable fnitude and puni ness in the face of the
crushi ng vastness of the cosmos at l arge i s that they are desi gned to be per
fect. To this extent, they are bound to disappoi nt, i n t heir presumed role
as satisfying copies of living people, si mply i nsofar as they fail to capture
the ul timately most distinctive attribute of not only humani ty but also alive
ness i n general. The review of Innocence publ i shed in Ain' t It Cool News el o
quentl y validates thi s point as follows:
We can try all we want to create a reasonable facsimile of life, but we'll never
succeed, because the best we can do is perfection. One character quips that per
fection is for "dolls and deities," for those either devoid of consciousness or
hyperconscious. We can create a perfect doll, but we can never reproduce life
because life is all about imperfection. This movie is about our glorious failures,
and it is those failures that ultimately give us our innocence ["Ain't It Cool News
Review of Innocence" 1.
I n l i ne with thi s argument, it could be mai ntai ned that the trai t that ren
ders the character of the basset hound Gabriel so genui nely and vibrantl y
alive i s the very fact that he i s not perfect -the emphasis el l ipti cal l y pl aced
on hi s naughty behavior i n his owner's absence i n the frst scene devoted
to Batou's return home efectivel y underscores thi s notion. Togusa, too, i s
rendered authentic by hi s imperfection -specifcally, hi s haunti ng sense of
vulnerabil ity. As for Batou, hi s imperfection is touchi ngly conveyed by the
doubts he begi ns to harbor concerni ng the status of hi s own "ghost" once
i t has transpi red that the gynoids, too, host soul s of sorts: to what extent
does a cyborg ul ti mately difer from a dol l ? Aramaki , the Secti on 9 chi ef,
i nti mates that humani ty and imperfection are inextri cably i ntertwi ned by
posi ti ng the human condition as one of perpetual erri ng, the term simul
taneously alluding to the state of wandering and to that of commi tti ng more
or l ess i rreparable mistakes.
I n the aforementioned press release published at the time of Innocence's
screeni ng at Cannes, Oshi i commented as fol lows on hi s use of non-human
and semi-human personas:
[elconomic recession ... corporate downsizing ... violent crime ... it is this cul
ture of fear and anxiety2 that J want to depict cinematically ... For some reason,
people have always created robots in their own image. I wonder why? I don't sup
pose that the human fgure is the most practical shape for industrial robots. What
is it about people that makes them do such illogical things? I thought that explor
ing this question from the doll's point of view would help me better understand
human nature .... The movie does not hold the view that the world revolves
around the human race. Instead, it concludes that all forms of life -humans, ani
mals, and robots-are equal. In this day and age when everything is uncertain,
we should all think about what to value in life and how to coexist with others
... what we need today is not some kind of anthropocentric humanism. Human
ity has reached its limits [Oshii 2004b].
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 209
Thi s message is corroborated by Oshi i 's observati ons i n the course of
an i ntervi ew for Midnight Eye conducted by Nicholas Rucka later that year
(23 September 2004) , where he comments on the gradual erosi on of cor
poreal i ntegri ty i n contemporary soci eties, while al so frankly admi tti ng to
Innocence's autobi ographi cal di mension:
Since people are all starting to lose part of or all of their "bodies," they need to
associate themselves with something else to identify themselves. It could be dogs
like myself, or it could be cats or other animals. It does not need to be living
things. It could be machines, cars, computers, cities, just about anything but
yourself. That's how you fnd your lost "bodies" ... people are defnitely losing
their human forms. Animals have always stayed the same, and continue to do
so in the years to come, but humans are always changing, and they need to change,
with the development of technology. However, they should not fear the change
or evolution, but rather accept it and learn to live with it. ... This movie is about
me and my dog [Oshii 2004c).
Asked by Mark Schi lling (on behalf of The Japan Ti mes) to comment
on the proposi ti on that " [dJolls are an i mportant moti f i n Innocence, but
the attitude toward them is quite diferent from that of a fl m l ike Toy Story,"
Oshi i riposted:
In Toy Story the dolls are just objects that humans bring to life, for their own
amusement. The Japanese have a diferent view: they think that dolls have a spirit.
That's why when they no longer have any use for a doll they just don't throw it
away in the trash. They would be afraid to do that; the doll might put a curse on
them. So they take the doll to a priest, who performs a ceremony [kuyo) to
appease its spirit. I believe that myself, that dolls have a spirit. They're not just
objects to have fun with ... but that has nothing to do with a specifc religion.
Children have similar feelings about dolls-if they love a doll enough, they feel
that it's alive. That feeling is universal. It's not something they're taught -they
just feel it somehow [Oshii 2004a).
Furthermore, Oshi i has stressed hi s i ntenti on to steer cl ear of anthro
pocentri sm and hence to i nvest hi s arti fci al creatures wi th di sti ncti vel y
non-human attri butes -even though hi s dol l s are del i beratel y executed
wi th ant hropomorphi c preci si on i n order to convey wi t h unner vi ng
i mparti ali ty t he i dea that humans ar e "obsessed wi t h recreat i ng t hem
s elves" ( as stated i n t he fl m i tsel f) . I ndeed, i n t he Japan Ti mes i ntervi ew
quoted above, the director has al so remarked: "I n Toy Story, t he dol l s
move and t al k l ike human bei ngs . I t 's hard to tel l them from the human
characters. But when you ani mate dol l s that way, you l ose what makes
them speci al , thei r i ndi vi dual spiri t. I t 's a l ot harder to ani mat e dol l s so
they stil l l ook doll-like. That was the toughest part of the fl m for me. "
So as to emphasize the ext ent to whi ch ot her - human or robotic -char
acters al so parti ci pate i n the mood of rampant arti fci ali ty that defnes
Innocence from beginni ng to end, Oshi i has made thei r own "movement s
210 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
. . . somewhat doll-li ke. Even thei r expressi ons are more doll-li ke than
human."
All the dolls are lovi ngly represented, and thei r rendi ti on is i ndeed
grounded i n punctili ous background research on the di rector 's part i nvolv
i ng vi si ts to several doll museums throughout both Japan and the West. A
life-size , ball-joi nted doll executed by the Japanese sculptor Si mon Yot
suya, di splayed in a Sapporo museum, provided i nspi ration for the desi gn
of the vi llai n Ki m, whi le the latter's mansi on was based on a doll's house
and gi ant musi c box seen i n the spa town of Atami . Especially i nfuenti al
was the work of the Surrealist artist Hans Bellmer ( 1902-1 975) , whose dolls
Oshi i frst saw as a student - and, on his own admi ssi on, fell in love wi th,
i ntri gued by the way each body part was so beauti fully crafted that one
never ti red of looki ng at it. Oshii i nspected Bellmer's dolls agai n at the
I nternati onal Center of Photography i n New York i n the course of feld
work speci fcally associ ated wi th Innocence. In vi si t i ng New York to be
reuni ted wi t h Bellmer's work after a thi rty-year gap, Oshi i also found the
ci ty's architecture enormously i nspi ri ng by virtue of i ts i ngrai ned posses
sion of an atmosphere of Gothic omi nousness and of verti gi nous perspec
ti ves aki n to those he had been ai mi ng to convey i n Innocence.
In Berli n, Oshi i had opportuni ty to study the dolls rumored to have
shaped Bell mer's own i magi nation and at La Specola museum in Florence, 3
he saw wax anatomical models molded ( creepily but very appositely in the
logi c of Innocence) from actual corpses. La Specol a i ndeed constitutes a ver
i table cornucopia of si multaneously chilli ng and enrapturi ng bodi es, ren
dered all the more uncanny by thei r value as sci enti fc documents even as
t hey appear more at home i n t he most consummately macabre cabi net of
curi ositi es than i n a natural history collection. A specifc texture known as
bisque was deliberately adopted i n the rendi ti on of the flm's dolls, i ts porce
lai n smoothness but relatively warm feel -compared with glass-match
i ng Oshi i 's i ntenti on to portray those characters as overtly artifcial, yet
elliptically senti ent, vulnerable and, above all, i nnocent.
I n iconographi c and broadly cultural terms, the dolls depicted i n Inno
cence could be regarded as latter-day equivalents of the courtesans of old.
The fgure of the courtesan i s frmly embedded in Japan's vis ual tradition,
havi ng for long constituted a favorite subject among ukiyo-e arti sts. Thi s
i s eloquently attested to by the woodblock pri nts of the ei ghteenth and
ni net eent h centuri es executed by renowned masters such as Ki kumaro
( acti ve i n the 1 800s ) , Harunobu ( c. 1725-1 770) , Utamaro ( 1 753-1 806 ) ,
Koryusai ( active between around 1765 and 1784) and Anchi ( active around
1700-1720) . As "pictures of t he transi ent show," a possibl e translati on for
the term "ukiyio-e," those works sought to capture the mocki ng ephemer
ality of pleasure and beauty. It i s hardly surpri si ng, therefore, that they
27 -Ghost in the Shell 2 2ll
should oft en have elected the i mage of the courtesan -with i ts well
established connotati ons-as a ftti ngly recurrent emblem.
Oshii's representation of t he gynoids also harks back, albei t elliptically,
to the ukiyo-e tradi ti on i nsofar as i n both cases, the pleasure-provi di ng
obj ect i s situated i n an economically specifc context. Innocence's dolls are
manufactured so as to satisfy the carnal desires of wealthy industrialists
and entrepreneurs, gangsters and politi ci ans belongi ng to parti cular strata
of society wi thi n the flm's hypothetical ti me-scale . In the case of the ukiyo
e, "the transi ent show" whi ch courtesans were i ntended t o epi tomi ze
referred speci fcally to the ever-shi fti ng world of urban delights and fash
ions of the Edo peri od, and particularly to the red-li ght di stri ct of Yoshi
wara towards whi ch the i ncreasi ngly afuent mi ddle classes tended to
gravitate.
Alongside dolls, the other i nnocent categori es of being presented i n
the flm are children and dogs : speci fcally, children such as Togusa's daugh
ter and dogs such as Batou's basset hound, namely, the cyborg's only s ur
vivi ng li nk to his own ancestral i nnocence and i ndeed the pri ncipal evidence
for the enduring merit of the concepts of joy and happi ness i n the enti re
movi e. The twin vi cti mization of dolls and children is brought home pre
ci sely by the fact that copies of chi l dren's ghosts are made to be i mplanted
into the arti fcial bei ngs as a means of i nvesti ng them with a modicum of
humani ty. As the chi ldren are thus violated (in a fashion redolent of Philip
Pullman's Northern Lights), the dolls are concurrently turned into vi rtual
thieves branded by an i ndelible stai n of culpability -and thus robbed of
thei r ori gi nal i nnocence -even though they are not truly accountable for
any obvious t respass or i nfamy. It is barely surpri si ng that they should strive
to regai n that state through self-destruction.
The anti thetical modal i ty, where ethi cs are concerned, fnds i ts stark
est i ncarnati on in the character of Ki m, who seems to live exclusively for
hi mself and hi s own unremi tti ng betterment. The vi llai n's di sconnecti on
and unwi lli ngness to i nteract with any other form of life i s encapsulated by
the very name of his company, "Locus So I us" i ndeed consi sti ng of a literal
translation i nto Lati n of the phrase "i solated place." Moreover, Oshi i has
posited the i mage of the mirror as a symbol of self-absorption and, by exten
sion, egoi sm and accordi ngly furnished Ki m's mansi on wi th a plethora of
refective surfaces, incl uding opulent marble and poli shed gol d. The for
biddi ng atmosphere of glacial and rigid selfshness surroundi ng Ki m's exis
tence - which those substances succi nctl y capture - also extends to the
vesti mentary preferences exhibi ted by hi s ci ty's i nhabitant s: an unmasked
monk is at one poi nt vi sible i n the crowd wi tnessi ng the splendi d festival
parade but by and large all the locals, including chi ldren, hide behi nd masks
in order to conceal thei r actual-and almost certai nly corrupt -selves from
212 Part Four: HumanityIVirtuality
the i nqui si tive looks of others. One even gets the i mpression, at ti mes, that
so shallow and uncari ng these people have become that what they are really
hiding, ulti mately, is not their true individualities but the fact that they no
longer possess any such thi ng as a personal identi ty. Intri gui ngly, when the
gynoids commi t suicide, their faces literally blow up like crumbli ng masks
an i mage whi ch could be read as their agonizi ng recuperation of an atavis
ti c state of i nnocence.
Innocence contai ns an explicitly somber di mensi on, paradi gmati cally
captured in the li nes, delivered by the protagoni st, "life and death come and
go like mari onettes danci ng on a table; once thei r stri ngs are cut , they eas
i ly crumble. " Yet , the flm i s also, i n i ts own peculiar ( and very possibly
i di osyncrati c) vei n, a hymn to li fe in i ts fosteri ng of an ethos of symphon
ically coordi nated harmony for disparate speci es of both organi c and syn
theti c creat ures. Thus, although Innocence i s dark, sad, langui dly
i ntrospective and even downright pai nful at ti mes, i t nonetheless stri kes
positive notes. I t does so, pri marily, i n i ts exploration of the vari ous tac
t i cs-often vapi dly i nane yet arresti ng in t hei r t enaci t y - deployed by
humans i n thei r quest for happi ness, oferi ng hi nts and hypotheses but no
patronizing conclusions. The words voiced by the supporti ng character of
Aramaki may well turn out t o be the best pi ece of advi ce for one to follow:
"walk alone, wi t h few wishes, committing no s i n, like an elephant i n the
forest."
I n keepi ng wi th Oshi i 's reluctance to di sh out defni tive resoluti ons for
ei ther hi s characters or hi s vi ewers, Innocence ends on a note of destabiliz
i ng ambi gui ty, tentatively poi sed between i ncreduli t y and acqui escence.
I ndisposed to ei ther sanitize or sentimentalize the i mport of the flm's philo
sophical di mensi on, Oshi i deliberately celebrates ambigui ty and irony over
dogmati sm, and diversity over uni formi ty, in the recogni ti on that human
vi rtues and flaws are always i nextri cably i ntertwi ned.
The subtext consi stently coursi ng through both of the Ghost i n the
Shell features ulti mately amounts to a sustai ned contemplati on of the sta
tus of contemporary and futuristic technologi es as novel versi ons of myth
and magic. Technological advancement, i t i s suggested, does not represent
a clear-cut departure from the proverbially irrational rhyt hms of ani mi sti c
spi ri t uali sm i n the di recti on of rati onali st certai nt i es. In fact , the new
"machi nes" portrayed by Oshi i 's ci nema draw life and vibrancy from thei r
i mbrication wi th tradi ti ons that blatantly predate not only cyberneti cs but
i ndustri al technology, as well. The religi ous and mythologi cal allusi ons
menti oned i n t he evaluations of t he Ghost in the Shell movi es ofered i n t he
precedi ng pages persuasively testi fy to t hi s hypothesis.
Accordi ngly, Oshi i 's cyberpunk modali ty marks the shadowy terri tory
where the golem and the cyborg, esoteri c systems and state- of-the- art di g-
27-Ghost in the Shell 2 213
ital technology, alchemy and bi oni cs meet and merge i n mutual sufusi on,
and where such encount ers, i n turn, usher in a ci nemati c uni verse of
unquestionably unique resonance . I n David Chute's evocative words ( used
to describe the frst flm but arguably also applicable to the sequel ) , the
Ghost i n the Shell universe constitutes "an artfully fabri cated mechani sm
wi t h di scernible life- si gns, a factory product wi t h a human soul. Its t radi
tional cel-ani mati on techniques are augmented wi th swatches of glittery
computer graphi cs, but what matters most is that i ts complicated story and
sophi sticated themes are consi stently i nteresti ng . . . i t's an entertai nment
machi ne with functioni ng grey matter" ( Chute ) .
28
Ghost in the Shell:
Stand Alone Com
p
lex
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, produced by Producti on I . G,
headed by di rector Kenj i Kamiyama and origi nally sketched by Masamune
Shirow, compri ses two televi sion seri es, broadcast i n 2003 and 2004. These
were i nspired by the world portrayed i n Oshi i 's Ghost i n the Shell features,
yet develop i ndependent story arcs. Thus, although i t may tempti ng to con
ceive of Stand Alone Complex as somethi ng of a prequel to the Ghost in the
Shell movi es, it would be fairer to its creators to approach it as an alternate
version of the Ghost in the Shel l universe than as i ts anci llary appendage. I t
should also be noted that it i s much closer to t he manga seri es at the l evel
of character design than either of the features is, and is pri ncipally concerned
wi th complex character i nteractions .
I n an i nterview conducted by the ani me expert Fred Patten, Oshii has
commented on Stand Alone Complex and on the degree of hi s i nvolvement
i n i ts execution as follows: "[Innocence and Stand Alone Complex) were bot h
planned at t he same ti me . I was not i nvolved wi t h the TV creati on at all ,
although i n t he second season of Stand Alone Complex, t he 2nd Gig, I was
i nvolved i n wri ti ng some plots . " I n response to Patten's question regardi ng
the cerebral densi ty of both the second Ghost in the Shel l feature and the
televi si on epi sodes, Oshii stated: "I thi nk that Stand Al one Complex . . . di d
not really have a philosophical plot . It has more of a reali stic plot . All of
the problems that the modern world is havi ng or i s faci ng ri ght now are
bei ng explai ned or talked about . . . these ki nds of stori es can be more eas
i ly accepted by the TV audience than a complete fantasy or sci ence-fctional
story, which has no association to the real world" ( Patten 2004) .
The episodes are divided i nto two categories: complex epi sodes and
stand-alone epi sodes. The complex episodes are those that deal expli citly
wi th the show's pri ncipal story arc - namely, the "Laughi ng Man I nci
dent" -whereas t he stand-alone epi sodes consi st of isolated occurrences
i ndependent of the central plotli ne. However, several of the stand-alone
epi sodes are thematically - i f not overtly -connected wi th the Laughi ng
214
28-Ghost in the Shell 215
Man topos . The Laughing Man is a top-cl ass hacker, abl e to infltrate at
will not merely computers but human minds as wel l . His trademark l ogo,
hi s ski l l s, and his agenda have made him a l egend, but the questions of how
much is myth and how much i s fact quickly become the obj ect of heated
debate as new cases revolving around this enigmatic fgure start prolifer
ating.
The phrase "Stand Alone Complex" refers to the phenomenon whereby
independent entities are ostensibl y capabl e of engaging in coordinated
action due to the rapi d and nearly perfect fow of information i n the series'
cybernetic universe . "Tachikomas, " artifcial l y intel l igent minitanks, are
skillfully deployed as a counterpoint to this phenomenon. They synchro
nize perfectly with each other, sharing their experiences to such an extent
that they cannot even tel l which unit actually underwent the experience in
question. Yet, they are ostensibl y able to devel op a sense of i ndividual i ty
even though thi s was not i nitially a component of their programming. By
adopting the broader tapestry of a multi- episodic structure, the series is
more about Section 9 in its entirety than Maj or Kusanagi as an individual
agent. However, Kusanagi is stil l very much at the forefront in most of the
episodes and we are even allowed to capture some vague al l usions to her
otherwise unfathomabl e background -most notably in Episode 8 of the
frst seri es, "Missing Heart s . " In i ts engagement with a broader debate
regardi ng the ethics of organ replacement, organ harvesting, l ife extension
and cyberneti cs as a whole, the episode ell iptically ofers a rare look into
Kusanagi's past that hints at the possibility of her rebirth as a cybernetic
organism not having been entirel y a matter of free will or choice on her
part . At the same time, other characters deemed relativel y marginal to the
gist of Oshii's own plots are also given opportunity to develop throughout
the run .
As i n Oshii's features, however, what ul timately drives Stand Alone
Complex is neither an individual character nor sets of personae as such but
rather the expl orati on of the increasingl y hazy boundaries separat i ng
humanity and machines as the two become almost inextricably intertwined.
Each epi sode ofers a twisting and relatively self-contained story, whi l e con
currently relating in various ways to the complete arc, enabl ing the over
al l series to del iver a mil itary-pol itical technodrama with a dark,
cyberpunk-oriented metaphysical twist. Among the series' most profound
preoccupations are the issue of both personal and col l ective responsibility
in a thoroughl y networked worl d, and cognate concerns emanating from
the tension between nationalism and globalization.
Stand Alone Complex dramatizes the familiar cyberpunk themes of cor
porate manipulation and larceny, brain-hacking, organ theft and cl oning
(among several other related issues ) , occasional l y suppl ying gruesome
216 Part Four: HumanitylVirtuality
depictions of the body's i ntractabl e materi al i ty and graphi c remi nders of
i t s vul nerabi l i t y regardl ess of cybernetic enhancement. Echoi ng Oshi i 's
flms, the tel evi sion epi sodes make frequent references to i ntricate phil o
sophi cal conundrums. An i ntri gui ng i nstance i s ofered by "Meme"
( Epi sode 6, frst series ) , the narrative underpi nni ng of which i s the con
cept , promul gated by Richard Dawki ns i n The Selfsh Gene (1976) , that an
analogy obtai ns between the way in whi ch genes propagate themsel ves
across the gene pool and the way i n whi ch uni ts of cul tural i nformati on
( ideas, val ues, patterns of behavior) are transferred from one i ndi vi dual to
another by non-genetic means and principally by imitation.
A rather disturbi ng moti f -also pivotal , as we have seen, to Ghost in
the Shell 2: Innocence-i s articulated by Episode 7 in the frst run, "Idol
ater," where we are faced wi th the i dea that synthetic replicas of the human
body may be real i stical l y animated through the i nstal l ati on therei n of soul
l ike efgies. Indeed, as Kusanagi i nvestigates the case revol vi ng around the
seemi ngly immortal and ubiquitous revol utionary l eader Marcel o Jart i , the
maj or discovers that there are mul tipl e Jartis. I t eventual l y transpires that
these enti ti es have been created with the assi stance of a "ghost-dubbi ng"
machi ne -redol ent of the apparatus deployed in Innocence-capable of
copyi ng a person's "ghost" at wil l , and by impl anti ng numerous copi es t hus
obtained into a veritable swarm of cloned bodies.
Like Oshi i's Ghost in the Shell movies, Stand Alone Complex portrays'
several futuristic technol ogi es. Among these, an axial rol e is pl ayed by the
cyberbrai n, a product of revol utionary advancement i n the fel d of neural
augmentation technol ogy. The cyberbrai n resul ts from the implantation of
exceptionally sophi sticated electronic mechani sms directly into a person's
cerebrum, as a resul t of whi ch i nformati on-processi ng and mnemoni c
capaci ti es are exponentially enhanced. The i mpl anted subj ect , moreover,
becomes capabl e of ubiquitous access to digital networks, of wi rel ess com
munication -whi ch can simply be thought into exi stence - and of a for
midabl e knack of retri evi ng, digitizing and encrypti ng the most di sparate
data and sources. Stand Alone Complex also depicts both exhaustivel y and
convi nci ngly possibl e user i nterfaces for thi s technol ogy. Concurrently, the
potenti al disadvantages of neural augmentation are addressed wi th refer
ence to a fctional di sease, indigenous to the universe of the series, known
as "Cyberbrai n Closed Shel l Syndrome." The phrase designates a type of
autism occasi oned by cyberbrain i mplants.
Nanoscience and nanotechnology -branches of science and engi neer
i ng dedicated to the design and production of electroni c devi ces and c ir
cuits on the ultra- small scale of i ndividual atoms-also feature prominently
in the show's futurescape though they are not deemed to have devel oped,
by the year 2030, much beyond the experimental stage. As i n Oshi i 's fea-
28-Ghost in the Shell 217
tures, a key technology represented in the series is thermoptic camoufl age .
This enabl es both human members of Section 9 and their Tachikoma tanks
to activate a stealth system whereby they can bl end in almost seamlessly
with their surroundings . However, though virtual l y invisibl e to the naked
eye and undetectabl e by radars and infrared sensors, the system is yet to be
perfected for it cannot compensate for abrupt changes in lighting and
atmospheric conditions and for especially calamitous impacts . !
Notions of identity, individuality and interaction are central to the
series, and are typical l y articulated with consistent reference to the rol e
played by memory i n the genesis and shaping of subj ectivity. Frequent al l u
sions are made to the possibility of a person's-or machine's-mnemonic
faculties being either erased or transferred from one entity to another, and
to the feasibl e efects of such practices on the defnition of sel fhood and per
sonality. For exampl e, in Episode 18 of the frst series, "Lost Heritage, " a
boy is impl anted with the memories of his father. The impl ant radical l y
alters his mental functions, leading him to attempt to assassinate a foreign
dignitary: an act that neither the father nor the son in themselves woul d
have ever contemplated. The series repeatedl y intimates that identity is
inseparabl e from the omnipresent fow of information in the digital age
and, by implication, from the media and apparatuses through which t his
fow is generated, divul ged and ( often nefariously) edited.
The animation i s crisp and polished: the backgrounds are meticul ousl y
executed, and the character designs efective -al though the panty- cl ad
maj or may come across as rather too gratuitous a concession to a potential
spectatorship of horny teenagers . Yoko Kanno's soundtrack compl ements
ideal l y the series' overall tenor, and the opening theme "Inner Universe, "
in particul ar, constitutes a fel icitous match for the trippy mood of the
entirely computer- generated visual prel ude that introduces each episode.
The background music is where Kanno's soundtrack shines forth in its ful l
colors, contributing a sense of pathos and even gravitas to the action with
out ever degenerating into noisy pretentiousness .
Stand Alone Complex bears eloquent witness to the accumulated skil l s
and profciency of the Production I .G team, incorporating al l the l essons
l earnt in the execution of the Ghost in the Shell features, as well as other
fl ms produced in the years separating the two. The tel evision episodes are
arguabl y less moody than Oshii's flms where the animation style is con
cerned, pres umably in keeping with the requirements of the medium
through which they have been disseminated and especial l y with a TV audi
ence's general preference for action- oriented shows over sustained verbal
cogitation. However, the attention to detail is rarel y short of spectacul ar in
the rendition of the tiniest architectural , ornamental and vestimentary el e
ments . Furthermore, the consistent employment of depth- of- fel d shots, of
218 Part Fou: HumanitylVirtuality
di gitall y generated chromatic gradi ng and environmental efects, and of
cel-shaded computer models contributes vital l y t o the vi sual impact of the
entire tel evi sual package. As Rob Li neberger has poi nted out, "[iJ f the devi l
i s i n the detai l s, consider Stand Alone Complex angel i c. The bl acks are deep
and the colours are rich, but the seri es mai ntai ns a real i stic palette. The
animation i s glossy, smooth, and bright. If you took Blood: The Last Vam
pire's l ush vi suals and wrapped them around four solid stori es, you'd get
Stand Alone Complex . . .. When Stand Alone Complex i s qui et, you pi ck up
on many subtle detail s that sel l the environment. When it i s l oud, you're
rocked out of your seat" ( Li neberger). Ultimately, the series' cumul atively
elegant rhythms resul t precisely from the dexterousl y bal anced alternati on
of those two contrastive modal ities.
The rumi nati ons that generously garnish Oshi i's ci nemati c fare tend
to be replaced, i n the show, by sequences that encapsul ate Shirow's vi sion
i n dynamic action rather than dial ogue. Oshi i 's predi l ection for stationary
moments of refection can nonethel ess be detected in Episode 9 of the frst
series, "Chat Chat Chat, " which revolves around a group of characters si t
ti ng in a virtual room conversing with one other, and hence consi sts entirely
of rapid-fre dialogue. Moreover, the existential concerns articul ated in the
Ghost in the Shell features remain poignantly pervasive throughout Stand
Alone Complex: the shi ft i s i n emphasi s, not substance. To thi s extent, the
series does ful l j ustice to Oshi i 's l egacy on the conceptual plane even where
it styli stically departs from hi s disti nctive tone.
29
Post-Innocence
Developments
Oshii's most recent projects have enl isted all the various facets of his
multifarious expertise, involving him in script writing, direction and mul
timedia design. I n the frst capacity, he has been engaged in penning the
screenplay for Kenta Fukusaku's Eru no Ran ( Production I . G) , a flm based
on the 1990 riots that took place in the Kamagasaki district of Osaka, involv
ing brutal confrontations between workers and the police . ' In the second,
Oshii has returned once more to the directorial chair to execute the l ive
action feature Tachigui - The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters
(Tachiguishi Retsuden). Executed by Production LG and due for rel ease in
Japan in spring 2006, the flm is based on the original novel written by Oshii
himsel f and published in serial format between 2000 and 2003. The presi
dent of Studio Ghibl i Toshio Suzuki, once before employed in a l ive-action
Oshii production - namely Killers: .50 Woman-also appears in this flm. 2
It was at one stage rumored, incidental ly, that Oshii woul d be animating
Tachiguishi Retsuden by recourse to stick-and-paper puppets, the technique
deployed in the production of Minipato towards which Oshii professedl y
harbors a marked attraction. 3
As noted in the overview of the flm ofered by the ofcial Production
I . G Web site, "This project attracted numerous prominent fgures from
diferent genres, visual , SF, animation, who have al l come together to share
a vision and take part in the flm, incl uding Japan's top producer, Toshio
Suzuki of Studio Ghibli" ("Tachigui: Overview" ) . Tachigui, a term that l it
erally designates the concept of "standing and eating" and may be roughl y
translated into English as "fast food, " has been a long-standing source of
fascination for Oshii. I n the live- action fl m The Red Spectacles, for exam
pl e, he deployed this theme to unique dramatic efect by turning it into a
political metaphor, and by specifcally associating the country's enslave
ment to an increasingly totalitarian regime with the promulgation of laws
intended to stife convivial ity -and hence the danger of seditiousness-by
prohibiting the consumption of meals by seated groups of peopl e in pub-
219
220 Part Four: Humanity/Virtuality
l i c, and by strictly l i miting the range of popular fast-food di shes avai l abl e,
wi th crucial repercussi ons for a burgeoni ng fast-food bl ack market. The
same theme al so pl ays a promi nent part i n the short live-acti on fl m Killers:
.50 Woman, where a seemi ngly endl ess provi si on of snacks of pluri-cul i
nary provenance constitutes the most assiduous and compel l i ng screen pres
ence throughout.
Oshi i bel i eves that tachigui in Japan is not only a ubi qui tous commod
i ty, encompassi ng both Western i mports and i ndi genous products, but
al so-more i mportantly -a cul tural marker whose evol uti on over t i me
throws l ight on t he country's socioeconomic hi story. By focusi ng on t he
Tachiguishi, or Fast Food Gri fters, t he heroes of an as yet uncharted hi story
of Japan stretchi ng from the i mmediate aftermath of the Second World War
through the protest movement of the 1960s to the eve of the Bubble econ
omy, Oshi i's fl m ofers a novel take on the di sci pl i ne of hi storiography.
The characters i ncl ude the l egendary Fast Food Gri fter Tsuki mi Gi nji
(who al so features in The Red Spectacles as a character wi th hi ghl y dubi ous
ethi cal credenti al s) ; the beautiful Fast Food Gri fter l ady Kitsune Croquette
O-Gi n; Col d Tanuki Masa, whose notorious end draws the publ i c's atten
tion to the existence of Fast Food Gri fters i n Japanese soci ety; and Ham
burger Tetsu, responsi bl e for rocki ng t he whol e Ameri can fast food
i ndustry.4 As the aforementioned Production I . G site states, the "Fast Food
Grifters are the phantoms that rise and fall with the shifti ng di et-styles. They
are the di ssenti ng heroes that l eft their names on the dark side of di etary
cul ture with thei r glare. Now their l egend revives, strong as ever. "
I n t he third capaci ty mentioned above, Oshi i has contributed to t he
Japan Expo 2005 hel d i n the Ai chi i Prefecture and devoted to "Nature's
Wisdom." Oshi i's i nstallation deserves notice, i n this parti cul ar context,
both as an artwork in i ts own right and as testi mony to Oshi i 's ecopol i ti cs.
I ndeed, the Expo constitutes the frst post-Kyoto i ni tiative to have mobi
l i zed di sparate i ndustrial sectors on an i nternational scal e i n the promul
gati on of a posi ti vel y green agenda, engagi ng wi th the repercussi ons of
globalizati on and of t he evolution of i nformation and communi cation net
works upon the natural environment, and documenti ng the pursui t of a sus
tai nable and choral coexistence of al l natural forms.s
Consideri ng that Oshi i 's focus has gradually progressed from political
i ssues regardi ng mi l itari sm, technological mi sappropriation and economi c
i niqui ty towards an unsenti mental study of the meani ng and boundari es
of humanity i tsel f, hi s recent concentration on the viabi l i ty of t he concept
of envi ronmental bal ance seems a perfectly l ogi cal development wi thi n the
soci oethical trajectory of hi s oeuvre. I n the handl i ng of thi s project, no l ess
than i n the direction of both ani mated and l ive-action fl ms, Oshi i evi nces
once agai n a penchant for di sarmingly l uci d presentation and i mpeccabl e
29-Post-Innocence Developments 221
design. I n view of its fel i citous combi nation of thematic, styl i stic and tech
nical traits that coul d be deemed pi votal to Oshi i 's output i n i ts enti rety, a
brief evaluation of thi s particular project therefore seems an apposi te exit
point for thi s study.
Oshi i's task consi sted of creati ng the concepts and supervisi ng al l the
desi gns for one of the zones of the pavil ion named "Mountai n of Dreams, "
wherei n several compani es sought to deploy thei r i nnovative, cutti ng-edge
tool s and methodol ogi es to cel ebrate the i nteractions of Nature, sci ence,
craftsmanship and technol ogy. The pavil ion's overal l missi on was phrased
as fol l ows by i ts organizers and sponsors:
The 20th century mainly progressed as a human-centered quest for ever-greater
efciency of living. As a result, the Earth's natural environment has been severely
damaged. The most important mission for humanity in the 21st century is to
solve this problem and restore the Earth to its splendour. This issue must be
addressed on a global scale.6
Oshi i 's parti cul ar zone, "Open Your Mi nd," featured the frst Experi
ential Video Space to be di splayed at an i nternati onal exhi bition. I t used
one of the world's largest floor vi deo screens ( compri si ng ni nety-si x 50-
i nch monitors and measuri ng approximately 600 m2), enabl i ng vi si tors to
walk through an experi enti al space and to modi fy at wi l l thei r vi sual per
spective. The video i mages themselves i ntegrated computer graphi cs and
l ive-acti on footage of the natural world, and were projected si mul taneously
not onl y on the gi gantic foor screen but al so on huge moni tors placed both
on the wal l s and overhead. As i n Oshi i's most famous ci nematic produc
tions, so i n "Open Your Mi nd," the overal l atmosphere owed much of its
uni queness to Kenji Kawai 's i nspired audio accompani ment.
As argued i n the course of this book, Oshii's ani me producti ons con
si stently hark back to traditional motifs embedded i n Japanese history and
l ore. Likewise, the design used i n the context of the Expo sought to capture
the flavor of a time-honored l egacy by evoking the i mage of Mt. Fuji as a
symbol of Japan and, specifcally, by echoi ng its representati on in the wood
block pri nt "Red Fuji," executed by Katsushika Hokusai in the Edo period.
Thi s same historical era, moreover, is laden with symbol i c connotati ons of
direct relevance to the spirit of the Expo i n virtue of its commitment to the
harmoni ous coexistence of human beings and all other forms of l i fe .
+++
Oshi i 's anime-alongside live-action productions explicitly i nspired by
ani me's visual rhetoric - serve to remi nd us as powerful l y as that art form
has hi therto been capable of doi ng that ani mation i s not onl y a means of
222 Part Four: Humanity/Virt ual ity
bri ngi ng a fantasy world i nto existence but also a means of compel l i ng us
to l ook at our own world diferently. I ndeed, i ts goal i s arguably not to
recreate reality but rather to communicate a view of reality. The perspectives
conveyed by the fl ms here exami ned encompass diverse reality levels that
i nvite comparabl y mani fol d audience responses. The i ntri ns i c mul ti
accentual ity of Oshi i 's ci nema i s largel y a corollary of hi s most di sti nctive
characters' psychol ogical and emotional complexity. I ndeed, Oshi i 's works
del iver a varied gall ery of arti fcial repl ications of humanity that ul ti matel y
serves as a specul ative, even vi sionary, commentary on the nature of tech
nol ogy's potenti al desti nati ons and of the paths whi ch human bei ngs may
tread in their pursuit.
However, the di rector's refecti ons on synthetic humanity do not
merely constitute futuristic hypotheses of the ki nd one habitually encoun
ters i n sci ence fction fl m and fction. I n fact, they al so-and more i ntrigu
i ngly - point to ontol ogical and epistemological concerns of an emi nently
existentialist character, i nviting us to ponder what i magi nary depi cti ons of
artifci al humani ty may tel l us about actual human bei ngs-about what we
are, and how we might come to know what we are. Above al l , Oshi i per
sistentl y draws attention to the anthropocentric thrust i nherent in the urge
obdurately evi nced by human bei ngs to repl i cate themsel ves, i ntimati ng
that the desire to fll the world with humanoi d entiti es-and i ndeed to
i nvest non-human ani mal s with anthropomorphi c connotations -does not
stem from some god-given strength but from a fatal weakness and the con
comitant need to compensate for such a fai l i ng.
By dissemi nati ng efgies of humani ty across the gl obe ( and, ideal ly, the
cosmos' countl ess galaxies) , humans desperately endeavor to pl ug the gaps
which they themselves, i n their natural forms, are quite at a l oss to tackle.
Those gaps consist of lacunae i n our grasp of humanity's place in a by and
l arge unchartabl e universe. What renders them especially menaci ng i s the
ever l i ngeri ng fear that if it is the case - as various devel opments in mod
ern sci ence have sought to demonstrate -that the natural world i s an ensem
bl e of i nteracti ng and i nterreacti ng el ements comparabl e to the cogs and
wheel s of a machi ne, there i s no i ncontrovertibly rel iable way of provi ng that
human bei ngs are not mechanical , too. As we incessantl y populate the planet
wi th replicas of humanity, we thus endeavor to keep at bay the twi n specters
of what we do not know and what we do not want to know.
Where Hollywood cartoons tend to foster the doctri ne of anthropocen
tris m by i nsi stently capitali zi ng on the charm of creatures such as cute talk
i ng ani mals, l i vi ng toys and danci ng tabl eware ( to mention but a handful
of exampl es ) , Oshi i 's movi es take their audiences i nto alterative real ities
that are patentl y dominated by neither humans nor humani sm. At ti mes,
Oshi i seemi ngly i nvests non-human fgures with quasi-human facul ti es and
29-Post-Innocence Developments 223
proclivi ti es . Thus, we encounter otherworldly demons ( Urusei Yatsura),
hyperskil l ed cyberdogs (Dallas), Lcha-based automata (Patlabor), dol l s
(Ghost i n the Shell and i ts sequel ) , and deepl y sensi t ive basset hounds
(Avalon and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence). However, what di rects t he nar
rative i s not a yearni ng to tame the natural world by translating i t i nto an
array of approximations to humanity. I n fact, what Oshi i 's flms consistently
communicate i s a profound and not seldom pai ned sense of empathy wi th
Nature's countl ess mani festations and with thei r own di st i nctive forms of
consci ousness and al i veness.
I n resorti ng to the medi um and language of ani mati on, whi ch consti
tutionally depends for i ts very existence on the constructi on of art i fcial
creat ures, and further emphasi zi ng the trope of syntheti c humani t y by
recourse to robots, cyberneti c organi sms, mecha sui ts, hybri ds and al i ens,
Oshi i 's ci nema encourages us to observe these fgures' constructedness and
to refect on how they have been brought i nto bei ng by ani mators and tech
nicians . In so doi ng, i t i mpl i ci tl y remi nds us that we, too, are in some way
constructed -by the cul ture we i nhabi t, by the language we speak and are
spoken by, and i ndeed by the codes and conventi ons of the entertai nment
i ndustry i tsel f, ani me i ncluded.
It is, arguably, i n accordance wi th a subconscious apprehension of this
essential ki nshi p that audiences are able to identify with the artifcial bei ngs
portrayed by Oshii i n varying degrees, and to empathize with their ideals, mi s
givi ngs and fears . Regardless of whether one i nitially approaches cyborgs such
as Major Kusanagi or Batou, or human-machi ne composites such as the Ker
beros agents of the Patlabor corps as heroic models or shri nks from them as
eerie monsters, the identifcation process is likely to occur, albeit subl imi nally.
This is largely attributable to the fact that even at their most self-possessed
and ostensibly i mpregnabl e, those characters are i nvariably tormented by
doubts and anxi eti es concerni ng their identities and their duti es, and thus
echo, allegorically, the qui ntessentially human afictions discussed earlier.
Oshi i 's assi duous revi si ti ng of thi s nexus of ideas, alongside cognate
concerns of a pol itical and phi l osophi cal nature, el oquently attests to the
director's determi ned refutation of the stereotypi cal notion that ani mated
fl ms are kids' stuf. In addition, the conceptual range of Oshi i 's produc
ti ons i s complicated by their tenaci ous defance of i nfexible bi nary oppo
si ti ons at the level of characterization, as a resul t of which the protagoni sts
and thei r foes are never pri mly categori zed wi th reference to doxasti c
defni ti ons of good and evi l but are actually i mbued wi th credi bl e doses of
each. For Oshi i , strict cl assifcations are i ncongruously preemptive i n a per
vasively networked universe which, as the character of Maj or Kusanagi states
i n the cl osi ng frames of Ghost in the Shell is, quite uncompromi si ngl y, "vast
and i nfnite . "
Filmography
Pl ease note t he fol l owi ng desi gnati ons of Oshi i 's contri buti on ( i n
diverse capaci ti es) t o each flm:
D Director
w Wri ter
P Producer
c Concept Designer or Plot-Sketchi ng Advisor
L, Y
Angel's Egg ( 1985) . Original Titl e: Tenshi no Tamago. Status: Ori gi nal
Vi deo Ani mation. Di rector: Mamoru Oshi i . Origi nal Story: Oshi i , Yoshi
taka Amano. Screenpl ay: Oshi i . Producers: Hiroshi Hasegawa, Masao
Kobayashi , Mi tsunori Mi ura, Yutaka Wada. Executive Producer: Yasuyoshi
Tokuma. Production Companies: Tokuma Shoten, Studio DEEN. Musi c:
Yoshi hiro Kanno. Length: 71 mi nut es. Ani mati on Director: Yasuhi ro
Nakura. Art Directors: Lee Hyun Se, Shichiro Kobayashi , Yoshi taka Amano.
Character Designer: Yoshitaka Amano. Sound Director: Shi geharu Shi ba.
Avalon ( 2001 ) . Ori gi nal Titl e: Abaron. Status: Live-Acti on Feature Fil m.
Director: Mamoru Oshi i . Screenplay: Kazunori I toh. Producer: Atsushi
Kubo. Co-Producer: Shi n Unozawa. Executive Producers: Naoyuki Sak
agami , Toru Shiobara, Shigeru Watanabe . Production Compani es: Bandai
Medi a, Dentsu, Nippon Heral d Fi l ms, Inc . Musi c: Kenji Kawai . Length: 106
mi nut es . Art Desi gner: Tanake Watabe . Di gi tal Art Director: Hiroyuki
Hayashi . Producti on Desi gner: Barbara Nowak. Ci nematography: Grze
gorz Kedzierski . Vi sual Efects Supervi sor: Nobuaki Koga. Mechani cal
Desi gner: Atsushi Takeuchi . Sound Di rector: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi . Cast:
Malgorzata Foremni ak (Ash) , Wl adyslaw Kowal ski (Game Master) , Jerzy
Gudejko ( Murphy) , Dariusz Biskupski ( Bi shop) , Bartek Swiderski ( St un
ner) , Katarzyna Bargi el owska (Receptioni st) .
Blood+ ( 2005 ) . Origi nal Titl e: Blood+. Status: Ani mated TV Seri es. Di rec
tor: Juni chi Fujisaku. Ori gi nal Story: Production LG/Ani pl ex. Co-Pl anner:
Oshi i . Production Compani es: Production I . G/MBS/Ani pl ex. Musi c: Mark
Mancina. Ani mation Director: Akiharu Ishi i . Art Di rector: Juni chi Higashi .
225
226 fil mography
Character Designer: Chizu Hashii. CGI Director: Makoto Endo. Mechan
ical Design: Kenji Teraoka. Director of Photography: Koj i Tanaka. Col our
Designer: Yumiko Katayama.
Blood: The Last Vampire ( 2000) . Original Titl e : Blood: The Last Vam
pi re. Status: Animated Feature Fil m. Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Origi
nal Story: Production I.G, Team Oshii ( Visual Concept ) . Screenpl ay: Kenji
Kamiyama. Producers: Ryuji Mitsumoto, Yukio Nagasaki. Executive Pro
ducer: Mamoru Oshii. Production Companies : SPE Visual Works, Sony
Computer Ent ertainment , Production I.G, I PA. Music : Yoshihiro I ke.
Length: 48 minut es. Animation Director: Shinji Takagi. Art Direct or:
Yusuke Takeda. Character Designer: Katsuya Terada. CGI Director: Toku
mitsu Kifune. Sound Director: Keiichi Momose. Col our Designer: Katsue
Inoue.
Dallos ( 1983-84) . Original Titl e : Darossu. Status: Original Video Anima
tion. Director: Mamoru Oshii. Screenplay: Hisayuki Toriumi. Production
Companies: Pierrot Project Co. , Ltd., Bandai, Yomiuri. Music : Hiroyuki
Nanba, Ichiro Nitta. Length: 30 minutes x 4 episodes. Animation Director:
Toshiyasu Okada. Art Director: Mitsuyoshi Nakamura. Character Designer:
Toshiyasu Okada. Mechanical design: Masaharu Satou. Sound director:
Shigeharu Shiba.
l
Ghost in the Shell ( 1 995 ) . Original Titl e : Koukaku Kidoutai . Status : Ani
mated Feature Film. Director: Mamoru Oshii. Original Story: Masamune
Shirow. Screenpl ay: Kazunori Ito. Producers : Yoshimasa Mizuo, Ken Mat
sumoto, Ken Iyadomi, Mitsuhisa I shikawa. Executive Producers : Teruo
Miyahara, Shigeru Watanabe, Andy Frain. Production Company: Produc
tion I.G. Music : Kenji Kawai. Length: 80 minutes. Animation Director:
Toshihiko Nishikubo. Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura. Character Designer:
Hiroyuki Okiura. Mechanical Designers : Shoji Kawamori, Atsushi
Takeuchi. Weaponry Designer: Mitsuo I so. Sound Director: Kazuhiro Wak
abayashi. Col our Designer: Kumiko Yusa.
l W
G
host in the Shell 2: Innocence ( 2003 ) . Original Titl e : Koukaku Kid
outai 2: Inosensu. Status: Animated Feature Fil m. Director: Mamoru Oshii.
Original Story: Masamune Shirow. Screenplay: Oshii. Producer: Mitsuhisa
Ishikawa. Executive Producer: Toshio Suzuki. Production Company: Pro
duction I . G. Co-Production Company: Studio Ghibl i. Music : Kenj i Kawai.
Length: 99 minutes. Animation Directors : Toshihiko Nishikubo, Naoko
Kusumi. Art Director: Shuichi Hirata. Character Designer: Hiroyuki
Okiura. CGI Director: Hiroyuki Hayashi. Machine and Vehicl e Designer:
Atsushi Takeuchi. Sound Director: Randy Thor. Colour Designer: Kumiko
Yusa.
Filmography 227
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex ( 2002-2004) . Origi nal Titl e:
Koukaku Kidoutai: Stand Alone Com
p
lex. Status: Ani mated TV Series. Direc
tor: Kenji Kamiyama. Original Story: Shirow Masamune. Screenplays: Kenji
Kamiyama, Shotaro Suga, Yoshi ki Sakurai , Dai Sato, J uni chi Fuji saku,
Nobuhi sa Terada. Vi sual Concept: Mamoru Oshi i (2nd "gi g" ) . Pl ot
Sketchi ng Advi sor: Oshi i (2nd "gig" ) . Executi ve Producers: Mi tsuhi sa
Ishikawa, Shigeru Watanabe. Production Company: Production I.G. Musi c:
Yoko Kanno. Length: 30 mi nutes x 26 epi sodes. Ani mati on Di rectors:
Takayuki Goto, Masahiro Sato, Kyoji Asano, Aki hi sa Maeda, Ken' i chi Yam
aguchi , Jyun Uemura. Art Di rector: Yusuke Takeda. Chi ef Character
Designer: Makoto Shi momura. Mechanical Desi gners: Kenji Teraoka, Shi
nobu Tsuneki . CGI Di rector: Makoto Endo. Sound Efects: Dai suke Ji nbo.
Col our Desi gner: Yumiko Katayama.
`
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998) . Original Titl e: Jin-Roh. Status: Ani
mated Feature Fi l m. Director: Hiroyuki Oki ura. Ori gi nal Story: Mamoru
Oshi i. Screenplay: Oshi i . Producers: Mi noru Takanashi , Hi dekazu Ter
akawa. Executive Producers: Mi tsuhi sa Ishi kawa, Shi geru Watanabe. Pro
duction Company: Production I.G. Musi c: Haji me Mizoguchi . Length: 98
mi nutes. Ani mation Director: Kenji Kami yama. Art Director: Hi romasa
Ogura. Character Designer: Ni shio Tetsuya. Weaponry Designer: Kazuchika
Kise. Vehi cl e Designer: Sadafumi Hiramatsu. Sound Director: Kazuhi ro
Wakabayashi. Col our Desi gner: Yumiko Katayama.
Killers: . 50 Woman (2002) . Origi nal Titl e: Killers: . 50 Woman. Status:
Live-Acti on Short Fi l m (in a 5- epi sode anthol ogy) . Director: Mamoru
Oshi i . Ant hol ogy Co-Directors: Kazuhi ro Ki uchi , Shundo Ohkawa,
Takanori Tsujimoto, Shuji Kawata. Length: 1 1 5 mi nutes (overal l ) .
`
Minipato ( 2001 ) . Origi nal Titl e: Mi ni
p
ato. Status: Ani mated Shorts (3
epi sodes ) . Di rector: Kenji Kami yama. Ori gi nal Story: Mamoru Oshi i .
Screenpl ay: Oshi i . Producers: Atsushi Sugita, Masahiro Fukushi ma, Ryuji
Mi moto. Producti on Compani es: Bandai Visual , Producti on I.G. Musi c:
Kenji Kawai. Length: 1 2 mi nutes. Ani mation Di rector: Ni shi o Tetsuya. Art
Di rector: Hirosama Ogura. Character Desi gner: Ni shi o Tetsuya. Sound
di rector: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi . Colour Desi gner: Nagi sa Yasube.
Mobile Police Patlabor, OVA 1 ( 25 April 1 988-25 June 1 989) . Origi nal
Titl e: Kidou Keisatsu Patoreibaa. Status: Ori gi nal Vi deo Ani mation. Direc
tor: Mamoru Oshi i . Original Story: Masami Yuuki. Screenpl ay: Kazunori
Itoh. Production Company: Sunri se. Musi c: Kenji Kawai . Character
Designer: Akemi Takada. Mechanical Desi gner: Yutaka I zubuchi.
`
Mobile Police Patlabor, OVA 2 (22 November 1990-23 April 1 992) . Orig
i nal Titl e: Kidou Keisatsu Patoreibaa. Status: Ori gi nal Video Ani mation.
228 Filmography
Director: Various . Ori gi nal Story: Masami Yuuki . Screenpl ay: Vari ous;
Mamoru Oshi i: Episodes 7, 8, 10, 1 3. Production Company: Sunri se. Musi c:
Kenji Kawai. Character Designer: Akemi Takada. Mechani cal Desi gners:
Yutaka I zubuchi, Yoshi nori Sayama.
`
Mobile Police Patlabor TV Seri es (1 1 October 1 989-26 September 1 990) .
Ori gi nal Ti t l e: Kidou Keisatsu Patoreibaa. Status: Ani mat ed TV Seri es .
Director: Naoyuki Yoshi nori. Original Story: Headgear. Screenplay: Vari
ous; Mamoru Oshi i : Epi sodes 3, 9, 14, 29, 38. Production Company: Sun
rise . Musi c: Kenji Kawai . Character Designer: Akemi Takada. Mechani cal
Desi gners: Yutaka Izubuchi, Yoshi nori Sayama.

Patlabor 1: The Mobile Police (1989) . Ori ginal Titl e: Kidou Keisatsu Pator
eibaa. Status: Ani mated Feature Fi l m. Di rector: Mamoru Oshi i . Ori gi nal
Story: Masami Yuuki . Screenplay: Kazunori Itoh. Producers: Shi n Unozawa,
Taro Maki , Makoto Kubo. Producti on Company: Producti on I . G Tat
sunoko. Music: Kenji Kawai . Length: 98 mi nutes. Ani mati on Di rectors:
Koji Sawai, Kakuchika Kise . Art Directors: Hiromasa Ogura, Hiroaki Sato,
Hiroyuki Mi t sumot o. Character Designer: Akemi Takada. Mechani cal
Desi gners: Yutaka I zubuchi . Sound Director: Shigeharu Zanza. Col our
Desi gners: Sayuri I ke, Masatsugu Arakawa.

Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993 ) . Original Title: Kidou Keisatsu Patoreibaa:


The Movie 2. Status: Ani mated Feature Fi l m. Director: Mamoru Oshi i . Orig
i nal Story: Masami Yuuki . Screenplay: Kazunori Itoh, Oshi i . Producers:
Shi n Unozawa, Tsuyoshi Hamawatari, Mitsuhi sa I shi kawa. Executive Pro
ducers: Tetsu Uemura, Makoto Yamashina. Producti on Company: Produc
tion I.G Tatsunoko. Music: Kenji Kawai . Length: 1 1 3 mi nut es. Ani mati on
Di rectors: Toshi hiko Nishikubo, Kakuchi ka Ki se. Art Di rector: Hiromasa
Ogura. Character Desi gners: Akemi Takada, Masami Yuuki . Mechani cal
Desi gner: Shouji Kawamori, Yutaka I zubuchi , Hajime Katoki . Sound Direc
tor: Naoko Asari. Colour Designer: Kumiko Yusa.
Patlabor WXIII: Movi e 3 ( 2002 ) . Ori gi nal Ti t l e: WX3: Kidou Keisatsu
Patoreibaa. Status: Ani mated Feature Fi l m. Di rector: Fumi hiko Takayama.
Ori gi nal Story: Masami Yuuki. Screenplay: Mi ki Tori. Producers: Ats ushi
Sugita, Masahiro Fukushi ma. Executive Producers: Kazumi Kawashiro, Kei
ichi Kosaka, Shigeru Watanabe . Producti on Compani es: Bandai Vi sual ,
HEADGEAR, Madhouse Studios, Production I . G. Music: Kenj i Kawai .
Length: 1 07 mi nut es . Ani mati on Di rector: Takuj i Endo. Art Di rect or:
Takashi Watabe. Character Designer: Hiroki Takagi . Mechani cal Desi gn
ers: Shouji Kawamori, Yutaka I zubuchi, Haji me Katoki . Sound Director:
Toshi ki Kameyama.
Filmography 229
l, V
The Red Spectacles (1987) . Ori gi nal Titl e: Akai Megane. Status: Live
Acti on Feat ure Fil m. Di rector: Mamoru Oshi i . Ori gi nal Story: Oshi i .
Screenplay: Kazunori I t oh, Mamoru Oshi i . Producers: Daisuke Hayashi ,
Shigeharu Shiba. Production Company: Bandai Visual. Musi c: Kenj i Kawai.
Length: 1 16 mi nutes. Ci nematography: Yousuke Mamiya. Sound Efects:
Yasufumi Yoda. Cast: Shigeru Chiba ( Koi chi Todome) , Machiko Washi o
(Mi dori Washi o) , Hideyuki Tanaka ( Soi chi ro Toribe ) .
l, W
Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1 99 1 ) . Ori gi nal Ti tl e : Stray Dog
Keruberosu Jigoku no Banken. Status: Live-Action Feature Fi l m. Di rector:
Mamoru Oshi i . Ori gi nal Story: Oshi i . Screenplay: Oshi i . Producers: Sum
i aki Veno, Dai suke Hayashi . Executive Producers: Shi geru Watanabe,
Noboru Yamada. Production Company: Bandai Visual. Musi c: Kenj i Kawai .
Length: 95 mi nutes. Ci nematography: Yousuke Mamiya. Model Production
Art Director: Hisashi Yasui. Weapon Efects: Kikuo Notomi . "Protect-Gear"
Desi gner: Yutaka I zubuchi . Sound Director: Naoko Asari . Cast: Shigeru
Chiba (Koi chi Todome) , Yoshikazu Fujiki (lnui ) , Takashi Matsuyama (Man
in White) , Eaching Sue ( Tang Mi e) .
l

W
Tachigui -The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (2006) . Orig
inal Titl e: Tachiguishi retsuden. Status: Live-Action Feature Fi l m. Director:
Mamoru Oshi i . Original Story: Oshi i . Screenpl ay: Oshi i . Executive Pro
ducer: Mi tsuhi sa I shikawa. Production Company: Producti on l.G. Musi c:
Kenj i Kawai. Length: 100 mi nutes. Cast: Mako Hyoudou (Ki tsunecroquette
no Ogi n) , Mi tsuhi sa Ishi kawa ( Nageki no I numaru) , Kenj i Kawai ( Ham
burger no Tet su) , Katsuya Terada (Frankfurt no Tatsu) .
l

W
Talking Head (1992) . Ori gi nal Titl e: Talking Head. Status: Live-Acti on
Feature Fi l m. Di rector: Mamoru Oshi i . Origi nal Story: Oshi i . Screenplay:
Oshi i . Producers: Hiroki Miyagawa, Shi n Vnozawa. Executi ve Producers:
Katsuj i Murakami , Kyoi chi Mori . Production Company: Bandai Vi sual .
Musi c: Kenj i Kawai . Length: 1 05 mi nutes. Ci nematography: Yosuke
Mami ya. Ani mation Director: Yoshi nori Kanada. Art Director: Hidefumi
Hanaya. Sound Di rector: Masashi Iwahashi . Cast : Shi geru Chi ba ( I ) ,
Tomoko I shi mura ( Tamiko) , Fumi hiko Tachi ki ( Handawara) .
l
Twilight Q2: Labyrinth Objects File 538 (1 987) . Ori gi nal Ti t l e:
Towai rato Q2: Meikyuu Bukken File 538. Status: Ori gi nal Video Ani mati on
( I epi sode ) . Di rector: Mamoru Oshi i . Ori gi nal Story: Oshi i . Scenari o:
Kazunori Ito. Producti on Company: Studio DEEN. Length: 25 mi nutes.
Ani mati on Di rector: Shi nj i Otsuka. Character Design: Akemi Takada.
l
U
rusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautifl Dreamer (1984) . Original Ti tl e: Uru
sei Yatsura: Byuutifuru Dori maa. Status: Ani mated Feature Fi l m. Director:
Mamoru Oshi i . Ori gi nal Story: Rumi ko Takahashi . Screenplay: Mamoru
230 Fil mography
Oshi i . Producer: Hiroshi Hasegawa. Executive Producer: Hi denori Taga.
Production Compani es: Kitty Fi l ms, TOHO. Musi c: Katsu Hoshi . Length:
90 mi nutes. Ani mation Directors: Yuuji Moriyama, Kazuo Yamazaki . Art
Director: Shichiro Kobayashi . Character Designer: Kazuo Yamazaki . Sound
Director: Shigeharu Shiba.
Urusei Yatsura Movie 4: Lum the Forever ( 1 986) . Ori gi nal Ti t l e: Urusei
Yatsura: Ramu za fouebaa. Status: Animated Feature Fi l m. Di rector: Kazuo
Yamazaki . Ori gi nal Story: Rumiko Takahashi . Screenplay: Toshi ki I noue,
Kazuo Yamazaki . Producers: Hiroshi Hasegawa, Yoko Matsushi ta. Execu
ti ve Producer: Hi denori Taga. Production Company: Kitty Fi l ms . Musi c:
Fumi Itakura. Length: 93 mi nutes . Ani mation Director: Tsukasa Dokit e .
Art Di rector: Torao Arai . Character Designer: Akemi Takada. Sound Di rec
tor: Shi geharu Shi ba. Col our Desi gners: Sadako Yonemura, Yuko
Nishikawa.

Urusei Yatsura Movie 1: Only You ( 1 983 ) . Original Ti tl e: Urusei Yatsura:


Onri Yuu. Status: Ani mated Feature Fi l m. Director: Mamoru Oshi i . Orig
i nal Story: Rumiko Takahashi . Screenpl ay: Tomoko Komparu. Producer:
Yuuj i Nunokawa. Executive Producer: Hi denori Taga. Production Compa
ni es: Fuji Fi l m, Kitty Fi l ms . Musi c: I zumi Kobayashi , Fumi taka Anzai ,
Kohj i Ni shi mura, Masami chi Amano. Length: 1 01 mi nut es . Ani mati on
Di rectors: Katsumi Aoshi ma, Endo Yuichi , Magoi chi Takazawa. Art Direc
tors: Arai Torao, Shi chi ro Kobayashi . Character Designers: Akemi Takada,
Magoi chi Takazawa. Mechani cal Desi gner: Masahi to Yamashi ta. Sound
Director: Shigeharu Shiba. Colour Desi gner: Chi eko Ishi guro.

Urusei Yatsura TV Series ( 1 4 October 1 981-1 9 March 1 986 ) . Ori gi nal


Ti tl e: Urusei Yatsura ("Those Obnoxious Al i ens" ) . Status: Ani mated TV
Seri es . Directors: Mamoru Oshi i , Kazuo Yamazaki ; Oshi i: Season 2 ,
Episodes 22-43 ( 1982 ) , Season 3, Episodes 44-54 ( 1982) , Season 4, Epi sodes
55-77 ( 1983 ) , Season 5, Episodes 78-106 ( 1983 ) . Origi nal Story: Rumi ko
Takahashi . Screenpl ays: Tadashi Fukui , Keiji Hayakawa, Hiroyuki
Hoshi yama, Kazunori Itoh, Hi ro Iwasaki , Ichiroh I zumi , Shusuke Kaneko,
Hi roshi Koni shi kawa, Tomoko Konparu, Aki ra Nakahara, Yuki yoshi
Ohashi , Oshi i , Rumiko Takahashi , Masaki Tsuj i , Yu Yamamoto. Produc
tion Compani es: Fuj i Television Network Inc . , Kitty Fi l ms, Studi o Gal l op,
Studio Pierrot Co. , Ltd. Music: Vari ous. Character Desi gners: Various .
Chapter Notes
Preface
1 . Cavallaro, Dani . Cyberpunk and Cyber
cul ture: Science Fiction a nd the Work of
William Gibson ( London: Athlone, 2000) .
2. Cavallaro, Dani . The Anil1e Art ofHayao
Miyazaki ( Jeferson, N. C. : McFarland, 2006) .
Chapter 1
1 . In exami ni ng the transnati onal ex
change between japan and the West under
taken through the l anguage of ani mation, i t
i s al so worth noti ng that the frst ani me export
to the West was Sei taro Ki tayama's Momo
taro (91 7) , a fl m shipped to France even be
fore enj oyi ng its domestic release. ( The char
acter of Momotaro was revamped i n the
1940s at the government' s behest and trans
formed i nto a nati onal hero for war propa
ganda purposes . ) In the course of !he Occu
pat i on, japan was exposed to Disney and
began to develop a parti cul ar approach to the
art of cel ani mati on that i ndubitably consti
tutes contemporary ani me's prototype. In
1958, the president of Toei Douga sent Sanae
Yamamoto' s Hakujaden ( The Legend of the
White Serpen t, released in the US in 1961 as
The Panda and t he Whi te Serpent) to the
Venice Chi ldren's Fi l m Festi val where i t was
awarded the Grand Pri x. Shounell Sarutobi
Sasuke ( 1959, released i n the US i n 1961 as
Magic Boy) was also the recipient of this pres
tigious award and accordi ngly recrui te by
MGM. Toei Douga's reputati on grew rapidly
i n the West and its features sold i mpressively
across the global market .
Chapter 2
l . The other ani mat i ons screened at
Cannes prior to In nocence were :
23 1
Dumbo, dir. Ben Sharpsteen, 1 941
Peter Pan, di rs . Clyde Geroni mi , Wi l fed
jackson and Hami lton Luske, 1953
Fan tastic Planet, di r. Rene Laloux, 1973
Shrek, di rs. Andrew Adamson and Vi cky
jenson, 2001
Beside Innocence, t he ot her ani mated feature
exhibited at the Festival in 2004 was Shrek 2
( di rs. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and
Conrad Vernon, 2004) .
Chapter 5
1 . I ntri gui ngly, few i magi nabl e l i festyles
could be more at odds wi th the enti re expe
rienti al or adventure i mperative than Oshi i ' s
own. For i nstance, i n a press release coi nci d
i ng wi th the screeni ng of In nocence at
Cannes, Oshi i has stated: "I e] conomi c reces
sion . . . corporate downsi zi ng . . . vi ol ent
cri me . We l i ve i n a cruel and fri ght eni ng
world. For some t i me now, I 've been worki ng
i n t he ani mati on i ndustry - a s i nful world
unto i tsel f- and frankly, I have gotten ti red
of deal i ng wi th peopl e i n general . SO
H
e
times, I i magi ne el i mi nati ng al l human I
teraction and spendi ng the rest of my l i fe at
home i n At ami , rel axi ng and soaki ng i n a
hot spri ng. I feel ol d - everyday, I have t o
force myself t o go to work" ( Oshi i 2004b) .
I n a n i ntervi ew conducted by Peter Oberth,
he has likewise answered the question "What
are your future plans I after Innocence] ? "

ith
the words: "To spend some val uabl e t i me
back home wi th my dogs, cat and wi fe"
( Oberth) . In spi te of these deep reservati ons
concerni ng the val ue of social rel ati ons, the
di rector' s ethical tenets and creative drive
prompt hi m to remai n i nvolved i n cinematic
producti on.
232 Chapter Notes
Chapter 6
1 . A paradi gmati c i nstance of mul ti
layered Japanese wordplay, the ti tl e Urusei
Yatsura has no direct English equival ent. The
frst word, urusei, i s a deliberately idiolectic
mi spronunciation of the Japanese word uru
sai ( "obnoxious, " "aggravat i ng, " "noisy" ) .
The second word, yatsura, i s the plural form
of yatsu ( "person" ) . Hence, the title could be
translated as "obnoxious peopl e. " However,
it should concurrently be taken into consid
eration that Uru i s also the name of the
fctional planet whence the Oni (a pivotal set
of dramatis personae i n the series) originat e.
Moreover, t he kanji ( Chinese character) used
to write sei means "star" ( pronounced hoshi
when it occurs as a fee-standing word rather
than as part of a compound) , which entails
that Urusei Yats ura coul d pl ausibly mean
"noisy-star people" or perhaps "aggravati ng
people fom planet Uru. " The standard pro
nunciation i s oo-roo-say yat-soo-rah.
2. According to the most comprehensive
fan Web site dedi cated to the universe of
Urusei Yatsura, Tomobi ki , Takahashi i s
wi thout a doubt , the most commercially
successful female comic book creator i n the
world, having sold well over 100 mil l ion
copies of her works i n Japan alone. This
landmark doesn' t even include international
sales, which are considerabl e. She remains
one of the frst female manga-ka to write
comics ai med at young males. However, her
comics continue to be universally popular
with both boys and girls. Both adult and
child. With the combination of her highly
i n-demand comics, the i nfluential animated
series that spawned from her works and the
endless merchandising, i t isn't hard to see
how she's become the richest woman in
Japan ( Tomobiki on Rumiko Takahashi ) .
Takahashi's subsequent hits include the i n-
spiring manga behi nd the hugely popular TV
seri es Maison lkkoku ( 1 986) , Ral1 ma 1/2
( 1989) and 1l1 uyasha ( 2000 ) . The arti st' s
knack of i nvesti ng even the most i mproba
ble situations with a warm sense of psycho
logical realism, fully demonstrated by Uru
sei Yatsura in spite of its salad-day positioning
in Takahashi' s career, i s unfi nchi ngly
confrmed by those later works.
3. Ataru's bad l uck i s putatively ascribable
to his birth on a day that was at once Friday
the 1 3t h, the date of a catastrophi c earth
quake, and Busumetsu, "the day the Buddha
died" in the traditional l unar calendar. Hi s
very name signi fes cosmi c i l l fortune, A taru
l i terally meani ng "to get hit" and Moroboshi,
"falling star. "
4. On Setsubun-the day i n the old cal en
dar supposed to mark the end of wi nter and
coi nci di ng with the 3rd or 4th of February i n
our calendar -people still practice t he cus
tom of scattering soy beans outside the house
(a symbol i c way of averti ng the evil eye)
whi l st chant i ng Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi
( "Oni out , good l uck i n" ) .
Chapter 8
1 . "The name ' Muj aki' is a mul ti l ayered
pun. Literally translated, i t means ' guileless'
or ' i nnocent . ' However, when written with
the proper kanji, i t takes on an ent irely
diferent meani ng: ' The Demon That I nter
feres with Dreams . ' It i s the second meani ng
that Sakura i s referri ng to when she says ' as
the name says, you are an evi l demon who
delights i n manipulat i ng dreams, and pl ant
i ng the seeds of evil i n peopl e' " ( Beau tiful
Dreamer: Unofcial Li ner Notes ) .
Chapter 9
1 . The process of remediation is certai nly
not a stranger i n the context of the Western
fl m i ndustry as a whole, particularl y where
Hollywood i s concered. I ndeed, i t would be
arduous to refute, i n eval uati ng that parti cu
l ar universe, Robert Shaye's propositi on that
" [ e l ntertai nment is one of the purest mar
ketplaces i n the world" ( Shaye, p. 75 ) . The
industry's imbrication with the logic of prod
uct placement and the concomi tant produc
tion of myriad ancillary goods that frequently
turn out to be even more lucrative than the
cinematic producti ons with which they are
associated i s confrmed by the evol uti on of
marketi ng and i nvestment pol i ci es over the
past couple of decades. Ri chard Maltby has
comprehensively documented thi s phenom
enon:
In the early 1980s, world-wi de sales of Star
Wars goods were estimated to be worth $ 1 . 5
bill ion a year, while Batman ( 1 989) made $ 1
bil lion from merchandizing, four times i t s
box- ofce earni ngs. Jurassic Park ( 1993 )
went so far as to advertise its own merchan
dizing withi n the movi e: at one poi nt , the
camera tracks past the Jurassic Park gift
shop, showing a line of T-shi rts, IUllch
boxes, and other souvenirs identical to the
Chapter Notes 233
ones available for purchase i n the lobby of
the theatre . . . . In 1999, the total retail val ue
of the licensed product market was esti
mated to be more than $70 billion a year,
and the most successful movie series existed
most prominently as brands or franchises
[ Maltby, pp. 190-1 ] .
Chapter 10
I. The Greek word for "fsh," ichthus, was
used by the early Christian worshippers sus
cepti bl e to i mperi al persecution as a coded
term for the name of Jesus, consisting of an
acronym for the phrase Iesus Christos Theou
Uios Soter: " Jesus Christ God's True Son. "
Chapter 11
1. "One of tel evi si on's most rightl y
revered series, The Twilight Zone ( CBS,
1959-64) stands as the role model for TV an
thologies. Its trenchant sci-f/fantasy parables
explore humani ty' s hopes, despai rs, pri des
and prej udices i n metaphoric ways . . . . Cre
ator Rod Serl i ng wrote the maj ori ty of the
scripts, and produced those of such now
legendary writers as Richard Matheson and
Charles Beaumont . The series featured such
soon-to-be-famous actors as Robert Redford,
William Shatner, Burt Reynolds, Robert Du
vall , Denni s Hopper, Carol Burnett , James
Coburn, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvi n, Peter
Falk and Bill Mumy, as wel l as such estab
lished stars as silent-fl m giant Buster Keaton,
Art Carney, Mickey Rooney, Ida Lupi no and
John Carradine. An often worthy revival se
ries ran on CBS from 1985 [ t oI 1987" ( Twi
light Zone: "SciFi. com Revi ew" ) .
2. "The mother of al l Japanese monster
TV series. Master efects guru Eij i Tsuburaya
launched his own production company in the
mid- 1960s and created this 28-epi sode series
that was a cross between The Twilight Zone
and The Outer Li mi ts. Highly respected as one
of the most wel l produced series, Tsuburaya
reportedly stopped after 28 episodes only be
cause his crew was fatigued by all the efort
they had put i nto each show" ( Ultra Q: "Re
view, Godzilla and Other Monster Music" ) .
3. Memorable graphic associations of ma
rine creatures and aeroplanes have more re
cently been proposed by Patlabor WIII:
Movie 3 ( dir. Fumihiko Takayama, 2002) and
"After the Rainy Day" ( dir. Shu i -Cheng Tsai ,
2005) . The openi ng sequence presented i n
the former features the i mage of a mal func
ti oni ng pl ane shedding a veritable del uge of
large fsh and other sea speci es. The latter, an
ani mated short i n whi ch a smal l boy' s rever
ies as he plays with his rocking-horse in the
course of a tediously wet day gradually give
way to a ful l -fedged vision, cul mi nates pre
cisely with the protagonist' s toy pl ane's meta
morphosis into an act ual pl ane, which the
boy gleeful l y fi es ami dst a lyri cal swi rl of
tropical fsh.
Chapter 14
I. The reader may beneft from the follow
i ng panorami c vi sualization of the evol ution
of the Patlabor universe from its embryonic
conception by the manga-ka Masami Yuuki
and by future members of the " Headgear"
team to its coming to frui ti on as a mul ti me
di a franchi se of arguabl y unprecedented
scope :
Jai/azard ( Preliminary Concept, c . 1 98 1 ) ;
Lightning Garrakres ( Preliminary Concept ,
c. 1 982) ; Vidor ( Preliminary Concept,
1 982-83) ; Mobi/e Po/ice Pat/abor OVA 1
( OVA Series 1 [ 7 episodes] , 1 988-89) ; Pat/a
bar 1: The Mobile Police ( Feature Fi l m,
1 989) ; Mobile Police Patlabor TV Series ( TV
Series [ 47 episodes ] , 1 989-90) ; Mobile Police
Patlabor OVA 2 ( OVA Series 2 [ 16
episodes] , 1 990-92) ; Patlabor 2: The Movie
( Feature Fi l m, 1 993 ) ; Minipato ( Animated
Shorts [ 3 episodes] , 2001 ) ; Patlabor WI:
Movie 3 ( Feature Fi l m, 2002 )
2. "The Bubble economy was the peri od
( runni ng roughly from the mi d-' 70s to 1 990)
when t he rel ative val ue of the Japanese yen
i ncreased at an overwhel mi ng rat e, especially
following the Plaza Accord in 1985. Si nce the
growth was predicated on stock i nvestment
rather than an act ual i ncrease in capital or
producti vi ty, i nfati on caused the ' Bubbl e'
economy to burst i n the early ' 90s. Thi s, i n
turn, precipitated t he East Asian stock mar
ket collapse of the mi d-' 90s" ( Suchenski ) .
Chapter 15
I. Notably, the vi l l ai n's family name - I n
ubashi ri -contai ns t he root word "i nu" ( li t
eral l y meani ng "dog" ) which also composes
the bulk of the name of the Kerberos agent
placed by Oshi i i n a lead role i n the live-ac
ti on flm Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops,
I nui . Though arguably qui te peripheral , thi s
234 Chapter Notes
lexical detail is nonetheless worthy of obser
vation as a concisely telling cl ue to Oshi i 's
di sti ncti ve approach. More specifcally, i t
coul d be argued that Oshi i's ci nema derives
much of its uni que favour from the direc
tor's punctilious attention to the minutest de
tail s and, relatedly, to their recursive utiliza
tion across diverse media and genres as a way
of weavi ng an internally coherent i ntertex
tual tapestry out of seemi ngly discrete and
unrelated cinematographical enterprises.
The recurrence of the "i nu" root , i n thi s
respect , may be consi dered meani ngful on
two counts. At one level, i t underscores the
director' s almost obsessive tendency to i m
port i nt o hi s productions the tal i smani c
signifcance which he appears to attribute to
the cani ne presence by whatever means may
seem pl ausi bl e i n any one gi ven context . At
another level , the parti cul ar associ ati on of
"i nu" wi th rogue cops, terrorists and fugi
ti ves from the l aw points to Oshii's symbolic
coupling of these dubious personas not just
wi th the i mage of the dog i n general but
specifcally with that of the stray dog -the
outsider, the outcast , the pariah. Thi s ploy
enables him to communicate a l i mi nal feel
i ng of sympathy wi th the wrongdoer as a
fgure that cannot be unprobl emati cal l y
damned for fai l i ng soci ety i nsofar as he, too,
has i n turn been failed by his fellow humans.
Chapter 16
J. This bi rd is i nvested with multifarious
symbol i c connotations by diferent facets of
Japanese mythology and lore. Though often
regarded as an evil omen and bearer of bad
fortune ( especially when heard croaki ng i n
t he eveni ng, as opposed to t he early morning
or noon) , the crow ( karasu) is also thought
to be a messenger of some deities and spirits
( kami ) . I n numerous tal es, the crow i s em
ployed as a symbol of flial pi ety on the basis
of the bi rd's presumed procli vi ty to care for
its grizzled parents.
Chapter 17
1. Although japan has not been allowed to
play a military part outside i ts borders in the
aftermath of the Second World War, in 1992
the national Diet ( the government's legislative
branch) passed a UN Peacekeepi ng Cooper
ation Law that would permit the jSDF to par
ti ci pate in UN-coordi nated operations under
certain conditions . I n the same year, the jSDF
took part i n UN mi ssi ons i n Mozambi que
and Cambodi a. Thi s devel opment const i
t ut ed an al armi ng scenari o for Oshi i si nce,
as poi nted out by the character of Arakawa,
the basic fact that it was precisely an aggres
sive military disposition that led Japan on the
bri nk of disaster in the frst place cannot and
should not be ignored.
Chapter 18
1 . "God zilla ( Gojira) is a gi ant , amphi bi
ous, dinosaur-like fctional creature frst seen
i n the Japanese-produced 1 954 kaijuu . . . fl m
Gojira produced by Toho Fil m Company
Ltd . . . . GodziBa has three pri mary abilities :
regenerati on, amphi bi ous mobi l i ty, and an
atomic fre beam. Godzi l l a is al so extremely
durable and can resist al most all physical as
saul ts . The atomic fre beam i s Godzi l la's
trademark skill . Although much of God zi l l a's
signifcance as an anti -war symbol has been
lost i n the transition to pop culture, the nu
clear breath remai ns as a vi sual vest i ge of the
creature's early Col d War pol itics . . . . Gojira
was frst released in the Uni ted States in 1955
i n japanese-American communi ti es only. I n
1 956, i t was adapted by an Ameri can com
pany i nto Godzi lla, King of the Monsters, ed
ited and with added, pri ncipal scenes featur
i ng Raymond Burr, and thi s versi on became
an international success. As a resul t , the mon
ster came to be known as ' Godzi I l a' al so i n
Japan . . . . GodziIla was ori gi nal l y an allegory
for the efects of the hydrogen bomb, and the
uni ntended consequences that such weapons
mi ght have on Earth . . . . Much of Godzil Ia's
popularity i n the United States can be cred
i ted with TV broadcasts of the Toho Studi os
monster movi es during the 1960s and 1970s"
( Wi kipedia. org, S. v. "GodziHa" ) .
2 . Given Patlabor 3's generic afl i ati on to
the daikaijuu tradi ti on, i t i s worth noti ng that
the flm Godzilla Versus BioI/ante ( 1989) anal
ogously features a scientist who creates a top
notch monster by crossi ng cells obt ai ned
from the body of hi s dead daughter wi th a
rose .
3. a. "The 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake
( M=6. 9) , commonly referred to as the Kobe
earthquake, was one ofthe most devast ati ng
earthquakes ever to hi t Japan; more than
5, 500 were ki l l ed and over 26, 000 i nj ured.
The economi c l oss has been est i mated at
about $US 200 bi l l ion. The proxi mi ty of the
Chapter Notes 235
epicentre, and the propagati on of rupture di
rectly beneath the hi ghly populated regi on,
hel p explai n the great loss of l ife and the high
level of destruction" ( " Kobe Earthquake
[ 1995 ] , Japan" ) .
b. "Aum Shi nri kyo i s a Japanese religious
cult obsessed with the apocalypse. The previ
ousl y obscure group became i nfamous i n
1995 when some of i ts members rel eased
deadl y sari n nerve gas i nto the Tokyo sub
way system, ki l l i ng 12 peopl e and sendi ng
more than 5, 000 others to hospitals . . . . It was
the most seri ous terrori st att ack in Japan's
modern history, causi ng massive disruption
and widespread fear i n a society that is virtu
al l y free of cri me . . . . Aum Shi nrikyo i s a
doomsday cult whose teachings are based on
tenets borrowed from Hi ndui sm and Bud
dhi sm . . . at the centre of the group's belief i s
reverence for Shoko Asallara, Aum's founder,
who teaches that the end of the world is near.
The police have portrayed the nerve gas at
tack as the cult' s way of hastening the apoc
alypse" ( Terrorism: Questions and Answers ) .
4. Although Pa tlabor 3 was released after
Avalon, its soundt rack was composed earlier.
Chapter 19
1 . I nterestingly, the artists and animators
i nvolved in the production of Minipato took
it upon themselves to supply viable voices for
their puppets, thus temporarily assumi ng the
role of actors . Thi s deci si on l ends ful l cre
dence to Ed Hooks' s contention that "a good
ani mator must go through the . . . process of
motivating his characters on a moment-to
moment basi s" ( Hooks, p. 5 ) . Furthermore,
i t coul d be argued that ani mators are always
marginal l y aki n to actors i nsofar as i n ma
nipulating t hei r characters i n t erms of both
physical actions and emotional reactions, they
have to devel op and sustai n particular per
formi ng styl es.
2. <http: //W. oshiimamoru. com/>
Chapter 20
1. Accordi ng t o Foucaul t , a "di scourse
coul d be described as a set of recurri ng state
ments that defne a particul ar cultural obj ect
( e . g. , madness, cri mi nal i t y, sexual i t y) and
provide the concepts and terms through
which such an obj ect can be studied and dis
cussed. Discourses produce disti nctions be
tween what can and what cannot be said
about an obj ect and establ i sh who has the
ri ght to say whatever can be sai d. The fact
that statements occur with regularity i n a cul
ture does not mean that they constitute a log
ical or coherent system. I ndeed, Foucault re
jects conventi onal notions of history as a
linear chronology of facts and emphasizes i n
stead i ts i ncongrui ti es and ruptures . Di s
courses, accordingly, are characterized by dis
conti nui ty and do not evolve accordi ng to a
predictable temporal trajectory. This is borne
out by the Latin etymol ogy of the term di s
course : di s = ' i n di ferent direct i ons' + cur
rere = 'to run. ' Each era produces di ferent
discourses through whi ch the subject may be
obj ectifed according to the ruling values, be
liefs and i nterests of its society. Whatever we
may call the truth i s always embodied in hi s
torically conti ngent discourses. I ndeed, Fou
cault denies the existence of any reality out
side or beyond discourse" ( Caval l aro) .
2 . Oshi i wi l l agai n draw al l egorical con
necti ons between l aws i ntended to regul ate
the publ i c consumpti on of food and the
broader priorities of specifc politi cal regimes
in Tachigui - The Amazing Li ves of the Fast
Food Grifters (Tachiguishi Retsuden), a l i ve
action fl m based on hi s own novel ( here ad
dressed i n the Epilogue) .
3. Damian Cannon has commented thus
on the styl i sti c uniqueness of Chris Marker's
1962 fl m: "La Jetee is al most total l y com
posed of indivi dual fozen pictures, si nce it i s
a photo- montage wi th sparse narrati on . . .
the essential story i s projected i n surpri si ng
detail for such a short piece. I n part tIlis efect
is achieved through the choice of s uperlative
black-and-whi te photographs; these are
grainy enough and shot in such a way that
the immediate impression is of warti me pho
tojournal ism whilst the events captured sug
gest far more than they illustrat e. By al teri ng
the time for which each shot i s hel d ( at t imes
a quick succession of similar i mages approx
imates to fl m) a tight grasp of pace and a cer
tain l evel of suspense i s achi eved. I nterest
i ngly, perhaps the most signifcant result of
La ]etee i s that the basic structures utilised i n
ci nema ar e stri pped bare and reveal ed un
adorned" ( Cannon) . These remarks apply no
less fttingl y to Oshi i's di sti nctive uti l i zation
of frozen frames, montages and a careful l y
varied shooti ng pace . Cannon's words al so
constitute an apposi te assessment of Oshi i 's
own tendency to capi tal i ze on the atmos
pheric efects of stark chromatic contrasts, hi s
concentration on the apparently l east conse-
236 Chapter Notes
quential detai l s of a scene, and hi s determi
nation to foreground the ci nematographical
artifce without kowtowing to the aesthetic
and ideological requirements of mimetic re
al i sm.
Chapter 21
1. I n this regard, the hi t woman's charac
ter i s vividly redolent of the fgure of the l i
brari an presented i n Haruki Murakami' s
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the
World ( ori gi nal l y publ ished in 1985 ) . ( Mu
rakami , incidentally, shares with Oshii a keen
taste for the i nterpenetration of t he factual
and the oneiric, l ucidity and preposterous
ness . ) Murakami' s librarian has a tendency
to devour an extravagant amount of di shes
of the most diverse culinary orientation with
out her shape or weight being in the least
afected, which she attributes to "gastric di
l ati on, " and understandabl y descri bes as
"frighteni ng . . . . Most of my salary disappears
into my stomach" ( Murakami , p. 91 ) .
Chapter 22
I . Oki ura had al ready worked on Kat
suhi ro Otomo's Aki ra ( 1988) and on Oshii's
Ghost i n the Shell ( 1995) , and his development
had been deeply i nfuenced, in the process,
by Otomo's work i n his capacities as a manga
artist and writer and specifcally by his pref
erence for a realistic approach to graphics and
the overall sense of design.
2. /in-Roh was released in France earlier
than on home t urf, presumably to gauge the
nature of its reception abroad before testing
domesti c audiences. The fl m's early release
i n France regrettably precluded its nomina
tion for the frst ever Academy Award for Best
Ani mated Feature i ntroduced i n 2002. Its re
ception at numerous i nternational flm fes
tivals, i ncluding those hosted in Brussels, An
necy, Berl i n, Porto and Singapore, was
undi lutedly enthusiasti c .
3. It is worthy of considerati on, in this re
spect , that the tale of Li t tle Red Riding Hood
has spawned l egi on vari ati ons on the core
narrative with which most Western readers
will be famil i ar. The version of the tale cho
sen by Oshii as the metaphorical skeleton for
/i n-Roh is by no means the only available per
mutati on of the story deemed to allude to
weighty adult concerns. Indeed, as Jack Zipes
has persuasively argued i n The Trials and
Tri bul at i ons of Li ttle Red Ri di ng Hood, the
majority of those rel ated texts carry pol i ti
cal , psychological and ethi cal connotati ons
of signifcant gravity. I n tracing the devel op
ment of Li t tle Red Riding Hood over the cen
turi es and subj ecting to close analysis thi rty
fve of the most i nfuenti al versi ons of the
story -from i ts i nception as a fol ktal e to its
adaptation by the Brothers Gri mm, Wal ter
De La Mare, James Thurber, Al phonse
Daudet , Anne Sexton, Ol ga Broumas and
others -Zipes demonstrates that the tal e has
plenty to say about issues of violation, mani p
ul ati on and abuse. This cri ti cal vol ume thus
suppl ies an i ntri gui ng correlative for Oshi i 's
own fl mi c narrat ive .
4. Oshii has stated that he would have uti
l ized computers more extensively than Ok
iura has done, especially for camera work and
water- related efects. Yet , Oshii has also em
phasi zed that computers shoul d not be re
garded purely as transmutational tool s i n the
manipulation of fames. In fact , he bel ieves
that they can be used most i magi nat ivel y
when their mechani sms are al l owed to work
i n tandem with more traditional i nstruments
and methodol ogi es: "I' ve l earned qui te a bi t
whi l e worki ng on Ghost. A computer can do
more than j ust a si mpl e di gi tal processi ng.
You can use i t for the anal og worl d as wel l ,
especially for t he vertical movements of the
camera and lens efects" ( Oshi i 1997) .
Chapter 23
I. According to Antonia Levi , ani me's frst
cyborg was the eponymous hero of Osamu
Tezuka's Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) :
Although designed as a chi l dren's show, Tet
suwa/ l Atomu al ready showed some of the
moral questioning and general sense of un
ease that characterize anime's attitude to
wards cyborgs. Tetsuwan Atol11u was essen
tial ly a tragic character. He was created by a
scientist to replace a dead chi l d. When hi s
failure to grow revealed hi s essentially
artifcial nature, he was rej ected by hi s "fa
ther" and left to create his own place in an
uncaring world. He succeeds and Tetsuwan
Atol11u does not focus heavily on the tragi c
ramifcations of his predicament , but i t re
mai ns there [ Levi , p. 441
The pitifl element i nherent i n the fgure of
the cyborg, potently communi cated by both
of the Ghost i n the Shell movies, resides with
their mounting awareness that the enhance-
Chapter Notes 237
ment of natural abi l i ti es goes i nel uctabl y
hand i n hand wi th an attenuation of thei r hu
manness .
2. The word "cybernetics" was i ntroduced
in 1948 by the mathemati ci an Norbert
Wi ener ( 1894-1964) in a book ti tl ed Cyber
netics, or Con trol and Communication i n the
Ani mal and the Machine. Cybernetics derives
from the Greek word "ki beretes," whi ch
means "steersman, " t o i mpl y that control
shoul d be a form of steersmanshi p, not of
dictatorship. Wi ener believed that biological
bodies and mechani cal bodies are sel f
regulating systems connected by the basic fact
that both work in terms of control and com
munication. Moreover, Wi ener di vi ded the
history of machi nes into four stages: the
Golemic age (a pre-technological worl d) , the
age of clocks ( seventeenth and ei ghteenth
centuries ) , the age of steam ( late eighteenth
and ni neteenth cent uri es) and the age of
communi cation and control ( the era of cy
berneti cs ) . To each of these st ages corre
sponds a diferent model of the physical or
ganism: the body as a magical clay shape, as
a clockwork mechani sm, as a heat engine and,
fnaUy, as an electroni c system. Ghost i n the
Shell 2: Innocence could be said to consti tute,
amongst other thi ngs, a capsul ated hi story of
the evolutionary pattern theorized by Wiener
i nsofar as it spins subtle threads of connection
between the pre-i ndustrial fgure of the golem
and the post-industrial fgure of the cyborg by
means of visual and rhetori cal al l usi ons to
diverse mechani cal and i ndustri al appara
tuses.
3. It should also be noted, i n this regard,
that cyberpunk and Japan are l i nked on var
i ous levels, as numerous Western writers i n
thi s genre have adopted Japanese words and
locations, whilst Japan itself was quick to em
brace cyberpunk and, relatedly, to use i ts i n
gredients i n the construction of somber sci
f pl ots wi th a markedly i nternati onal
di mension, which could eloquently comment
on the country's experi ence of global ization.
Chapter 25
1 . The phrase "motion capture" refers to
the process whereby external devices can be
used to capture movement data from various
l ive sources and then transmi t it to the com
puter, where the data are applied to a vi rtual
actor. The real performers on the moti on
capture stage wear bl ack bodysuits equipped
with retroreAective markers, or sensors. Op
ti cal cameras positioned on t ripods with red
l ights at thei r bases are bl i nd to the perform
ers and onl y record the movements of the
refect i ons of thei r own red l i ghts onto the
markers.
Reputedly i deated i n the executi on of the
Matrix sequels, universal capture is a form
of motion capture designed to focus on fa
cial performance : fve hi gh-defni ti on cam
eras are arranged i n a semi -ci rcle around the
actor and photograph hi m or her from every
possible angl e, recordi ng ski n texture, pores,
follicles and expression lines down to the mi
nut est detail . These can then be st ored i n
image libraries and applied to t he faces of CG
characters as appropri ate.
2. The Ai nu were the original i nhabitants
of Japan, based i n the Northern regions and
especial ly Hokkaido, and were renowned for
their hi ghly imagi native animi sti c beliefs .
3. Given Oshi i ' s consi stent al l usi ons t o
Arthurian l ore, i t seems worth menti oni ng
that a very i nterest i ng cani ne fgure whose
name bri eAy appears i n the course of Ash's
quest for the Nine Sisters, also features in that
tradition i n the guise of the Crop-Eared Dog:
a "creature," in Ronan Coghlan's words, "who
despite his doggi ness, was fuUy abl e to con
verse i n human speech" ( Coghl an, p. 8 2 ) .
Likewise notable Arthurian beings wi th ca
ni ne connotations are the "Dogheads," ferce
( albeit not always monstrous ) opponents of
the legendary king who were putatively re
lated to ancient populations of both Irish and
Iberian descent , namely the Conchi nd and
the Cunesioi respectively.
Chapter 26
1. Masamune Shi row, the manga ka
( "comic book writer" ) behi nd the hypnotic
universe of Ghost in the Shell, self-publ ished
the frst volume of his manga seri es Bl ack
Magic in 1983 as a student at the Osaka Uni
versity of Art , where he had i ni ti ally sought to
study oil painting. Black Magic caught the eye
of the publ i shi ng company Seishi nsha, who
asked Shirow to become a professional in the
fel d of comi c-book producti on. The frst
work he publjshed in that capaci t y was Ap
pleseed, a story staged in a dystopi an, post
apocalyptic societ y and centred on two cops'
battle agai nst the terrorists who plague the
city of Olympus . Al though the story' s gen
eral mood ant i ci pates Ghost i n the Shell, a
238 Chapter Notes
crucial aspect of the later work -namely, bio
engineering -i s only peripherally alluded to.
Appleseed was ani mated as an OVA i n 1988
( dir. Kazuyoshi Katayama) and as a feature
l ength movie i n 2004 ( dir. Shinji Aramaki ) .
2. The rotoscope coul d be regarded a s a
forerunner of digital moti on capture ( mo
cap) , t he extrapolation of motion dat a fom
live performers by electronic means and ap
pl i cat ion thereof t o computer- generated
characters . The Matrix sequel s ( notabl y in
the depiction of the ubiquitous Agent Smith)
and the Lord of the Rings flms ( particularly i n
t he rendition ofthe persona of Gol l um) make
promi nent use of these "synthespi ans. "
3. Thi s does not actual l y i mpl y t hat the
Kusanagi lookalikes are of the same biotech
nological quality as the major. Shirow's com
ments on Kusanagi ' s appearance are here
worthy of considerati on: "Maj or Kusanagi is
del i beratel y designed to look like a mass
production model so she won't be too con
spi cuous . I n real i ty, her el ectri cal and
mechani cal system i s made of ul tra
sophisticated materials unobtainabl e on the
ci vi l i an market . I f she appeared too expen
sive, she mi ght be suddenly waylaid on a dark
street some night , hacked up, and hauled of
to be sold" ( Shirow, "Author' s Notes" ) . Nev
ertheless, such a technical consideration does
not in any way di mi ni sh the pathos of the
character' s i ntense feel i ng of personal dislo
cation i n the face of the anonymous replicas.
Chapter 27
I . The basset hound had previously fea
tured i n t he first Ghost i n t he Shell produc
tion i n three forms: adverts for the brand of
dog food reintroduced i n Innocence; the pho
tograph of the brai n-hacked ofender' s pet ;
and the dog on the bri dge in the famous canal
sequence. A special item which few Oshii fans
would want to mi ss, distri buted around the
time of Innocence's theatrical release, consists
precisely of a Basset Box replicating i n the mi
nutest detail the boxes of Bashido dog food
purchased by Batou in the course of t he fl m,
contai ni ng a T-shirt displaying the adorable
hound, a selection of "Gabriel" pi ns, and a
sti cker advert for the "St ray Dog" brand of
beer consumed by the cyborg -an explicit
reference t o Oshii' s l ive- action flm of the
same name.
2. I nt ri gui ngly, thi s i s al so how Michael
Moore, the eventual wi nner of the Palme
D' Or i n the year of Tn l1ocel1 ce's shortl i sti ng
for the Cannes award, descri bed the worl d
depicted i n his documentary Farenhei t 9111.
3. A further Ital i an i nfuence can be ob
served i n the aeri al sequence marking Batou's
and Togusa's descent towards Ki m' s eerie city,
its cathedral a cl ear echo of the Duomo i n
Mi l an.
Chapter 28
I. Research i nto the scientifc and techno
l ogical viabil ity of thermoptic camou f1age i s
currently bei ng undertaken by Tachi Lab, a
specialist laboratory in the fel ds of vi rtual
reality and tel existence based i n t he Graduate
School of I nformation Science and Technol
ogy at the Uni versi ty of Tokyo. Tachi Lab's
assessment of their progress to date can be
i nspected at the fol l owing address: <http: //
projects.star.t . u -tokyo.ac .j p/projects/MED IA
/xv/oc . html >.
Chapter 29
1 . a. Source : <http: //cl ub. noki a. co. j p/
tokyoq/weekly _ updates/ an ime/ ani me-0508.
html >.
b. "Kamagasaki, one of Japan's most i nfa
mous sl ums, was the si te of ni ne days of vi o
l ence when angry day l abourers protested
after a pol i ce chi ef was arrested for taki ng
bribes, and 2000 ri ot pol i ce were cal l ed i n.
The protesters, mostly men i n their 50s and
60s, fought wi th the ri ot police usi ng fsts and
rocks against shields and ni ghtsticks . The vi
ol ence conti nued for ni ne days wi th hun
dreds of i nj uri es . . . . Today, i n an efort t o
spruce up i t s image, Kamagasaki has been re
named Airi n, but it still has a bad reputati on
because there are more than 30, 000 day
labourers and as many as 90 yakuza ofces
there" ( The Kamagasaki Ri ots, <http: //www3
. tky. 3web. ne . jp/ -edj acob/ dangerO20japan
i cs. htm .
2. Source : <ht t p: //V. nausi caa. net
/ miyazaki/ newspro/la test_news . sht ml >.
3. Source : <http: //club. nokia. co.jp/tokyo
q/weekly _updates/ anime/ an ime-0504. html >.
4. Notably, the fox ( ki tsune) and the rac
coon ( tanuki) are mythical animals, endowed
with magi cal and metamorphi c powers,
deepl y embedded i n Japan' s most anci ent
lore .
5. Oshi i 's pavil ion was not t he sol e con
t ribution to the event made by a practitioner
Chapter Notes 239
fom the anime i ndustry, since the section de
voted to architectural harmony between hu
mans and the natural environment al so con
tained a fai thful repl ica of the t radi ti onal
Japanese countryhouse central t o Hayao
Miyazaki' s My Neighbour Totaro.
6. Source : <l . exp02005. 0r. jp/en/venue
Ipavil ion_private_h. html >. \
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Index
Ai nu 237
Akira 1 25, 236
Alice i n Wonderland 82
Aliell 195
Alphaville 202
Amano, Yoshitaka 16, 78-79
anarchy 25
Anchor 17
Angel's Eg 1 7, 21 , 3 1, 32, 66, 75-82, 83,
86, 109, 1 1 2, 1 44
ani mal imagery 24, 32, 33, 1 1 7-1 1 8, 1 57,
159, 200
The A/ l i matrix 196
anime 9-15
Anno, Hideaki 37, 91
Appleseed lO3, 237-238
Arthuri an l ore 20, 174-175, 178, 1 81 , 182,
237-238
Asi mov, I saac 202
Astro Boy 14, 236
Avalon 18, 22, 23, 27, 61, 75, 83-84, l O3,
I I I , 1 27, 1 31 , 165, 166, 167, 1 74-1 78, 235
Bakhti n, Mikhai l 43
basset hound 32, 136, 1 47, 1 50, 179-181 ,
198, 200, 204, 208, 21 1 , 223, 238
The Battle of Algiers 97
Bel l mer, Hans 2 lO
Bergman, I ngmar 16, 78
Besson, Luc 1 52
Bi bl i cal i magery 79-80, 1 1 7-1 1 8, 1 \ 9, 1 22,
202
Bi gelow, Kathryn 189
bi otechnology 1 67, 195
Black Magic 237
Blade Runner 1 89
Blood: The Last Vampire 19, 23, 83, l O4,
165, 1 68-1 73, 21 8
Blood + 1 72-1 73
Brazil 78
Bubblegum Crisis lO3
Buddhism 20, 51 , 80
bul l et-ti me techni que 1 74, 179
245
Bunraku 12, 1 34
Burton, Ti m 91
carnival 43-47
Castle i n the Sky 99
CGI 33, 37, 124, 170-1 71 , 1 74, 178, 193-
1 95, 202, 203
Char's Counterattack 1 35
Chri sti ani ty 20, 79-80
Cinderella 196
ci nematography 29-32
ci ty 125-126, 160, 1 97-1 98
Col paert , Carl 81-82
Confuci us 202
Cronenberg, Davi d 1 77
cyberpunk 18-19, 26-27, 166, 237
cyborg 26, 166, 167, 1 85, 1 86, 1 91-192, 1 97,
200-201 , 21 2, 236-237
Dahmen- l ngenhoven, Regi na 45-47
daikaijuu 128-129
Dallos lO' 17, 31 , 89, 95-99, 1 01 , lO9, 137
Dawki ns, Richard 21 5
Descartes, Rene 202
Dezaki , Satoshi 73
The Diary of Anne Frank 15
di gi tal technol ogy 37, 134, 165, 1 70-1 71 ,
1 93-195, 200, 21 7-21 8
Disney ani mati on 1 2, 40, 46, 82, 91 , 1 96
dog fgure 25-26, 98, 1 36, 1 39, 142, 143-
144, 1 53, 1 76-177, 1 78, 179-180, 233-234
Dogville 145
dol l i mage 26, 192, 201-202, 205, 206,
207-208, 209-21 1 , 223
dreams 20-2 1, 62-63, 68, 157
eXistenZ 1 77
Fahrenheit 9/11 238
Fleischer, Max 1 95
forbidden Planet 99
Foremni ak, Malgorzata 1 79
Foucaul t , Michel 1 38-1 39, 235
246 Index
Fukusaku, Kenta 21 9
Furi saku, J uni chi 1 72
Gall Force 1 35
Ghost i n t he Shell 9, 1 8, 1 9, 21 , 22, 23, 27,
29, 31 , 32, 61, 75, 81 , 83, 98, 1 03, 1 1 2,
1 23-1 24, 1 27, 1 53, 165, 1 66, 167, 1 74, 1 85-
198, 199, 200, 204, 207, 236
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence 9, 17, 1 8-19,
21 , 23, 27, 29, 31 , 61 , 83, 98, 1 03, 109,
1 12, 123-1 24, 1 27, 153, 165, 166, 167, 1 71 ,
1 80, 1 85, 188, 1 92, 199-2 1 3, 21 4, 231 , 238
Ghost i n the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
2 14-2 18
Giant Robo 103
Gibson, Wi l l i am 166, 167
Gigan tor 1 02, 103
Gi l l i am, Terry 78
Godard, Jean- Luc 202
Godzi lla 1 29, 234
The Graduate 58
Grave of t he Firefies 1 60
Gri mm, Jakob 202, 206
Gun Crazy 152
Gunhed 103
Harada, Nana 1 1 1 , 112
Hashi i , Chi zu 1 72
Headgear 17-1 8, 1 00, 170
Heidi , Gi rl of the Alps 1 5
Hei nl ei n, Robert 97
Hellhounds: Panzer Cops 1 53
Hill Street Blues 1 02, 1 08
Hokusai , Katsushika 221
Hongo, Mi tsusru 37
Ichi manda, Chi eko 1 71
In the Aftermath 8 1-82
I noue, Toshiki 68
Iron Mml No. 28 102
Itoh, Kazunori 1 7, 153
lzubuchi , Yutaka 1 31
Jai lazard 233
Japan Expo 2005 220-221
La Jetee 140, 235
Ji n-Roh: The Wolf Brigade 19, 22, 23, 29,
89, 90, 139, 153-162, 236
Kabuki 1 2, 1 3, 92, 94, 1 42
kaijuu 1 28, 1 32
Kami yama, Kenj i 1 9, 1 34, 1 53, 2 14
Kanno, Yoko 21 7
Kanno, Yoshi hi ro 78
Kawai , Hayao 21 , 24
Kawai , Kenj i 33, 1 31 , 1 42, 221
Kawaj i ri , Yoshiaki 91
Kawal erowi cz, Jeray 16
Kawata, Shuj i 1 52
Kill Bi l l 37, 1 52
Killers: . 50 Woman 19, 90, 91 , 1 47, 1 49-
1 52, 2 19, 220
Ki magure Orange Road 83
Ki mba the W11 i te Li on 1 4
Ki se, Kazuchi ka 1 7l
Kitakubo, Hi royuki 1 9, 104, 1 68
Kitayama, Seitaro 231
Ki uchi , Kazuhi ro 1 51
Kri steva, J ul i a 65-66
Kubri ck, Stanl ey 1 9, 78, 99
Lang, Fritz 98, 1 36
The Legend of t he Whi te Serpen t 2 3 1
Lighting Garrakres 1 01 , 233
Li ttle Red Ridi ng Hood 1 57, 1 58, 1 59, 236
The Lord of t he Ri ngs 174, 1 93, 238
Magic Boy 231
Maison Ikkoku 1 1 7
Maki , Taro 1 03
Marker, Chri s 1 6, 1 40, 235
marti al - arts movi e 92, 93-94
T11e Mat rix 99, 152, 174, 178, 1 93, 1 95, 2 3 7
Mazi nger Z 102
mecha 102-1 04, 1 05, 110, 1 28, 223
Messmer, Ot t o 40, 91
Metropolis 98
Milton, John 202
Mi nipato 19, 92, 1 00, 134-136, 2 19, 235
Minority Report 58
Mi yazaki , Hayao 1 0, 17, 91 , 99, 239
Mobile Police Patlabor OVA 1 1 8, 1 04-1 07,
1 1 5
Mobile Police Patlabor OVA 2 1 8, 1 00, 1 1 0-
m
Mobile Police Patlabor TV Series 1 08-1 1 0
Mobile Sui t Gundam 100-101 , 1 02-1 03
Mochi zuki , Tomomi 83, 91
Momotaro 231
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress 97
Moore, Michael 238
motion capture 1 34, 1 74, 237
Munk, Andrej 1 6
Murakami , Haruki 236
My Neighbor Totoro 1 0, 239
mythology 20, 53-54, 80, 1 65, 1 80
Nakata , Hi deo 1 31
Neon Genesis Evangelion 37, 91 , 1 03
Nigh t of the Beasts 1 70
Nihongi 80
Niki ta 1 52
Nils's Mysterious Jourey 1 6
Nishikubo, Toshi hi ko 1 96
Index 247
Noh 12, 13, 92, 93, 94
Northern Lights 2 1 1
Oceall Waves 83, 91
Ogura, Hi romasa 1 96
Okada, Shundo 1 51
Oki ura, Hiroyuki 19, 1 53, 1 60, 1 62, 1 85,
236
Oll e-Hi t Kall ta 16
Oll ly Yes terday 160
Otomo, Katsuhi ro 1 25, 236
OVA format 1 0, 1 7, 95-96, 98
Ozu, Yasuji ro 32
Park, Ni ck 91
Patlabor franchi se 1 8, 95-96, 1 36, 1 70,
233
Patlabor 1: The Mobile Pol ice 19, 21 , 22, 23,
29, 30, 31 , 83, 89, 90, 98, 1 00, 1 06, 1 1 1 ,
1 1 3-1 1 9, 1 23, 1 25, 1 28, 1 30, 1 37, 1 53
Patlabor 2: The Movie 21 , 22, 23, 29, 31 ,
75, 83, 89, 90, 98, 1 06, I l l , 120-127, 1 28,
1 30, 1 37, 1 53, 199
Patlabor WXIIl: Movie 3 83, 1 00, 1 28-1 33,
233
pi l l ow sequence 32, 1 25, 1 97
Pontecorvo, Gi l l o 97
Prill cess MOllolloke 91
Prill cess Ni ll e 1 35
Production I . G 37, 1 53, 160, 1 61 , 1 70, 1 72,
2 14, 2 19, 220
Pul l man, Phi l i p 2 1 1
Pulp Fictioll 1 52
real i sm 1 2-1 4, 33, 39-40
Record of Lodoss War 135
The Red Spectacles 1 7, 1 8, 19, 22, 89, 1 37-
1 41 , 1 42, 1 44, 1 53, 1 55, 2 19-220
remediation 73, 232-233
Renoi r, Jean 29
The Ri llg 1 31
Rodri go, Joaqui n 207
Rotoscope 195
Roujill Z 103
Sai l or Mool 135
Sakura Wars: The Movie 37
samurai movi e 92, 93
Sato, Gen 135
Scott , Ri dl ey 1 88-189, 195
SD GUll dam 135
The Selfsh Gel l e 21 5
The Sevell th Seal 78
Shi nto 20, 51 , 1 92
Shi row, Masamune 1 9, 1 36, 1 85, 1 92, 214,
237-238
Solaris 77
spaghetti western 1 42
Spi el berg, Steven 58
Star Wars: Episode I 1 93
Stralge Days 189
Stray Dog:Kerberos Pallzer Cops 1 7, 1 8, 1 9,
22, 32, 89, 141-144, 1 55
Studio Pi errot 1 6, 50, 56
Super- deformi ty 1 35
Suzuki , Toshi o 1 7, 1 49, 2 19
Tachigui 1 9, 2 19-220, 235
Takada, Akemi 1 1 7
Takahashi , Rumi ko 48, 61 , 66, 232
Takahata, I s ao 160
Takayama, Fumi hi ko 1 28, 1 30, 131, 1 32
Talki llg Head 1 7, 1 8, 90, 1 41 , 1 44-1 48, 1 49,
1 51
Tanaka, Sei i chi 1 24
Taranti no, Quenti n 37, 1 42, 1 52
Tarkovsky, Andrei 16, 77
Tatsunoko Productions 1 6
technology 24-25, 1 87, 1 88, 1 91 , 1 92-1 93,
209, 21 2, 2 1 6-2 1 7
Tell Li ttle Gall Force 1 35
Terada, Katsuya 1 72
terrori sm 25, 1 21-1 22
Tetsuya, Ni shi o 1 34, 160, 1 61-162
Tezuka, Osamu 1 4, 236
Tomi no, Yoshi yuki 1 00
Tori , Mi ki 1 31-1 32
Tori umi , Hi sayuki 1 6
Total Recall 189
Toy Story 209
Tristall ul l d Isolde 1 58
Tsuj i moto, Takanori 1 52
Twilight Q2: Labyrill th Objects File 538 1 7,
83-86, 1 09, 1 29
The Twilight ZOll e 83, 233
2001: A Space Odyssey 78, 99
ukiyo-e 1 3, 56, 2 10-2 1 1
Ultra Q 83, 233
Urat a, Yasunori 1 1 1
Urusei Yatsura Movie 1 : Oll ly You 1 7, 32,
44-45, 46-47, 55-60, 63, 82, 83, 86
Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer
1 7, 1 9, 21 , 31, 44-45, 46-47, 57, 58, 61-
66, 69, 70, 71 , 72, 81 , 82, 85, 1 09, 1 1 2,
1 35, 1 44, 232
Urusei Yat sura Movie 3: Remember My
Love 72
Uruse; Yatsura Movie 4: Lum the Forever
44-45, 47, 50, 67, 68-72
Urusei Yatsura Movie 5: The Fill al Chapter
73
Urusei Yatsura Movie 6: Al ways My Darli llg
73
248
Urusei Yatsura OVA 5 1-52
Urusei Yatsura TV Series 16-17, 48-54
Verhoeven, Paul 189
vi deogames 175
Vidor LOl-l02
virtual reality 165, 174, 175, 176, 1 81-1 82
Von Trier, Lars 1 45
Wachowski , Andy 16, 99, 174, 196
Wachowski , Larry 16, 99, 174, 196
Waj da, Andrzej 16
Wel l es, Orson 29
Index
Wi ener, Norbert 237
Wi l cox, Fred M. 99
Wittgenstei n, Ludwig 38, 202
Woo, John 1 52
Yamada, Katsuhi sa 73
Yamamoto, Sanae 231
Yamazaki , Kazuo 50, 68, 72, 1 1 7
Yokoyama, Mitsuteru L02
Yoshi nori , Naoyuki L08
Yotsuya, Si mon 2L O
Yuuki , Masami L Oa, L 04, 233

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