Patlabor: From Anime to Live Action – Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh (Neil Gaiman UPDATE)

Posted by June 14, 2016 Comment


Adi Tantimedh writes,

Director Mamoru Oshii is widely considered a visionary when he hit the international scene with the anime movie adaptation of Masamune Shiro’s Ghost in the Shell. His films are known for combining politics, philosophy, cyberpunk Science fiction, technothriller with exquisite art direction and special effects. I doubt the Hollywood live action version of Ghost in the Shell will be quite as heady or surprising.

Even though he got his start directing anime and his most famous works are in anime, Oshii announced in an interview recently that he was no longer direct anime but concentrate on live action as the animators who could do the exacting, painstaking work he required had either died or retired out of the industry. He has actually been directing live action films since 1987 alongside his anime work, preparing himself for his eventual transit fulltime to live action filmmaking. His most notable live action film is probably 2001’s Avalon, a cyberpunk arthouse movie about the players of a virtual reality combat game seeking a mythical level, shot in Poland and with Polish actors speaking their native language, and the US DVD release featured English subtitles by no less than Neil Gaiman. It was like a lost, obscure Eastern European arthouse Science Fiction film.


So what has been ignored by the West is Oshii’s most recent, rather ambitious project: The Next Generation Patlabor, a live action sequel to his seminal anime series that’s in continuity with the original manga series from the 80s and 90s.

This is the original pilot episode of the 1988 anime:

And this is the trailer for the new TV series.

The Next Generation Patlabor was broadcast on Japanese television as a 13-episode series, some of them directed by Oshii, and climaxed with a theatrical feature film written and directed by Oshii himself. The series follows the same dynamic as the original anime: a funny, lighter series of TV episodes that culminate in a darker, more serious feature film after the show ends its run.

And the TV series subverts the giant mech genre by sidestepping the epic, portentous themes of war that make up most of the anime out there. It keeps things small scale and earthbound, centering on the mech division of the Tokyo police department that’s considered obsolete and on the way out. Underfunded and relegated to the outskirts of the city, the cops and technical crew while out their daily routine bored out of their minds waiting for something to happen while having to keep their expensive giant mechs in working condition. You have the earnest and eager pilot and captain, the angry, violent alcoholic pilot played for laughs, the divorced salaryman cop who can’t stop talking about his ex-wife, the overqualified half-Russian ex-militia femme fatale who seems to be in exile, the deadpan, seemingly lackadaisical squad commander who’s shrewder and more savvy than anyone expects, the Chinese takeout that only ever cooks fried rice no matter what the station orders because fried rice is the only thing the owner can bother to cook all at once that can feed the entire station.

The show does a good job of showing the tedium of the squad’s routines, the goofy antics they get up to while on standby, the deployments and false alarms, the cases they get called in on, be it some drunken worker who steals a mech to cause havoc, various petty but messy crimes with mechs, all the way to a failed military coup that leads into the movie where a terror group using stolen secret military tech and the callback to incidents in the original anime movies come home to roost.

Trailer for the movie:

Oshii comes from the 80s generation of manga and anime Science Fiction creators who tended to take a more nuanced view of politics, and rather than the usual right-wing pro-military view of a lot of manga and anime these days, he has a distrust of government agendas and sees the need for competent operators who might quietly counteract both the government’s excesses with the help of plucky underdog cops on the street. It’s the same themes that preoccupied him back during the time of the original Patlabor series back in the 80s and 90s.

There’s a weird, surreal sense of disconnect if you know the original anime and watch this new series and are told a few of the characters are live action versions of characters who were previously literal cartoon characters in the anime. The actors are directed here to give broad performances to play up the slapstick comedy, which can feel a jarring when the plot gives way to a sombre espionage tale about government duplicity, red tape and terrorism but Oshii takes his ideas seriously, even when he’s playing some of the characters for laughs. But that aside, this is a surprising and subversive piece of Science Fiction television, a shaggy dog tale that deliberately makes the Science Fiction parts of the story feel mundane, which only emphasizes the surrealism of an alternate universe where Japan’s love affair with robots becomes normal enough for the ongoing threat of a robot police division being shut down due to budget cuts and social inertia feel both poignant and absurd at the same time. That’s actually more Science Fiction than any number of epic spaceship battles.

The Next Generation Patlabor never made it to the West, but it has been released on Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan and Hong Kong, with the latter editions containing English subtitles.

I want a mech at

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

(Last Updated June 14, 2016 2:55 pm )

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