Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Next Generation: Patlabor (And It's Not Star Trek)

They say you learn something new every day.  And that's probably true.

Saturday I woke up to the news that director Mamoru Oshii is bringing his beloved Mobile Police Patlabor to the live action screens.  The Next Generation: Patlabor is planned for 2014, which is truly remarkable. I was thrilled with the news. Most interesting is Mamoru Oshii is at the director's helm. Anyone who knows the work and worlds of Mamoru Oshii will find that news either exciting or troubling or maybe a little bit of both.  He has something of a reputation for being uneven, but his style is entirely his own.  In some respects I would submit you wither generally like or love him or you just don't.

Hot off the heels of the amazing and underappreciated Pacific Rim (2013), even in its spiritual birthplace of Japan by all accounts, as much as it was stateside, Patlabor will be given the live action treatment.  Mind you, these things are relative and as of this writing Pacific Rim has hauled in a whopping 384 million globally.  I have to believe Pacific Rim 2 is a completely viable option at this point.

So I was over the moon to read the news about Oshii's Patlabor.  Anyone familiar with the beloved characters of Noa Izumi, Asuma Shinohara, Isao Ohta, Kanuka Clancy, Captain Kiichi Goto and Noa's affection for Patlabor Ingram unit Alphonse understands how fully conceived the Patlabor universe was by Oshii.  The law enforcement future and a world run amok of labors is indeed a terrific mythology.  The availability of these stories are also being released on Blu-Ray in 2013 and will not disappoint fans of mech, strong stories and smart characters.  Start with the Oshii-developed (as part of a consortium group of creative people called Headgear) OVA (1988-1989; 7 episodes), then the TV Series (1989-1990; 47 episodes), the New Files OVA (1990-1992; 16 episodes) and finally the much darker three films (1989,1993,2001).  Anyone who has invested time into falling in love with these characters over the span of these many years can't help but be anxious about the live action possibilities.

Of course, Oshii's track record when it comes to time tables is always sketchy (along with most Japanese anime release dates) and I'll believe it when I see it.  I'm not being entirely jaded on this point either.  Imagi had planned a treatment of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman in 2004 but had cancelled that plan in 2011.  Thanks Astro Boy (2009; 65 million budget; 44 million box office). But, like Grave Of The Fireflies (2005), Blood The Last Vampire (2009), Space Battleship Yamato (Starblazers) (2010), did you know a Japanese live action adaptation of Gatchaman (Battle Of The Planets in the USA) by Nikkatsu reached cinemas in Japan this summer to little fanfare?  Crazy, but how faiuthful in look and execution remains in question.

If the release date for The Next Generation: Patlabor proves to be true, it would pit Patlabor squarely in the scorching summer path of the much anticipated cinema excitement of director Gareth Edwards hotly anticipated Godzilla release through Legendary Pictures, the company behind mammoth favorite Pacific Rim.  I am like a kid in a candy store with this kind of information.

Now, Space Battleship Yamato or Starblazers as it was known stateside, received the live action adaptation under its original Japanese moniker, which was released in the UK on Blu-Ray this week, and God knows when it will be unleashed here in Ani-merica.  I'm still anxiously waiting it.

Like Space Battleship Yamato, directed by Takashi Yamazaki, I would expect the non-Hollywood, Japan-centric based production of The Next Generation: Patlabor to have a modest budget, but perhaps slightly larger than the one greenlit even for Space Battleship Yamato.

Consider this, Pacific Rim was budgeted at 190 million.  The film is close to achieving a 400 million gross which would be gravy for a sequel.

Now Space Battleship Yamato was budgeted at roughly 30 million.  That's peanuts by Hollywood standards and yet the Japanese production is as slick as they come.  The Japanese can work wonders on a shoestring.

I hardly expect The Next Generation: Patlabor to receive a staggeringly large budget particularly with the esoteric and even spare style of Oshii at the director's helm. I'm not expecting crazy unreasonable.  Oshii's Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (2004) was budgeted at a meager 20 million.  So, my expectations are tempered, but money is hardly an object of concern here.  What the Japanese industry achieves on monetary restrictions time and again is nothing short of a miracle mile.  From Toho to Oshii and everyone in between Japanese films out of the science fiction, fantasy and anime realms continue to dazzle and entertain and are often superior to many of our own here in the states on the fronts of imagination.  I have little doubt budget would be a hindrance.

My greatest concern is Oshii's track record in live action from The Red Spectacles (1987), Avalon (2001) to Assault Girls (2009).  These are extremely modest pictures with sometimes aimless, wandering narrative.  It can appear like live action poetry.  Still, the foundation and background for Mobile Police Patlabor is a strong one and no one understands it better than Oshii.

It's funny, but when I stop to think of the potential of a Mobile Police Patlabor Ingram unit complete, with humorous characters like the beloved Noa Izumi who simply adored her robot Alphonse, one can't help but imagine a variety of options. One wonders what a Michael Bay or Hollywood might actually do with that idea.  Still, I wouldn't trust those wonderful characters in the wrong hands even if this film won't have the international draw given Japanese casting and production.

Mamoru Oshii, too, could go in two different directions with his film.  Will he be making an entirely different, darker picture like his first two films?  If you've seen his two Patlabor films, they have an alternately darker tone from the OVA series or anything Bay infused into a Transformers picture.  Oshii is also familiar with the lighter tone of his OVA classic. So, logically, there could be two entirely different types of films in a given Japanese director's hands versus those of an American filmmaker.  But even with Oshii still, the direction remains in question.  Oshii's been behind both a light-hearted version of his Mobile Police Patlabor with the likes of hot-headed comic officer Isao Ohta as well as the much more deliberate crime procedural-based films.  Which one will we see?

Ultimately though, my preference would be to see The Next Generation: Patlabor in the hands of Mamoru Oshii, its creator, than in the hands of a Michael Bay.  I have every expectation that Oshii will lend the film an unusual and much more palatable, artistic visual style.  We can only hope Oshii will pick up his pacing for such a picture at least a little bit, rather than the sometimes laborious or tedious length to which he will infuse his films with exposition.  But that's Oshii and if that still happens I'm fully on board, would not be surprsed and would still recognize that this next generation of the Patlabor project will indeed be the work of an artist and visionary offering yet another sensational chapter in its significant history.  I can appreciate that even if it isn't entirely successful.

But with names like Patlabor, Oshii and The Next Generation involved, in relative terms, it's going to be big.  Patlabor is replete with wonderfully drawn law-enforcement characters, complex personalities and mightily detailed and beautifully designed mechs.  Mobile Police Patlabor is to the anime genre and the pop culture in Japan what Godzilla or Star Trek is on a global scale.  It is a densely woven mythology on par with Gundam or Ghost In The Shell from the fertile playground of anime and the minds of its many talented creators.  Of all of Japan's own live action adaptations, The Next Generation: Patlabor by Oshii would be my most eagerly anticipated.

Sadly, American fans will likely wait years to see this thing.


Roman J. Martel said...

I hate to admit it, but I've never seen "Patlabor". Well let me qualify that, I started to watch one of the movies way back when Sci-fi Channel was still called Sci-fi and they were experimenting with an anime block of programming. I can't remember which one I caught the beginning of, but I felt like I was thrown into the middle of something and had no bearings. I didn't stick it out, but figured I needed to see the actual series.

Anyway back to the topic at hand: Oshii. As you pointed out he's a very unique director. He's one of those guys that even if he doesn't quite hit the nail on the head the attempt is so interesting to watch that I don't mind. But he has a very specific style which is a strange fusion of wonderful dreamlike images and long exposition scenes. While I haven't seen all of his films, I think "Ghost in the Shell" achieved the best balance of action, visuals and theme. Even that movie has long talky scenes that go a bit overboard.

With this new film I think we'll get some great visuals and some cool action scenes at the very least, but the pacing will probably be slow. But like you, I'd be very curious to see what the end result is. More live action mecha movies can't be a bad thing, right?

Franco Macabro said...

Wow a live action Gatchaman movie, can't wait to get my hands on that one, though if it didnt have much back up in Japan, I doubt how good it could be...still, I'm very curious, thanks for the heads up dude!

Also: Mamoru Oshii's films tend to be populated by characters that are very introverted, and love to muse and talk, you think Patlabor will be like this? Or do you think it'll be more action packed?

Last Oshii film I saw was The Sky Crawlers....awesome animation, the scenes with the fighter planes battling in the skies were awesome, but again, the film slows to a crawl at times, I guess you have to be in a certain kind of mood to see an Oshii film, still, I find myself enjoying them inmmensely, Ghost in the Shell is still one of my favorite manga movies....and it's sequel is visually arresting, loved it.

Looking forward to this live action Patlabor movie!

SFF said...

Roman and Franco. Love your input as always. It's a lot of fun reading your commentaries.

Roman. Loved your further description of Oshii. He is indeed a unique fellow and you need to really be open to his style.

And I really liked your assessment on GITS. I think it does strike an excellent balance. I love the dreamy like quality of the sequel.

But, you should check out the Patlabor OVA. That is the very first Patlabor series and that is the input of Oshii with a cadre of creative people and is entirely accessible in a different way. It's a lot of fun and very interesting visually and on a storytelling level.

Writer Kazunori Ito is fantastic on the OVA, but he, along with Oshii (on GITS and the Patlabor films) enjoy the exposition to be sure. But get that Patlabor OVA. You won't be disappointed.

But yes, I look forward to an Oshii live action film because I don't necessarily need to have non-stop action. Something cerebral with bursts of Patlabor excitement would suit me fine.

Franco. I have to laugh. I knew the Gatchaman film was cancelled with Imagi but had no idea they were doing a live action film which apparently is being released this month in Japan.

Oshii, like you said, loves to muse and talk. I do think his Patlabor film will be like that and the budget will no doubt dictate and necessitate that partly but it is indeed in keeping with his style and works to allow this Patlabor film to become a reality.

And yes, great example, Sky Crawlers is beautiful but has its, literally and fittingly, crawling moments.

I think frame of mind helps and guys like yourselves are entirely open-minded to different styles and genres, but, let's face it, there are just some folks out there who would sadly never appreciate Oshii. Cheers both.

El Vox said...

Nice article, I added Patlabor: Original series to my Netflix Q--I don't know if this is the first place to start, but it looked like it might be. I looked for something called Patlabor OVA, but couldn't see anything on it, perhaps you mentioned it elsewhere on your blog. I started watching an anime the other night called The Wings of Honneamise. It was okay, nice art, but a little dry in the storytellilng for my taste anyway.

SFF said...

The series is quite good and actually pretty humporous. Oshii didn't have much to do with that TV series but the writer he wroks with did and like I said you won't be disappointed. Good drama comedy with moments of action.

Btw, there's never as much action as you might like but there is enough.

You don't need to see the OVA either. It actually operates a little differently from the series in tone and timeline. It's very good but separate from the TV series.

The Wings of Honneamise is exactly what you said. Nice animation but a little dry. It's early Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion). Good snapshot into their development.

SFF said...

Btw Franco, should you return, the designs for the live action Gatchaman in Japan do not impress this faithful viewer of the original series. The Phoenix isn't even close.

Disappointing, but I don't have all the facts either.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I guess we'll just have to wait and see the film, I am super curious for it, saw some designs for the suits and all that, they look pretty cool, they even got the helmets right, but lets see...the movie should speak for itself.