srijeda, 19. prosinca 2012.

Mamoru Oshii - Avalon (2001)

Igrani, akcijski film režisera slavnog po anime-klasicima Duh u oklopu (1995) i Duh u oklopu II: Nevinost (2004). Japansko-poljska koprodukcija, poljski glumci!!!
J. Hoberman ga stavlja na listu 21 filma koji određuju kinematografiju 21. stoljeća ("film nakon filma)".
9781844677511 film after film

cijeli film:

Znanstveno-fantastični film. U bliskoj budućnosti život mladih ljudi sve je opasniji i u realnom i u virtualnom svijetu: naime, pojavile su se po život opasne kompjuterske igre iz kojih je, ako se jednom u njih uđe, gotovo nemoguće izaći. Najopasnija od njih je ilegalna igra Avalon koja se temelji na simulaciji bojišnice. Kada Ash (M. Foremniak), jedna od glavnih sudionica, čuje glasine da postoji viša razina igre negdje u stvarnom svijetu, napušta svoju dosadašnju, individualističku strategiju i pridružuje se odvažnoj grupi istraživača. Međutim, to nosi jako velik rizik: ako pronađe put do sljedeće razine, hoće li ikada biti u stanju vratiti se u realnost?

Znanstveno-fantastični film u formi akcijskog trilera 'Avalon' prva je japansko-poljska koprodukcija. Režirao ga je Japanac Oshii Mamoru koji se ranije istaknuo filmom 'Duh u školjci', a u njemu glume poljski glumci i na poljskom je jeziku. Riječ je o vrlo zanimljivom spoju fantastičnog svijeta video-igara i realnih poljskih, postkomunističkih ambijenata. To je priča o šampionki video-igara koja putuje u svijet ratne igre u kojoj se vode bitke nalik na suvremene, ali i srednjovjekovne, uz spektar najraznovrsnijih oružja i borilačkih vještina. Za razliku od filma 'Matrix', u 'Avalonu' se razlika između realnog i virtualnog svijeta potpuno briše, što rezultira jednim novim vizualnim iskustvom, podcrtanim tonom sepije i mračnim ugođajem. -

Back in 2001, Japanese anime director Mamoru Oshii went to Poland to direct his first live action movie, Avalon. Oshii, who is primarily known for his work in anime, is the director of the acclaimed 90's science fiction classic, Ghost in the Shell (1995) and the sequel, Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence (2004).
Now, before I get too deep into this review, I just want to make it clear that from a production perspective Avalon is a borderline B movie. The film was created on a limited budget and lacks the polished look and crisp dialogue of most mainstream films, particularly those that come out of Hollywood. The look and feel of Avalon is similar to a made-for-TV movie, although many of the special effects are of a superior quality. Also, the movie was a Japanese-Polish collaboration, which, given its Orwellian setting, gives it a unique authenticity.
That being said, like Ghost in the Shell, Avalon offers considerable food for thought.
Avalon is set in the near future, a world in which fully immersive virtual reality gaming is all the rage. Many players are able to earn a living through gaming, particularly in an ultra-violent war game called 'Avalon'. The game, however, is highly addictive and dangerous, causing some less skilled players to suffer from severe and permanent brain damage. Those who meet this fate are referred to as the 'unreturned.' Because of the risks, the game is outlawed by the state and made illegal.
The main character, Ash, lives a boring, lonely and mundane life in the real world. Her life in the simulation, by contrast, is filled with action, danger, and fulfillment. Where her real life is repetitive, pointless and safe, her virtual life is dynamic, challenging and frightening. Avalon is a world in which people come to value their virtual lives over their real ones. The game-master himself is looked upon in near reverential terms and is unmistakably made to resemble a priest.
In the game itself, Ash is an elite player driven to complete level after level. Her motivation for doing so is not entirely clear, even to her, save for the hope that something greater awaits her in the 'next level.' Eventually, after the introduction of a rival player and the discovery of certain clues, Ash succeeds at finding an elusive hidden level.
As Ash transitions to the mysterious level, the sepia tones that dominated the film's appearance are washed away to reveal a full colour panorama. The sensation is much like in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door in her black and white world and enters a new world filled with dazzling colour. Where Dorothy enters a world of fantasy and whimsy, Ash finds herself undergoing an existential paradigm shift.
Ash's previous reality, one that was draped in drab monotone, is immediately understood to represent a partially realized existence. The overwhelming sepia and lack of colour come to symbolize limitations to human and social capacity – limits of perception, cognition and sensation. Alternately, the new world, with all its visual richness and dynamism, opens up an entirely new set of possibilities for Ash.
Oshii is making a number of interesting analogies here, including a comparison of the past with the future. But more aptly, he is comparing life as it was in communist Europe to modern life in capitalist democracies. It is no accident that Oshii made this movie in Poland using native actors and Polish dialogue.
Prior to her entry into the final level, Ash's world was filled with Orwellian imagery. Bleak and eerie tones dominated the screen along with retro-futurist gadgetry reminiscent of such films as 1984, Brazil and Gattaca. Computer terminals were limited to 3D text displays. Books containing no text whatsoever filled shelves. People gathered at communal soup kitchens to eat gruel. Public transportation was dominated by shaky old-fashioned streetcars. The new world, by contrast – Ash's mysterious new level - was filled with billboards, streets filled with bustling people, modern cars and a rich cultural life (including a vivid performance by an actual orchestra).
The new level, however, also presented its challenges. Ash was instructed to hunt down a 'computer bug' -- a former player who escaped to the advanced level. The 'bug' turns out to be a former teammate of Ash's, Murphy, and when she finally confronts him he declares, “Reality is what we tell ourselves it is!” As instructed, she shoots the defector and transcends to yet another level -- another mode of existence -- but this time to the mythical Avalon itself.
In Oshii's Avalon, the comparison of a totalitarian system with that of a modern democratic one can be understood as a transition of simulations in the postmodernist sense. It is reminiscent of Baudrillard's cultural simulation as constructed by the media and the state itself.
Similarly, according to modal reality theory, any system that appears rational to an observer will be construed as real; what we as observers don't know, however, is what possibilities might lie beyond our own modal reality. In the Avalon war game, by advancing to the final level, Ash is given an opportunity to transcend her original modal reality and enter into one with entirely new possibilities.
The relevancy to transhumanism is also pertinant. Given the potential human augmentation, and given the possibility of our own existential mode shift (i.e. the Singularity and virtual existences), humanity might find itself much like Dorothy and Ash, exiting a world of black and white and entering a world of undiscovered colour.
Ultimately, Avalon is a treatise on how we choose to perceive life and how perception is imposed on us by life itself. The movie raises questions about the authenticity of existence in any type of world and how environmental, social and biological restraint/constraint impacts on a person's sense of their subjective life.
And as always, Mamomru Oshii has tapped directly into the zeitgeist of our times.

amoru Oshii's films have always challenged our perceptions of the world around us, and his 2001 joint production with Poland, Avalon, is no exception. Set in a near future world where everyone plays a mysterious role-playing game called Avalon (patterned after Wizardry) the story focuses on Ash, a player with top level skills. She mostly escapes into the world of Avalon, earning money from the game. Her life 'outside' the game is plain and uneventful, with the drab setting and the sepia tones of the visuals accentuating this fact.
However, certain events lead to her knowledge of a secret level in Avalon - a level that many have tried to reach and failed. And there is the presence of the 'unreturned,' players who were unable to log off from the game and have remained catatonic outside of the game. She then sets off to reach this goal and perhaps... finish the game.
Avalon deals with our perceptions of reality itself. Oftentimes we are led to believe that none of the worlds featured in the film are real. But the argument that Avalon may trying to say is that reality is whatever we choose it to be, and in a way, that is all that matters.
Many of Oshii's motifs from his previous films pop up here. Quite evident is his use of dogs, primarily Basset Hounds, as a measure of one's grip on reality (astute viewers of his more popular Ghost in the Shell movies, which we will review later, will be able to see them.) The virtual game concept, a battle simulation where players gun down artificial enemies and each other, is featured in his latest film, Assault Girls (it may even be the same game; unfortunately it lacks much of the introspection of this film.)
Of note is the setting of the movie. Oshii picked the Eastern European look of Poland for this film as it fit his vision for the movie. Thus, to Japanese audiences this would have seemed even more alien. While most of the movie is in sepia, giving it yet another layer of 'disreality' from the viewer, the last third turns it all around, making the viewer contemplate the relative reality of the characters involved. This is complimented by a soundtrack by longtime Oshii collaborator, Kenji Kawai.
Comparing contemporary MMORPGs and the game of Avalon, there are certain things that caught my attention. While the immersion is not as deep as in this movie, people have been known to get hopelessly addicted to their games (video game addiction has been proposed as an inclusion in the handbook of psychiatric disorders, the DSM V.) Some may even use the games as their source of income.
Avalon will haunt you with questions long after it ends. It's the kind of movie that invites discussion and doesn't coddle the viewer with simple answers. I recommend it. -

Avalon and The Matrix: Ash and Neo’s search for authenticity in Plato’s cave

Authenticity in Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon


Babes! Guns! Monsters!

When you look at what output of Mamoru Oshii actually has reached English-speaking territories the last few years, you'd be forgiven for thinking him to be only making dark, brooding films.
Yet when you look at his eighties' work for Japanese television and the OVAs he created then, you see another Oshii entirely: one that juggles entertainment, high concepts, silly jokes and fan-service (both of the lewd and the mecha variety) with ease. And more recently his "Amazing Life of the Fast Food Grifters" was basically one big collection of jokes.
Enter his new film: "Assault Girls", which manages to be a combination of both the broody Oshii and the fun-lovin' fan-servicin' Oshii. On the one hand we have three damn cute women hunting huge sandworm-like monsters, with both the women and the monsters sporting some very large cannons. On the other hand this takes place in the same dreary oppressive universe of Oshii's earlier movie "Avalon"...
The end result?
Mamoru Oshii himself told the Japanese press earlier this week that "Assault Girls" contains about a twentieth of the tension that "Avalon" has, and that people who will go in with high expectations are likely to be disappointed.
True words, and your mileage may vary, but the film sure brought a big grin to MY face.

The story:
The creators of the Avalon game environments have made several new multiplayer arenas for people to play wargames in. One of these new worlds is Avalon-F, and only a few experienced players are allowed in to test the environment before it's opened up to the general public.
Avalon-F features huge monsters called sandwhales. The testplayers must hunt these to get "credits", the game's currency which can be used to buy cooler weapons, gear or even vehicles. The end-of-level boss (an even BIGGER spotted sandwhale armed with rocket turrets) is sought after by all players because killing it awards a gazillion credits.
This beast is very elusive though, and even if a player happens to encounter it the thing turns out to be excruciatingly hard to kill. Four current players in the arena have tried and failed so far: the beautiful woman called Grey, the beautiful woman called Colonel, the beautiful woman called Lucifer, and some guy named Jäger.
Even though all four are solitary hunters by nature, the omnipresent and all-powerful Game Master suggests to each of them that they should work together in order to catch their oversized prey...

The Movie:
Technically speaking "Assault Girls" is the third film featuring Mamoru Oshii's assault girls. The first one appeared in a segment of the anthology "The Women of Fast Food" (itself a sequel-of-sorts to "Amazing Life of the Fast Food Grifters"), and last year's action anthology "Kill" also had two of them duking it out. It's therefore surprising to see that the third outing takes place in the universe of a completely different film by Oshii: the cerebral "Avalon".
Recently fate is kind to Mamoru Oshii fans as the man has become quite prolific. Last year not only saw the release of the (2.0) reboot of "Ghost in the Shell", but also the excellent "The Sky Crawlers" and a section of the previously mentioned "Kill". This year "Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai" was released based on a script (more an essay) by Oshii and now we get "Assault Girls", less than a year after the premiere of his previous full feature.
But the question rises if "Assault Girls" really counts as a full feature.
For one thing it's awfully short with less than 70 minutes in it. And the pacing is odd, as eight of those minutes are spent on a spoken introduction accompanied by stills. By the time the opening credits (and the story) start 17 minutes have already passed. This leaves only three quarters of an hour for the rest of the film, but be warned: even within this short timespan Oshii manages to put in a few Tarkovskianly slow sequences of figures walking through desolated landscapes for minutes on end. People lured in by the frantic trailer will surely be scratching their heads. Coupled with the long intro it makes the film look like a stretched episode of a cheap television series.
This makes you wonder what the original intentions for "Assault Girls" were. The humongous intro serves as a companion-guide to both "Avalon" and the remainder of the film, but there is frankly not that much in "Assault Girls" that needs explaining. The sentence "This takes place in a videogame" would have sufficed! The last two-thirds of the film can be summed up as having a serious lack of any story, with everyone just trying to get into the end-fight.
It's entirely possible though that the intro is meant as a style-joke by the director because he has included several in this film. Language, for instance: "Avalon" was done in Polish on purpose because Mamoru Oshii was fascinated by subtitles and wanted them on-screen as part of the visuals. He does the same here but a bit more playfully. The language this time is English, both for the intro and for the game environment even though all of the actors are Japanese. Don't expect to have it too easy though: the English spoken amongst each other by the four hunters is of the "Sukiyaki Western Django" type, so at times I wished these were subbed.
Other jokes include the insertion of some videogaming dogmas which are indeed funny. The plot of the movie itself may be short and empty but, as they say, the devil is in the details and Oshii is obsessively nerdy enough to put in lots of tiny things to notice. Anyone who has played videogames recently, especially the MMORPGs like "World of Warcraft" can pick out several gems. The most obvious of these is a "Mortal Kombat" sub-game, oops, sub-movie, which is hilarious. Mentioning the intro again (the damn thing does draw attention to itself), that can be seen as a nod to the latest "Metal Gear Solid" or "Final Fantasy", where you indeed have to wade through hours of bloody exposition before the game even starts. And what has been achieved at the end, when you finish a videogame? Something akin to the feeling this movie gives you.
But as promised the film does provide ample footage of babes hunting worms with an assortment of cool hardware. Let's face it: Mamoru Oshii does good action sequences, so good in fact that we always want more than what what he provides us with. A self-proclaimed gun fetishist, Oshii makes sure the guns get plenty of screentime too. I love the sniper rifle which Grey has to reload with a gesture similar to a "Fuck off!" salute.
Speaking of Grey, Meisa Kuroki is absolutely stunning in this film. For the first time she made me actually regret that "Vexille" (for which the half-Japanese half-Brazilian beauty voiced the title character) was done as a cgi movie. The other two actresses are none too shabby either but on looks this is Kuroki's movie, no doubt.
Hinako Saeki (an assault girl veteran since she played one in Oshii's segment for "The Women of Fast Food") gets a few cool moments too but Rinko Kikuchi steals the show as Lucifer. While all other characters aim for personal gain by shooting big guns, Lucifer uses magic and seems just to be entertaining herself, giddily starting to dance even at the most inopportune moments. Her entrance into the world of Avalon-F is also a brilliant self-parody by Mamoru Oshii of an image he made iconic in "Ghost in the Shell": the fighting woman who crashes down from a great height in a cool pose, leaving a crater as she lands. Endlessly imitated-slash-copied in movies, anime series and videogames, Oshii seems to relish spoofing it. But with this being Lucifer, the crash and the crater are of course somewhat more spectacular than the one done by Motoko Kusanagi back in 1995...
Special mention must be made of the music by longtime Oshii-collaborator Kenji Kawai. His score for "Avalon" featured a rich, fully orchestral faux-opera which was a big surprise, as the man was known primarily for doing electronic and/or minimalistic music. For "Assault Girls" he returns to "Avalon" (with a dash of "The Sky Crawlers") for the more bombastic moments, but whenever Lucifer becomes playful and quirky so does Kawai's music. His score here certainly doesn't end his winning streak.
All in all many things seem to be missing in "Assault Girls". Things like... a plot, for instance, or any emotional development in the characters. But when you look closely at the details, the designs, little things like the numbers awarded to hunters whenever they kill something... there is much to like here, and the film is almost a collection of Easter Eggs. It makes the movie clever but lightweight.
So this time, Oshii serves some snacks instead of a meal. Maybe his aim is to show the joyful but empty shallowness of videogames, or the general behavior of on-line players, but even that may be over-analizing on my part.
Chances are the real goal was just to show off some awesome women with awesome guns.

Oshii's latest is the farthest thing I would have expected as a sequel to "Avalon". Wildly uneven as a movie, "Assault Girls" is far from a classic but that doesn't stop it from being eminently watchable. Rest assured that when the BluRay arrives there are sequences which I'll replay endlessly, with glee.
It's a quirky film and definitely "Oshii-light" but everyone looks like they were having fun with the concept and Kenji Kawai delivers yet another killer soundtrack.
So I recommended it... but with caution. - Ard Vijn

screen capture of Talking Head
Talking Head

screen capture of Akai Megane
Akai megane

screen capture of Kokaku Kidotai

Kokaku kidotai (Ghost in the shell)

Hollywood is haunted by Ghost in the Shell by Steve Rose

cover extract of Tachiguishi Retsuden

Tachiguishi retsuden

screen capture of Patlabor 2

Patlabor 2

screen cap of Sky Crawlers

Sky crawlers (cijeli film):

screen capture of Tenshi No Tamago

Tenshi no tamago (cijeli film):

screen capture of Innocence

Inocence (Ghost in the shell 2)

screen cap of Ghost In The Shell 2.0

Ghost in the shell 2.0

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