It's the ultimate live action film, made by a seasoned animator, a director who fully understands and exploits the power and appeal of an all-enveloping atmosphere.
Innocence is a cinematic celebration. It's an audiovisual delight, it's thematically sound and rich and it invites you to watch and enjoy it time and time again.
It's a strong, beautiful and extremely personal film that earned its place amongst the best work of Mamoru Oshii (and animation in general) and is the perfect example of mature animation.
A-grade Oshii material that should please his fans. It's an impressive tour de force, delivering a perfect mix of intriguing philosophy, intelligent writing and stunning audiovisual stimuli.
A peculiar mix of slapstick, surreal comedy and meditative arthouse, with plenty of Oshii quirks, superb visuals and a strong soundtrack to make it one of the most unique projects of the 80s.
One of Oshii's true masterpieces, dazzling and surprising its audience each chance it gets. If you don't mind the vague narrative, it's a succession of fun, interesting and challenging moments.
Oshii's film remains a monument of film making that still knows to impress and entrance. It's a superb sci-fi film, boasting tons of highly atmospheric scenes and a good story to boot
The film is smart, quirky, looks and sounds great and is filled to the brim with bristling creativity. It is hilarious, even if you can't catch all the details on the first viewing.
Beautifully animated and scored, sporting a strong cast of characters, an intriguing plot and a fair selection of interesting themes, Sky Crawlers is Oshii's most complete film to date.
The good stuff
It was a while since I last watched Ghost in the Shell, but the film still feels like a dream.
The foundation for the masterpieces Oshii would serve in the two decades to follow. Together with Kenji Kawai and Kazunori Ito he would develop a style and tone that would fully materialize in films like Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell, but the first glimpses are already visible here. A thoughtful sci-fi story sporting fun characters, a limited amount of top-notch action scenes and some very moody breathers. It can't compare to Oshii's greatest film, but it's still a blast.
Some ten years ago I stopped looking at the films Japan was producing, instead focusing on Japanese films that were actually ready for Western consumption. I got tired of setting myself up for disappointment. That doesn't mean I'm completely unaware of what's happening over there though. When Oshii revealed his new Patlabor live action project, my Facebook wall lit up with trailers. I left it for what it was, well aware of the slim chance I'd ever get to see it. But lo and behold, sometimes luck is on my side and when the option to see Mamoru Oshii's latest Patlabor film presented itself I jumped at it right away.
The Next Generation Patoreiba: Shuto Kessen [The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War] tails a 13-episode series, very much like the original setup of the franchise. In theory it's a sequel to Kido Keisatsu Patoreba: The Movie 2, but in reality it feels a lot more like a live action remake of said film. The plot is a continuation of the Tsuge storyline introduced in the second Patlabor feature, but Oshii revisits so many landmark moments of his '93 animation classic that it becomes impossible to look at it as a mere sequel.
Oshii has been going through some rough patches the past couple of years and those struggles are still apparent in Tokyo War. Adapting anime to live action is no easy task, regardless the film has some problems with pacing and tone. Anime-specific comedy doesn't mix well with real-life actors and the jumps between comedy and contemplative moments come quite sudden. It just feels a little awkward at times, especially when comparing it to original film, where pacing and tone were stand-out elements.
That doesn't mean there isn't a lot to enjoy though. Once you get past the weirdness of seeing all those recognizable Patlabor 2 moments redone in live action, there's plenty of vintage Oshii to soak up. From the elaborate camera work to the excellent use of music and some exquisite action scenes, there's hardly ever a dull moment. And if all the Patlabor 2 nods weren't enough, Oshii is also referencing some of his other films (the Ash basketball and of course the famous basset shot - with Oshii's very own silhouette next to it if I'm not mistaken).
There are times when Oshii's genius shimmers through, but those moments are too often interrupted by short comic interludes. I did find out afterwards that I watched the short version (there's also a director's cut that lasts an extra 30 minutes), which is a bit of a bummer since those extra 30 minutes could go a long way towards fixing the pacing problems. Whether you should watch Patlabor 2 first is also a tough question. It's a direct sequel so knowing the plot of its predecessor is definitely helpful, but there are so many references to the original that you might get stuck comparing the two rather than enjoying this film for what it is. I'm sure to give it another go when I get my hands on the director's cut, but for now it isn't quite the masterpiece I'd hoped for. Still a very good film though, especially if you're partial to the work of Oshii.