Today's selection: Assault Girls (2009, dir. Mamoru Oshii)
Reposting an old review:
Pretentious, beautiful, action-packed, allegorical, confusing, nerdy, imaginative, and tedious: This must be a Mamoru Oshii film. Assault Girls is a feature length follow up to Oshii's Assault Girl 2 segment of the anthology Kill, which I assume was a follow up to another short, based on the title. Assault Girls also ties in to Oshii's 2001 movie Avalon, which itself has been accused of tying in with the Kerberos Saga (which wouldn't surprise me) or even Ghost in the Shell (which I sort of doubt, since Oshii didn't actually create that one). On one hand, it's fun when an auteur weaves an expansive universe across multiple media platforms and each informs on the next; on the other hand, it can be frustrating to track down all the pieces. Heck, the Fast Food Grifter characters can be traced back to Urusei Yatsura!
The film is set entirely in the MMORPG world of Avalon F, a sequel to the original Avalon, which we're told in the opening 8-minute long monologue that narrates more abstrusely than a graduate-level physics textbook (trust me, I know). We enter the world, and meet our three Assault Girls, Gray, Lucifer, and Colonel, and Assault Boy, J ger (evidently, it's much easier to get short handles in the future, since nobody's named something like "GrayIsAwesome2009bbq"), all high-level players in this virtual reality game. They form a party to kill a sandwhale, for which they'll get about pi*10^20 experience points, and that's literally the entire plot.
The film is split (rather arbitrarily) into chapters, each of which says something cryptic about the nature of God and the nature of the player. I guess that means that online gaming has replaced churches, and people now worship the mods, since the disembodied voice of the game master continuously interrupts the players, telling them what to do. In fact, most of the movie is in English (remember how Avalon was in Polish?) and the one time the characters slip into speaking Japanese, the game master butts in to chew them out. The players are all native Japanese speakers, garbled through breathing apparatuses, so thankfully the Blu-ray includes a subtitle track for their Engurish.
Typical for Oshii, there are a lot of badass mechanical designs, gorgeous cinematography, and inventive special effects. Also typically for him, it fluctuates between moving at a breakneck pace and the pace of something with a broken neck. For every aerial battle launching an offensive against a leviathan sandwhale, we see a long close-up of the characters playing with a snail, the very personification of something slow and dragging. There are long, panning shots across the landscape, which depending on your personal preference, could be either mesmerizing or a good time to use the bathroom. As such, I have to give the movie a frustrated hearty recommendation, especially for those who know what they're getting into.