Avalon Beszamel as Ash's Dog Basset Hound Eating Bowl

Ranking The Films Of Mamoru Oshii Is To Become The Basset Hound

Mamoru Oshii has been getting some renewed film festival attention recently in North America.

With what one could consider an over year long lead in to his pivotal Ghost in the Shell’s twentieth anniversary coming in 2015, many are taking extra opportunities to showcase his works. Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, for instance, will be granting the director a Lifetime Achievement Award on July 17th 2014, to coincide with a special viewing of a new high definition mastering of the film. Going along with that, Brian Ruh’s book Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii even entered its second edition this past April. For English language readers especially it is such a fantastic thing to have access to materials like that, a combination of introductory exploration for newer fans and analytical resource for veterans to return to time and again.

Mamoru Oshii, one must understand coming into a post like this, is one of my favorite filmmakers. I will watch anything he makes.

Myself, any About the Author or FAQ sections regarding my background aside, I am just somebody on the internet who writes a fair amount about anime and animation as an analytical and commentary hobby.

But that does not mean I can not try and join in on the general Oshii celebration, both in progress now and sure to grow in the months to ahead, as well.

A ranked list then. Because I have actually never done one of those on this blog before, oddly enough, and the filmography of a single creator is such a focused subject. Plus, there are few better ways to rile up a party than trying to figure out which presents are the “Best” of the bunch!

Mamoru Oshii has been involved in all manner of projects over the years, which can make sorting them tricky. I have taken some liberties to preen his film list down before trying to put them into any kind of order:

– Compilation movies of multiple episode productions do not count (Those for Dallos, Gosenzosama Banbanzai!, etc).
– Remakes of previous films are not included (Ghost in the Shell 2.0).
– Oshii needed to helm the Director’s chair for the film (So no Blood: The Last Vampire, Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai, etc).
– Limited to feature length films, so Oshii’s shorter works will not be covered in this post (Open Your Mind, Je t’aime, etc).

This generates a list of a little over a dozen productions to figure out where to place, between live action and animation. I feel that leaves us with a solid number to showcase the range Mamoru Oshii has displayed over the years of his professional career. At the same time, it is a balanced enough size where one could see where my own tastes are when it comes to engaging with his work.

Of course, if you have seen all these movies too, your own list may differ! And that is a-OK, and I would be interested in where we diverge.

Likewise, if you have missed out on some of these experiences over the years, perhaps something will catch your eye!

This will rapidly become a game of splitting rather razor thin hairs, and Oshii can be a pretty polarizing figure for some consumers. But for my money, pretty much all of the films on here I have enjoyed on various levels.

I hope you will focus less on the explicit ranks I try to assign, and more on the general flow.

 

Assault Girls Meisa Kuroki Gray Fighter Pilot Face Mask Clouds

14: Assault Girls [2009]

 

A kind of spiritual sequel to 2001’s Avalon, in that the virtual reality massively multiplayer online roleplaying game of the film takes place within a game called Avalon (F). No previous characters or locations make a return appearance, and the entire visual style looks wholly separate. Which is to say, characters appear like expected MMO avatars. For instance, a player named Lucifer who does silly dances and has black angel wings, compared to the grounded muted and haze effects heavy military shooter style of Avalon. Aside from both films having virtual world shooter games as key plot elements, and the Avalon (F) nod, the films have little else in common between them.

Of all of Oshii’s films, I would consider this to be the only occasion where a sequel (if we were to consider Assault Girls as such) failed to outperform the original in my eyes.

Elements like the cinematography remain well within Oshii’s wheelhouse, with significant indulgences for meditative mood explorations over scenic (if barren) landscapes. Characters are often in positions of seemingly sculpted poses to evoke a kind of “Screenshot Cool.” The way players of an actual video game may position themselves around a given field before hitting their appropriate image capturing keys. In this, it achieves its strengths, seeking to be a generally quiet and contemplative cinematic foray into showing aspects of video gaming culture quirks done in flesh and blood. What that would look like, how we draw lines between the two in processing the behaviours visually, that sort of thing.

At the same time however, there is a feeling that permeates the entire film that becomes difficult for me to fully engage with. That is, to me it has difficulty shaking the notion where in appearance it can often look like a collection of cosplay models walking through a combination of photography session and stage line reading. And I can many times enjoy uncanny visual works, is the strange thing (The Flowers of Evil was my favorite anime of 2013, after all). Arguably, the film does achieve what it wants to do regarding the video game ideas done in real life concept, even down to the pretty basic plot. Gather up a few regional players one barely knows for a boss raid party, and that is the narrative goal.

Assault Girls just does not click with me as well as anything else on this list, and even at only 85 minutes feels far too large of an exercise for what it wants to do. So it props up the bottom by default, is all.

 

Tachiguishi-Retsuden Tachigui The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters Foxy Croquette O-Gin Flashing Puppet Theatre Censorship

13: Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters [2006]

 

A film I have actually written a piece on previously a few months ago! So I would certainly encourage viewing that as a more expanded write-up than what I will be condensing here.

This production was forged of Mamoru Oshii’s “superlivemation” technique. It involves extensive digital photography and further computer image program processing to create a visual aesthetic akin to scraps of paper or popsicle stick puppetry. The method has seen use elsewhere in his work, such as the Mobile Police Patlabor Minimum: Minipato comedic “documentary” shorts, or aspects expanded later in Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai’s more historical but still light heartedly presented subject matter. Tachigui then, keeping with this theme, is a kind of “false documentary” charting out a modern Japan’s fast food history in combination with his own Kerberos Saga fictional universe.

Tachigui, which is to say those “stand-and-eat” or fast food locations that one would perhaps mentally associate with being able to grab a noodle bowl in a hurry, have featured in various ways in a number of Oshii’s works. Here however, such locations and what they embody or represent, come to inspire and guide the entire film. The titular fast food grifters, those who find ways to eat at such places without pay, can in their own ways be seen as metaphors. That they can represent the various kinds of culinary and social history in the mix at the time, such as a certain period being guided by Foxy Croquette O-Gin or Frankfurter Tatsu’s embodiment of the shifting norms of the era. As in keeping with the documentary style, a significant amount of verbal content involves the narrator describing aspects of historical importance (be they either real in our own world, of imagined for the fictional one). Meanwhile, the visuals of the digital puppet theatre play on to reinforce them.

While some could say the film is by its very construction reliant upon a particular gimmick to be effective, it is certainly by no means an easy one to pull off. Indeed, such was the volume of raw photographs required (30,000+, with processing on top of that) that Oshii was not taking any kind of carefree production shortcuts. As a gimmick would go then, it wholeheartedly commits.

This is certainly not a film one would watch for a more serious exploration of Japan’s cultural absorption of outside flavors in a globalised exchange of pallets. But, it has some amusing dry humor and slapstick jokes to pass the time with in combination with Oshii’s senses for what change can mean and the resulting reflection on it.

 

The Red Spectacles Akai Megane Kerberos Saga Kōichi Todome (Shigeru Chiba) Washio Midori (Machiko Washio) Poster Wall Window

12: The Red Spectacles [1987]

 

Mamoru Oshii’s first live action feature length theatrical film, coming out after departing the Urusei Yatsura franchise and the immediate financial bust of Angel’s Egg.

While the first film of a Kerberos Saga trilogy universe (an alternative history where, for instance, Japan was occupied by Germany rather that the United States during the Second World War), it is the last one chronologically within that cinematic timeline. The other pieces include the Oshii directed StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops, as well as a film he was writer but not director for, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. The previously mentioned Tachigui also occurs within aspects of this universe, though is not a part of the trilogy.

The Red Spectacles then, is befitting for an ambitious director who had rapidly cut their feature film level teeth between the first two Urusei Yatsura films, to Angel’s Egg, to this. It is a highly ambitious production, and at that it is also probably Oshii firing on all of his most extreme levels to roughly even levels within a single work. Heavy overt literary references just as loud as his slapstick, his arresting and quiet photography guided visuals and the vast gray scale applied over almost the entire movie, the commentary and surrealism, and so on. It is a work forged of indulgent qualities, without much to sandpaper down the transitions between. In doing so it is entirely possible for the final result to seem disjointed in the eyes of some viewers, in that they may respond to select parts of it far better than other aspects. And it goes on for nearly two hours.

It is a difficult film to be in the right mood for, given everything it wants to do. For what is on the surface a story of a fugitive returning to his homeland after several years after leaving his comrades behind, it is often not a direct investigative or detective piece given some of the detours it takes. It aims to wear many entirely different hats throughout, and these days is perhaps best enjoyed when one already has some varied experience with the director under their belt to know more of Oshii’s personal filmmaking quirks. It will add significantly to the experience, at any rate. This is easier than ever, as he did thankfully go on to create more films in the decades since. But I can certainly understand why both of his live action Kerberos Saga films were seen to underperform at the box office.

 

StrayDog Kerberos Panzer Cops Kerberos Watchdog of Hell Keruberosu Jigoku no Banken Inui  Taipei Taiwan City Steet Walkway Bridge

11: StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops [1991]

 

While coming out several years after The Red Spectacles, it is a prequel work whose narrative and ending directly ties into setting up that previous film. This being said, I feel one would be able to enjoy those movies in either release order or universe chronology.

I personally place StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops above its predecessor as I find it to be a more focused work at what it wants to be and how it wants to go about itself. It does not have as many opportunities to get more radically on different tracks. Following one of Koichi’s subordinates, who were left behind at the last stand of the Kerberos unit and later incarcerated as he fled, this production is about a man trying to find meaning and closure for himself after feeling abandoned by what and who he viewed as his superior and master. With that comes the heavy canine thematics, even by Oshii’s standards. Many low, lengthy shots through city streets, our lead character Inui’s interactions and deferments towards others, among the most prominent aspects. A by and large meditative film, especially in the slowest or most ponderous parts of the first half hour, much of it places a more experiential quality to the questions and sense of loss or purpose jumbling around inside of Inui’s head. One needs to be willing to ask or at least consider those questions along with him, lest the film come off as too stop and go when the pace ebbs and flows, but in the meantime a viewer will have many excellent shots and a lot of time to think.

As with The Red Spectacles, certain elements of Oshii’s slapstick or the like still work their ways into the film, but are significantly dialed down. Same with the literary references, and all the rest. As a result, the peaks and valleys between such material is not as extreme as it can come off in The Red Spectacles, resulting in a more personable or less jarring work. The tone remains more even throughout, allowing for greater opportunity to get into Inui’s headspace and slip away with him on his journey and frustrations. It was a valuable series of choices, as it makes both this prequel and its timeline sequel recommendable in their own ways while each still feeling very much like a part of the Kerberos Saga universe Oshii has spent so many decades building through film, radio, manga, and so on.

 

Urusei Yatsura Only You Lum Ataru Moroboshi Lum Invader Tiger Star Engagement Rings Smile Embarrassed

10: Urusei Yatsura: Only You [1983]

 

While Mamoru Oshii had been an episode director for various productions in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the television adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura manga was where he really was able to begin to flex his professional muscles. He would continue on as the Chief Director of the anime for 106 episodes, just over half of its total run, plus two movies.

As a series, Urusei Yatsura can be considered a kind of Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie scenario, with a super or magically powered girl coming to live with a human guy. In this case, taking the trapping of science fiction and Japanese folklore to go along with the more domestic or slice of life comedy chaos antics. This, in combination with the abilities of animation over a live action special effects budget, allows for an ever expanding line of character designs, worlds, spaceships, monsters, military hardware, and any other set pieces and antics required for the episodic content.

This film, in execution, is essentially a nearly two hour long television episode or arc, with any of the good or bad that could entail. It trots out every character it possibly can, while tossing in a few more for the classically worn but stable “Boy gets “engaged” to girl as a child, and now she has come to collect him years later” narrative. In this case, that involves our eternally unthinking Ataru getting swept into wedding preparations for an interplanetary princess other than Lum, and she of the tiger striped bikini and go-go boots is not about to have anyone’s army taking Darling away.

As Rumiko Takahashi’s favorite of the six Urusei Yatsura films, it is easy to see why. The narrative is light due to being more of a progression mechanism, allowing for more room for as many characters to strut their stuff as possible, and it is by far the longest of the film entries. The next most lengthy entry, Oshii’s own Beautiful Dreamer, is still roughly fifteen minutes shorter. Which, for a series whose earliest television episodes were two shorts crammed into a single weekly airing, is a lot of space.

All things considered, this is a movie that easily could have collapsed under its own size. For a franchise that can be as wacky or irreverent as Urusei Yatsura, it does require a large amount of attention to make work and guide to a steady comedic landing, to say nothing of the director’s tendency to not see eye to eye with Takahashi’s vision of the characters. That Mamoru Oshii would be driven to make Beautiful Dreamer as he did as the followup after this movie is, I feel, apparent in placing Only You side by side with it. For as clean of a series of antics this film carries on for as long as it does, I can see how this movie would have frustrated him.

 

Ghost in the Shell Kōkaku Kidōtai Motoko Kusanagi Tokyo Rooftop Landing Machine Gun Cyberpunk

9: Ghost in the Shell [1995]

 

The film adaptation which hurled Oshii to far more prominent international global cinema attention, and has influenced numerous later science fiction works.

This is where I feel my list may begin to garner some controversy. After all, this is the movie Mamoru Oshii is most famous for and the one most people have actually seen of his filmography! So allow me to reiterate that I am slicing very thin divisions for most of my ordering here.

Far more serious than its original manga counterpart by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell as a movie is more grounded in its focus. Here, surrounding the exploration and ideas of identity and self as its philosophy relates or may need to be modified by the technological advancements of a rapidly changing world. Even in the universe of Ghost in the Shell, which acquires its title from the achievement of consciousness being able to move from wholly flesh and blood into more cybernetically enhanced bodies, there are still surprises for Public Security Section 9 and the ever forward march of new developments.

Even with the keynote elaborate action scenes the movie possesses, the movie is one that is extremely direct about its intention and what it wants to talk about. Oshii’s humor or penchants for more surreal elements is kept to a minimum, and even with his trademark stamps for things like quiet scenery montages guided by Kenji Kawai’s musical score much of the film shifts to direct dialogue mode. Which is to say, several sequences where two or three characters have a philosophy oriented conversation, and bring up their related points or counterpoints. As a result, it is extremely easy to follow the top level arguments the movie wants to make regarding identity and advancements. This makes the film very accessible, as it assumes little and brings up many things overtly. At the same time, I can see it alienating or becoming frustrating for others in places, who would rather have these exchanges handled more “quietly” as it were. To allow more room for self meditation within the film experience proper. They may feel the movie is akin to having crafted dialogue from a philosophy term paper, and at that I can sympathize as it is often one step away from giving its own footnotes.

Regardless of how one may react to the locational placement of Ghost in the Shell on this list, I do still look forward to the high definition release of the original film that Manga Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment will be setting loose in September.

 

Patlabor the Movie Kidō Keisatsu Patoreibā Za Mūbī Captain Kiichi Goto Detective Matsui Sunset Sitting

8: Patlabor: The Movie [1989]

 

The placement of this film is somewhat contingent on a viewer having seen the Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days OVA series. Those parts spend the time establishing characters and relationships in a fresh out of the academy sort of light comedic sense, while Patlabor: The Movie forms the next part of the cinematic timeline and begins to tighten the screws on them. Otherwise, this film alone could be swapped with the preceding Ghost in the Shell.

As a franchise developed by Headgear, a creative group primarily consisting of Mamoru Oshii, Kazunori Itō, Akemi Takada, Yutaka Izubuchi, and Masami Yuki, Patlabor is many things. It is a police procedural with municipal giant robots. It is a slice of life workplace comedy. It is a serious space for the complexities of a modern Japan’s struggle for international relevance in a complex global political and economic landscape. It depends on what part of the many series entries one is looking at, and what the viewer takes away from it.

Patlabor: The Movie occurs in a background where various parts of the old Tokyo suburbs are being demolished and the Babylon Project, a large scale land reclamation effort in the Tokyo Bay, is in full swing. The titular “labors” of the series, giant robots often used for various construction or security projects, are naturally crucial to making such a massive public works undertaking possible in a speedy fashion. Then things begin to go wrong as certain machines go haywire, and it is up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s 2nd Special Vehicles Section to investigate and put a stop to it.

While the “giant robots” aspect can scare some people away at first glance, something I have always appreciated when it comes to sharing the series is how it chooses to use them. This is a character franchise, and the machines when they do show up are tools that are really no different than an officer of the law having a patrol car (hence “patlabor”) or interceptor. Robot action, while present, is not the driving force of the franchise. Here in this film, it also touches upon aspects of the relationships between public entities and private corporations, bureaucracy and how public agencies may greenlight particular plans, while also giving a mystery to get to the bottom of that allows our cast from Early Days to continue to grow as individuals.

 

Ghost in the Shell 2 Innocence Batou Jacket Storefront Stare

7: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004]

 

The film for which Mamoru Oshii was nominated for the Palme d’Or award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, and as of this writing the only anime to have achieved such recognition (the movie would go on to lose to Fahrenheit 9/11).

Released almost a decade after Ghost in the Shell, this movie was originally entitled only Innocence out of Oshii’s consideration that this is not a standard sequel, but was altered for international marketing purposes. I have been using English titles throughout this list, thus the version of the name I am going with. Either way, Public Security Section 9 remains, this time with the focus most firmly planted on the cybernetically upgraded Batou and his less technologically bodied partner Togusa. A series of murders have been occurring due to malfunctioning sex robots who may or may not have illegal consciousness enhancements made to them, returning to some of the most dominant identity issues of the first film in some different ways.

When push comes to shove, Innocence is a film I enjoy a bit more than its predecessor due to how its screenplay is handled.

Scenes like when Batou and Togusa visit a medical examiner and a resulting philosophical conversation there feel more “natural” to me than some of the discussions in the initial film. I feel Batou can also be a more sympathetic leading figure on a human level, which is interesting given the thematics of the film franchise on the whole. His interactions with the basset hound Gabriel alone, as is often the case in Oshii’s works, gives him swell moments that serve both as opportunities for surface level character enjoyment while also opening windows for contemplation. The moment against the backdrop of its world.

The flow of the plot, for how large some of its ideas can be, is at the same time quite an intimate journey compared to the prior film.

 

Avalon Małgorzata Foremniak Ash Forest Goggles Combat Gear Virtual Reality

6: Avalon [2001]

 

Mamoru Oshii’s live action science fiction film about videogames and virtual reality. The Miramax cover has a James Cameron quote where he considered Avalon as “the most artistic, beautiful and stylish sci-fi film,” though the circumstances under which he said that are not revealed.

Regardless, it is a rather stunning film to look at on numerous visual levels. The emphasis on browns and greys in the heavy color filtration throughout the film more than embody the aesthetics that later generation first person shooter games would champion into the modern era. The same goes for the sort of blur effect haze and bloom favoring lightning. It is remarkably prescient for what these games would come to embody on a graphical level, then also right down to class system choices, experience points, and ranking mechanics. All this, while also shot through Oshii’s delightfully photography minded scene blocking and cinematography style. It remains a wonder for me to look at, even today.

The film can also in similar respects be seen to coincide with a rise in in esports, as players of the Avalon game of the film can make substantial amounts of money for solid performance. This, in spite of the game itself being illegal, due to its ability to render players into a catatonic state. Ash, played here by Małgorzata Foremniak, used to be a member of a strong party group earlier that since fractured and is now one of the best solo players in the game. To where she is rapidly running out of levels to advance, and from there she latches on to a mystery regarding a potential hidden neutral character that may be able to provide access to an extremely difficult game field.

With military hardware on loan free of charge from the Polish armed forces, ranging from T-72 tanks and Mi-24 attack helicopters on down, the film looks suitably authentic while also retaining the crucial videogame visual vibes from the graphical style used. At the same time, like Oshii’s films on the whole, even this is difficult to ever call an “action” film, more using of a few combat set pieces between a larger and more significant drama construction. It has a number of solid ideas regarding the videogame thematics taken with the director’s usual calm meditative presentation, and at that there remain few films quite like it regarding such subject matter.

Note: several of the international releases, such as the aforementioned Miramax version, contain additional narration elements that Oshii did not have in his originally intended cut. As such, some research may be required by a potential viewer depending on their feelings for these kind of alterations. Personally, I enjoy the film just fine without the additional explanations.

 

The Sky Crawlers Sukai Kurora Commanding Officer Suito Kusanagi Rostock Corporation Area 262 Desk Office Smoking Glasses Military Uniform

5: The Sky Crawlers [2008]

 

The film version of Hiroshi Mori’s book of the same name, who had considered it “as the most difficult among all of my works for film adaptation,” but approved of the production given Oshii’s praise for the novel and desire to direct a movie of it.

The Sky Crawlers takes place in a world where while nations themselves are at peace, private corporations fill the role of supplying aerial combat for populations to watch and engage with as a pastime. In essence, one can say they view groups like our central Rostock Corporation as akin to how many today would their local or prefered sports teams. Right down to getting excited about touring hangar facility grounds or telling pilots about how they saw their fight on the television the other day. Entertainment, then, is war, each a kind of business in their own right.

While a potentially heavy handed theme to work with, it is easy to see how Oshii became smitten with the original novel material. For the world of the characters in the film, peace has been achieved enough in their daily lives that they desire not for things like food and shelter. Yet, people do still ever want a kind of unreal escapism, much like reality television in our own universe. Likewise, even the coverage of actual war in our own world at some of the best of times now is often presented by news teams as a kind of movie or video game. Combining the traits of war, reality television, sporting events that give something for folks to hang an identity of family memories on but really do not affect their more immediate livelihood needs is a highly relevant cocktail to hurl out in a modern era. Also, as expressed by even the original novelist, very difficult to work with all at once.

As the film itself by and large follows the Rostock Corporation Area 262 pilots and personnel, it is possible for a viewer to find the movie to have a certain “hollow” quality. This, afterall, would be the “business” side of the deal. These are individuals who, particularly from the pilots perspectives, are locked into a scenario where this is all they know and attempt in their own strained ways to live their young lives to the fullest otherwise. They do the same thing, day in and out. Disposable, in that when their time is up, it will be because they will generally be dead and a replacement will come in. I find the film engrossing through these issues or character actions regarding their station, though I do more than understand how others could take issue with how some scenes are handled because of these potentially colder thematic lenses due to the characters and their world.

 

Talking Head Shigeru Chiba Tomoko Ishimura Tamiko Stage Desk Review

4: Talking Head [1992]

 

Mamoru Oshii, notable director of animated films who at times does live action movies, directing a live action film about a notable director working on an animated production. The meta elements alone should provide a viewer reason to watch this. But even beyond that, I personally find this to be the director’s most remarkable work with a physical film stage.

Even that is to be taken rather literally here, as a significant number of scenes in the movie occur on what we see as a stage. Even driving sequences, once the mercenary director of the film is brought in to finish the job of a missing prior director, occur with a vehicle on top of blocks within the confines of an indoor stage to our eyes. It is a surreal exploration of the animation production process, with the narrative following everything from color selection to line dubbing. In addition, there is the further mystery investigation plot element of what ever happened to the original director of the anime the cast is working on, naturally entitled Talking Head for a film like this. Many characters even have names or quirks based off people one would know from either anime in general or Oshii’s films in particular, such as Ichirō Itano and Kenji Kawai.

The surrealist elements are heavy throughout, ranging from character dress to set design and how the animation production process is arranged for the narrative to show back to us as viewers. To me, it keeps the film varied on all kinds of visual levels, as well as adding a means by which Oshii’s love of some slapstick elements can come off effortlessly. Aspects like a staff member of the on screen team lifting weights in the office background or another busting through a door in exaggerated fashion only to immediately come to a physical freeze are pretty easy to justify mentally when one is also seeing the colorists in circus clown makeup and framed to be as small as their paint containers.

It feels very much like a production made out of a love of cinematic form and media creation just as much as it does a work that allowed for a splendid creative time with numerous real world friends.

In each respect, I find it a fantastic time to revisit both actively for the media commentary it contains as well something to have on in the background for the more outlandish elements.

 

Urusei Yatsura 2 Beautiful Dreamer Lum Invader Sakura Shinobu Miyake School Uniforms Making Tea

3: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer [1984]

 

I have written more extensively on this movie than any other on this list, as it turned thirty years old earlier this year.

But, I can always say more.

Even with its serious or mysterious elements, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer may well be the closest thing Mamoru Oshii has to a casual “date” movie in his directing repertoire, as even Only You may be found somewhat lacking in that department. Born out of Oshii and his team getting to do more of their own thing due to a chaotic schedule that allowed for less studio oversight, they grabbed the opportunity to bring many of their own dreams from older days to screen. At that then, they were able to share them with us through these characters. In a similar way, for us to share in that experience with someone else as well seems all the more relevant an opportunity to take.

Due to the differences in production between Only You and Beautiful Dreamer, it is also a significantly easier film to see his quirks and eccentricities in. In doing so, while the piece is nowhere near as zany or over the top as Urusei Yatsura often is, I do find the end result here to be more resonant, honest, and personable as a piece of romantic comedy oriented media. In so many meanings, the film is its own kind of love letter.

While Rumiko Takahashi and Japanese fans at the time may have received it more coldly during production and its original release, which would be a catalyst for Oshii to eventually leave directing the franchise, there is a lot of great material in here that continues to hold up well beyond its years. I did entitle that previous writeup on the film as ““I Always Wanted To Land A Harrier On My Lawn,” And Why Beautiful Dreamer Is Still Relevant” for a reason, after all.

Because I feel it is, and in a way always will be.

 

Angel's Egg Tenshi no Tamago Girl Egg Under Dress Cradling

2: Angel’s Egg [1985]

 

The production that nearly put Mamoru Oshii’s animation career on ice, as it was a lavishly ambitious bust on release.

Roughly seventy one minutes in length, it contains very little spoken dialogue. What little there is consists of only a few lines, as the total script when put on a page is only a few hundred words. What a viewer is treated to instead is a sort of gothic surrealism visual narrative exploration of a young girl protecting an egg, and the male soldier she comes to meet and befriend. The work, heavy on symbolism down to the most central cores of its being, has numerous potential interpretations. These range from a story about religious faith, to sexuality, to identity matters of living ones life for others at the expense of themselves, and so many more. It is the kind of cinema where one can justify a number of textual takeaways, with few if any truly wrong answers, and can be a deeply singular experience and introspective film for a viewer to sit through.

Those willing to undergo it will have before them a visual buffet. It brings the complex ethereal wispy art of Yoshitaka Amano (perhaps most famous internationally as the illustrator for numerous Final Fantasy games or artist for the Vampire Hunter D line of novels and related anime) to its most fully fledged animated form. Its world is one of fishermen who hurl harpoons at shadows of fish which are not there, and yet swim through seemingly abandoned cities. The kind of universe that is haunting in tone, but not expressly horrific. The consideration towards evocative atmosphere, the kind of persistence in quiet depth that aims to remain with someone for a long while after the credits have rolled and the lights come back on.

It is a film that demands absolutely everything from a viewer to even get anything at all out of it. And even then, they still may not like the finished product. Many did not back in the day, and those who may stumble into it now may not fare much better.

Angel’s Egg is a film of extreme artistic and professional indulgence.

It is a movie capable of clearing an anime convention viewing room with relative ease. A work that could cause film buffs to consider walking out of a showing. The production is one I think someone has numerous valid reasons to reject. I completely and totally understand how commercially unviable this movie is. But, I think it is still a film that anime fans or cinephiles should seek out and at least see for themselves.

For those who do happen to find a connection with it, they will find it a fantastic piece they will treasure like the girl and her egg. The film happens to work with me very, very well.

But, just as Angel’s Egg has many interpretations, so too is one fully in the right to reject even the movie itself.

 

Patlabor the Movie 2 Kidō keisatsu patoreibā the movie 2 Captain Kiichi Goto Tokyo Bay Bridge Boat Ride Leather Jacket Clouds

1: Patlabor 2: The Movie [1993]

 

Mamoru Oshii operating on the most number of cylinders smoothed together into their most balanced communal blend. For me, at least.

The end of the Patlabor animated movie chronology, starting with the Early Days OVA, into Patlabor: The Movie, the Oshii-less WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3, then this film. Patlabor 2: The Movie has Oshii’s penchant for slow scenery visuals combined with contemplative mood music, here over a near modern city of concrete and glass. It has scenes where “nothing” happens, and yet so much is going on to remain narratively engaged with. It retains his humour, applied to fit more naturally into the increasingly serious Patlabor universe. It possess his ample political, social, and philosophical commentary, ironed into dialogue formats people like intelligence agents would be fully believable to have casually and associated visuals that walk the line between interpretative and direct. It even contains his romance, carried on as it has been in its ways through the prior Patlabor works into this. Arguably, there is also his surrealism, insofar as one could contemplate the shock of terrorist attacks on a metropolitan area and the Japanese government moving to declare martial law as something resembling reality colliding with other worlds. And so much else beyond, like rich mechanical cel animation of the titular Patlabor machines on down. In the scripting department our characters have grown all the most since previous exploits, and here they stand before us in their most learned personal fashions.

Patlabor 2: The Movie spins a significant volume of plates, and transitions between them with minimal fuss to create an intelligent and compelling political drama like few others. It is highly representative of the varied passions and tendencies Oshii seeks to capture when directing, with here also a fantastic eye towards maintaining consumer engagement that does not at all lessen the deeper international relations contextual layers to unravel.

I place it here on this list, itself loaded with great films by a highly talented media professional, with full confidence.

2 thoughts on “Ranking The Films Of Mamoru Oshii Is To Become The Basset Hound”

  1. I’m probably gonna get sent to anime-hell for this, but I’ve never been a huge Oshii fan. I can certainly appreciate and admire his work, and some of it I even quite like on a more personal level, but I’ve never gone crazy over anything he’s directed. (Well, except maybe Sky Crawlers – though even that was more of a visual experience for me.)

    1. Oh, I think that is still plenty valid, so I certainly will not be the one passing any hellfire judgement ~ I mean I tend to rather enjoy the work Oshii puts out, and even then I still end up in a post like this saying how polarizing he can be, or why folks many not connect as well with what he makes! :-3

      I feel a lot of this comes down to his usual format being one of “Visual Construction – Themes / Plot – Characters,” which is the sort of thing that almost by design can firewall one from going crazy about a piece of film, even when they do like it. Then Oshii’s favored quirks and personal stamps on top of that. Resulting with characters who can, if someone were to remark they felt distant, can be difficult for me to disagree with.

      I find it interesting then how the upper chunk of this list tended to pick up heavy surrealism or dreamlike vibes, which on the whole probably indicates a fair amount with what I tend to find most frequently resonant in his productions myself.

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