Patlabor: The Movie

Patlabor: The Movie

September 3, 2016


I am not an anime watcher or manga reader (although it would be cool to be any of the two) but I try to watch Japanese animated movies now and then because there are plenty that are impressively creative and original. And, well, if you like movies you have to watch everything, right? The animation is usually exhilarating. I got this from a list of essential robot anime movies. “Mecha” is usually the genre I am more inclined to when it comes to these movies (or studio Ghibli, whatever that magic genre is). Hence, I am not familiar with the Patlabor series and this small analysis is based solely on the film.


I played this movie thinking I was going to watch an exciting robot movie full of action and laser-gun explosions and boy was I wrong. Patlabor: The Movie (1989) belongs in the mystery-detective genre. There’s an explanation of who this robots are. Why they are building them, and why the earth is getting rid of water to get more land. All explained by a helicopter driver who is making his co-pilot aware of the situation. The old land doesn’t work anymore so they need new landscapes to be able to grow vegetables and fruits. The movie actually uses tomatoes as a theme, the only thing in the movie that looks colorful and alive (and our main character’s, Noa, hair is red just as the tomatoes).


The robots they use to do this work of new land and new places are called Labors. The problem, naturally, is that some of these cybernetic creatures are starting to commit “Labor crimes” so they hire some scientists and detectives to try to elaborate this case. The main question, and one of the characters asks it, is: Are this flaws accidents or are they being programmed to behave bad intentionally? Here’s where the movie starts getting more interesting. There’s a rumor about a scientist, Hoba Eiichi, who is a young genius that programmed the HOS for the software that is use to design these robots for Shinohara Heavy Industries single handedly. His person is unknown. They try to find him and discover he committed suicide by jumping to the sea from the Ark, a building floating in the sea where they are developing project Babylon. Why did he commit suicide and what is project Babylon?


The movie turns into a mystery. Detectives go out to find where he used to live. As they wander around a destroyed suburb in Tokyo with an outstanding (read that in capital letters) score in the background, they start discovering strange quotes in walls like “He bowed the heavens also, and came dawn: and darkness was under his feet” your typical mysterious biblical message. The two detectives have seriously deep conversations. If you don’t believe me for some reason take a look at this long quote said by one of them, Captain Gotoh: “How strange this city is… as I traced the path, I started to feel as though time were leaving me behind. What you think of as a familiar sight starts to rot away here and there. You look away for a moment and when you turn back it’s gone. Gone before you even know what it meant. In this town, past is a worthless thing.” Maybe these people are hopeless about their world but at least they can still throw poetic lines to the air.


Furthermore, the special squadron police that fight in robots are our main characters in the movie. They are also researching the problem. The sweet Noa, who is a pilot lady fighter, and Asuma, who is immature but techie.They are funny, immature and messy.I’m guessing they are the main characters in the manga or cartoon. In a special scene he discovers a vibration problem as a kettle boils and makes glass (protecting a sumo statuette) vibrate. He explains that this resonance makes objects vibrate at the same frequency and they reinforce each other’s vibrations. Walls and windows resonate throughout the whole movie and he discovers that it’s all coming from the Ark. So that just clarifies that something “heavily” strange is going on there. So they go check it out and they obviously find a surprise. The movie smartly lacks the sexual vibe that you get in many of these movies for comedic tone; it probably wouldn’t fit with the story.


The last stand takes place in the Ark and now we finally see the robot police trying to make justice (and a reference to Hitchcok’s The Birds. That’s funny cause I mentioned that movie in a review a couple days ago, just a coincidence I guess). The movie is slow at times. Long conversations happen and the edits flow calmly with sometimes-witty conversations. This gives quality to the humanity in the characters. Robot fights are not seen until the end of the film, the machines work more as the theme that makes this society struggle. The film is superior in quality for both explorations of both Japanese animation and human problems. What dominates this story are conversations between individuals who are trying to make something valuable out of a world that already got used to living with giant destructive robots while they also try to figure out a way to survive in it.


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