Sunday, November 14, 2004


The few works of anime director Mamoru Oshii that I've seen, namely the two Ghost in the Shell pictures are fascinating motion pictures. Subverting genre conventions into lengthy philosophical tangents along the lines of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Takeshi Kitano's various yakuza pictures (Hana-Bi comes to mind), Oshii's films are always gorgeously crafted but ponderous to those raised on Hollywood fare.
Avalon is his first (and only) live-action picture. It takes the Gibsonion cyberpunk future and injects it with an anime heroine. Ash is one of the top players of a massive worldwide multiplayer war game (think The Matrix environment, which of course was almost completely inspired by Oshii's Ghost in the Shell). This is not an ordinary game. It is undergound and illegal, due to the unfortuante side-effect of rendering losing players brain-dead from time to time. She plays by herself even though the norm is to play with a team. Her old team was top ranked until a serious error of judgement (not hers) caused one member to be lobotomized. When she gets wind of a secret level in the game called "Class Real" she goes looking for it only to find the cusp of reality and virtual existance colliding.
All of this sounds like comic-book stuff and it is. But watching the film, set in Poland, with a polish cast (keep in mind, the Writer/Director is Japanese), there is a dark atmosphere which belies it's slick video-game roots. Ash's reality is as cold, dank and repetitive, featuring long pauses of meditation and contemplation. It is quite the opposite to as the game she plays which is sepia toned, fast-paced and people explode into pretty showers of polygons when the are killed. At one point the film breaks into 'natural colour' of the modern day Poland and the effect is jarring to say the least. Avalon evokes Andrei Tarkovski's Solyaris and Krystof Kieslowski's Blue (from his Trois Couleurs Trilogy) over the course of Ash's quest to find the nature of her game/existence. How many genre pictures can do that?


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