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.