Combustible Celluloid
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With: Katsuhiko Watabiki, Hiroai Hirata, Atsuko Tanaka (voices)
Written by: Yuuki Masami, Tori-Miki
Directed by: Fumihiko Takayama, Takuji Endo
MPAA Rating: R for language
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 04/21/2002

WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Monster's brawl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This movie apparently has at least four variations on a title, but the title screen on the film itself reads WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3. More than likely that means that the film is a sequel and that the distributor is trying to hide that fact so that the uninitiated won't be afraid to buy tickets.

Regardless, this film, as is the case with most anime, works beautifully even if you haven't seen the past two installments. It opens today at the UA Galaxy.

Keeping in mind that only a small percentage of anime make it to the big screen in America, the ones that do just seem to get better and better. Last year's Metropolis pushed the envelope for pure spectacle, and now WXIII covers new ground in establishing pure, palpable atmosphere. Indeed, the film sometimes feels more like a Yasujiro Ozu classic than it does a modern-day anime.

Just take a moment to listen to this film's beautiful, intricate sound design. When characters ride in a car, the sound is thick, as if cushioned off from the outside world. Standing in the rain, the sound takes on a different, wider but flatter resonance.

The "cinematography" -- the way the light plays upon the images and the way the characters are arranged within the frame -- also is a work of sublime delicacy.

If only the story corresponded to the storytelling.

It seems a giant monster is on the loose in Tokyo, just like when Godzilla first attacked in 1954. (And people ask how we San Franciscans deal with all the earthquakes...)

Two detectives take the case: the younger Hata (Hiroaki Hirata) and the older, more experienced Kusumi (Katsuhiko Watabiki), who listens to vinyl records (no CDs) and walks with a cane.

Through detective work laced with coincidences and lucky breaks they discover that the daughter of a deceased mad scientist has combined cancer cells with those of a creature whose existence is, presumably, explained in the first two Patlabor films. So now the creature has an unbeatable will to live and the ability to adapt to nearly any surrounding.

The most ludicrous plot twist comes at the beginning of the film. Hata accidentally bumps into the woman who will become his prime suspect -- get this -- when her car breaks down. Out of only 15 million people in Tokyo. What luck!

The Patlabor of the title comes in near the end, when police flunkies don giant robotic fighting suits to battle the creature. The suits are called Patlabors, short for "patrol labor." The movie breaks down during these scenes, which really could have been pulled from just about any other battle-themed anime.

Despite all the hokum, WXIII succeeds thanks to the sensitivity of directors Fumihiko Takayama (Bubblegum Crisis) and Takuji Endo (Reign). They allow the atmosphere to become a character in the story and allow plenty of quiet moments for us to take in the scenery and reflect. One of the major troubles with the aforementioned "Metropolis" is that the stunning scenery moved by too quickly and I found it difficult to absorb. That's a mistake WXIII corrects.

In addition, it's very easy to follow WXIII, whereas most anime get bogged down in plot and details, baffling most of us poor audience members. If you somehow let the recent anime Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Escaflowne, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Metropolis or the re-release of Akira slip by, and you've never seen one, WXIII makes a great place to start.

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