Monday, October 28, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: W is for WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002)

Our mystery begins with a plane in distress crashing into Tokyo Bay. A tragedy to be sure, but it should be noted while the plane was going down in the pale light of dawn, witnessed by several chartered fishing boats, thousands of fish of an abnormal size rained from the sky in the doomed plane’s wake. And while this proved a boon for the local fishermen in the weeks that followed, no one seems to be catching much of anything anymore.

Meantime, there’s also been a series of bizarre maritime Labor accidents. For those not in the know a little backstory is probably in order. See, in the not so distant future, in which this film takes place, with the development of “Hyper Technology” that resulted in faster response time in computers and robotics, came the Labor: a multi-purpose, mostly humanoid-shaped machines developed for the use in construction or deep sea exploration. Run directly or remotely controlled by human pilots, one Labor could do the work of 20 men in half the time. And these hulking, multi-ton machines quickly proliferated in Japan as several manufacturers competed to meet the high demands of the Babylon Project, whose end goal was to wall off and then drain the vast majority of Tokyo Bay to solve the island nation’s ever growing need for more viable real estate.

Of course, it didn’t take long for someone to figure out these machines could be used for things other than just construction, which gave rise to Labor crimes. In response to this new and rapidly developing threat, the Tokyo Metro Police founded the Special Vehicles Section within their Security Division, which oversaw two units of specially designed Patrol Labors -- Patlabors for short, to combat these rogue criminal elements, which usually resulted in a lot of property damage before the offending Labors were stopped and the criminals taken into custody, making these units a necessary embarrassment for the rest of those in law enforcement and a menace to the public in general.

And now several of these Labors and their operators have met an untimely end under dubious circumstances. Three thus far -- well, make that four as Detective Shinichiro Hata (Hirata) reports to the latest crime scene at the beach, where he reports to his partner, senior Detective Takeshi Kusumi (Watabiki) as the CSI techs go over the wreckage and mop up what little is left of the pilot.

With Kusumi hobbled by a broken leg, requiring the use of a forearm crutch as it slowly mends, Hata serves as his legman. Through the Labor’s tags they know who the pilot most probably was, but they’ll need known DNA samples to confirm due to the condition of the body. But as Hata leaves the scene for the last known address, he stops to give a woman stranded in the rain with a broken-down car a lift.

Introducing herself as Saeko Misaki (Tanaka), Hata is immediately smitten with the woman and allows her to smoke in his car. He even offers to help schlep her large and heavy steel briefcase to her office at the university but a thankful Saeko waves him off, saying she’s already taken up too much of his time.

Later, Hata joins Kusumi for a briefing with their superiors. Running down the common threads in these attacks -- they’ve all happened in and around Tokyo Bay, they’ve all happened at night, every destroyed Labor was manufactured by Schaft Industries, and every pilot was hacked to pieces and only partially recovered; and while Kusumi has yet to find a link between these human victims, he fears they may have some kind of serial crime on their hands. But his bosses aren’t yet ready to rule out the possibility of this being nothing more than coincidental accidents or, more than likely, an act of terrorism against the Babylon Project. Regardless, Hata thinks it’s time to call in the Labor experts from Special Vehicles, but this is shot down rather quickly as they’re ordered to keep the investigation open and in-house for now.

But the only thing further canvassing of the bay area turns up is the mysterious plane crash that happened right before the first attack occurred. Here, the detectives check in with the aviation authorities, who have recovered nearly all the pieces of the plane and reconstructed it in a hangar as they try to resolve why it went down. According to the manifest, it was a chartered cargo plane hauling “scientific equipment” for Hermes Enterprises. None of the crew survived, and the only suspicious thing they’ve uncovered so far among the recovered cargo was a very large crate, which appeared damaged from the inside -- as if something had forced its way out.

Then, as the investigation drags on, and we get glimpses of the home-life of Hata and Kusumi, the younger detective sits in on a lecture by Saeko, a geneticist, who talks about how all cells eventually breakdown and die with the notable exception of cancer cells, which she demonstrates with several slides of samples from a young girl who died but the cancer that killed her still lives on. After, Hata returns her lighter which she’d left in his car as a ready made excuse to see her again. More excuses follow.

Meantime, while trying to track down and repair a breach in a power cable running along the bottom of the Tokyo Bay, a remote controlled Labor is attacked and destroyed by something strong enough to break the winch and snap the steel tethering cable. And while this was all caught on tape underwater, the murk and silt kicked up during the attack obscures whatever did this except for a brief frame of what looks like a very large fin or flipper.

At this point, Kusumi is convinced the plane crash and the Labor attacks are definitely related -- especially when Hermes Enterprises turns out to be nothing more than one of many shell corporations that will eventually trace back to the Toto Bio-Medical Lab, which specializes in genetic engineering.

Thus, someone there is definitely trying to hide something. And as their investigation really starts to heat up, cut to a pier where a couple arrive at a waterfront dance club, where a noisy rave is in full swing, and discover, to their horror, the car they parked next to has been partially demolished and whose occupants have been torn apart.

Called to the scene, Kusumi and Hata hitch a ride with a patrol car that gets diverted to a massive storage facility nearby in response to a sounded alarm. And while 12-men should be manning the otherwise automated facility, the building is dark and eerily quiet as the detectives and two patrolmen enter. Once the power is rebooted, they find blood and other trace elements of the missing men. And then, what killed them -- make that, what ate them, finally presents itself...

Hands down, my all-time favorite anime is Patlabor: The Mobile Police, which I came to completely ass-backwards by watching the three movie adaptations first before plowing through the many permutations of the TV and OVA series and then the Manga. And to add even more confusion, turns out each of these iterations follow three different and distinct alternate timelines: with the OVA series and the movies existing in one timeline, the TV series and The New Files occupying another, and the Manga covering a third. And given all of this, I could understand how a casual viewer could be completely lost when diving into this franchise.

But stick with it. Trust me, because they all focus on the same cast of characters, namely the gang of knot-heads of the recently formed Special Vehicle Section 2, Division 2, who usually left quite an impression whenever called into service, usually in the form of a massive amount of property damage, whose chaotic mise en scène the artist below captured perfectly.

The brainchild of Headgear productions, which consisted of manga artist Masami Yūki, anime director Mamoru Oshii -- who would later develop and produce Ghost in the Shell (1995), screenwriter Kazunori Itō -- who helped resurrect the Gamera series for Daiei Studios, starting with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi, and character designer Akemi Takada, this new company was formed so these creators could retain the copyrights to their creations and the profits generated by the same.

And the mecha inspired Patlabor would be the flagship franchise for Headgear, which would be licensed and exploited in many mediums. First released in 1988 as a manga and a seven-part Original Video Series (OVS), the concept showcased a “dynamic near-future world in which grave social crisis and ecological challenges were overcome by technological ingenuity.” A 47-episode TV Series followed in 1989. And it was revived for another 16-part OVS in 1991.

As a visual storyteller, Oshii’s distinctive fingerprints are all over the original series but especially in the film adaptations with their acute eye for detail in architecture and technology, stunning vistas, a noirish procedural flare, and a brooding sense of paranoia and a distinct social conscience as everything old is trampled under by the invasive technology that, while making things better and easier, sure, is also creating a lot more problems and pretty soon it’s going to be difficult to say which is running who.

Even with the films I came to the series out of whack, watching Patlabor: The Movie 2 (1993) first, which led to Patlabor: The Movie (1989), where I first fell in love with these characters -- Noa and Alphonse 4VR! And then finally, WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002), which, like the second film, was loosely based on an episode in the original OVS: The 450-Million Year Old Trap.

This episode marked the first appearance of Detective Kusumi, who would go on to be a recurring character in the TV-series and feature films. Here, he recruits members of the SV-2 to help investigate a strange occurrence near Tokyo Bay. Seems a man parked his car on a pier near the beach, where he left his girlfriend to go buy some refreshments before she would make out with him. And when he returned, the car and the woman had disappeared into thin air. And stranger still, trace evidence of tire skid-marks showed the car was drug sideways into the bay as if seized by some giant hand. (Wait! Maybe it was The Giant Gila Monster?)

The woman was later found washed up on the beach, but was in no condition to reveal what happened. And so, playing a hunch, Kusumi needed a pilot for an unmanned underwater Labor to search the harbor for any more clues. And while they do find the car, whatever attacked it also destroys the Labor. But like in the movie, the cameras picked up nothing but kicked up silt. Still, the media gets a hold of the incident and the headlines scream of a monster lurking in Tokyo Bay. Meantime, thinking all that is missing from this standard monster movie scenario is a mad scientist, one actually turns up in the canvassing.

A firm believer in the Panspermia Theory, this Dr. Hirata thinks all life on Earth sprung from extraterrestrial spores, fungus, fecal matter, or other microorganisms carried on cosmic winds, which he feels were responsible for the Cambrian Explosion -- the Big Bang of Life, some 450 million years ago. A theory that failed to gain much traction because the odds of anything surviving the heat of atmosphere entry are fairly astronomical.

Undaunted, he harvested some dormant genetic material from an ancient meteorite, revived it, and then combined it with the DNA of several other species, resulting in a new form of life that continued to evolve and grow. Terrified by his creation, this kook then panicked and flushed his experiment down the toilet, explaining how it wound up in the bay. Fearing it can reproduce on its own, which would result in an ecological disaster that could end mankind, this monster must be stopped!

And after running through several different movie-inspired scenarios to slay the beast, including an ersatz Oxygen Destroyer, the kaiju, which resembled a cross between the monster brothers from War of the Gargantuas (1966) and one of the main characters of the show, eventually heads out into the ocean, never to be heard from again.

While this OVS episode was intended as a homage to the creature features of yore and played for laughs, its re-imagining in WXIII is deadly serious as Hata and Kusumi barely survive their encounter with a bona fide kaiju

Those poor patrol officers? Not so much as they are both attacked and eaten by a creature some 30-feet in length that resembles a salamander mixed with a lantern fish. And if not for the quick action of Hata, using a loading crane to lure the creature into the bay -- using Kusumi as bait on a line, this harrowing incident would’ve left no survivors.

Luckily, they also have some solid proof of the creature’s existence when part of its tail was dismembered by a safety hatch slamming shut. But when this specimen was turned over to the Toto Bio-Medical Lab for analysis by Hata, who was surprised to see Saeko worked there as their top geneticist, the sample quickly regenerated into another creature, killing several lab workers before it was subdued and killed.

OK, now, it probably should’ve been noted upfront that people coming into WXIII looking for the usual gang and mayhem from The Patlabor franchise might be sorely disappointed as the movie has nearly reached its third act and the SV-2 has only rated a glorified cameo thus far with nary a giant robot fight in sight.

Nope, WXIII is told almost entirely from the detectives’ perspective, who slowly piece together the mystery, which leads them to a vast conspiracy between Toto Labs and the Japanese and U.S. military, who used viable alien DNA recovered from a meteorite found in the arctic a decade earlier by a Dr. Nishiwaki -- Saeko’s father, who then developed this DNA into something called Nishiwakitrophin, which Toto then used to create a new form of life. (Nishiwakitrophin is also a mutagen, which explains away the giant fish.)

Now, as a safety precaution, these genetic experiments were designed to rely on regular doses of Nishiwakitrophin to survive. But even with the drug, most test subjects barely lasted a week -- save one: Specimen XIII, which subsequently escaped and most likely caused the cargo plane to crash and escaped into the bay.

And as they slowly pieced this together, Kusumi discovers the kaiju is attracted to certain sound frequencies like, say, the vibration of a Schaft Labor’s engine, the analog records used at the rave, or the alarm system of a storage facility.

Meantime, Hata, realizing she is heavily involved in the cover-up, uncovers the tragic history of Saeko, who lost her husband in a fatal car crash. And while her daughter, Hitomi, survived, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer while in the hospital recovering and was gone in less than a month.

Not thinking clearly due to her grief, Saeko then co-opted one of those samples Toto was growing, Sample 13, splicing in some of her daughter’s surviving cancer cells. And with this tampering, the creature not only survived but thrived and soon outgrew containment, which was why it was being moved to a different facility. 

Realizing it was still alive, Sakeo had been luring the monster, which she feels is her daughter reincarnated, to shore with old recordings of Hitomi’s piano recitals to feed it the necessary Nishiwakitrophin that she’d been stealing from several sources, which was all kept in her briefcase.

Meanwhile, Col. Ishihara, their seedy military liaison, makes everyone involved in the experiments at Toto disappear to ensure their silence -- except for Saeko, who’s been off the grid since Hata got on her trail. He also introduces a one-shot viral warhead to the Japanese police that should neutralize the creature. 

The problem is, they must do this somewhere they can contain the creature and the carcass so that none of it survives to regrow. (-- also explaining why they can’t just simply blow the thing up.) Thus, the decision is made to lure the creature into the long abandoned Budokan Stadium for this final showdown.

And here is where the SV-2 finally gets involved to deliver the kill-shot with their advanced Ingram Labors. Under the command of Kiichi Gotoh (Ôbayashi), he instructs his two pilots, Noa Izumi and Isao Ota (Tominaga, Ikemizu) on what to do, saying Ota will deliver the payload since he’s a better shot.

Meantime, knowing she will come, Hata finds Saeko trying to get past the barricades and, in perhaps not the wisest of moves, brings her into the stadium as her daughter’s recital plays over the loudspeaker. And after a few harrowing turns, the kaiju finally reaches the stadium proper and the SV-2 goes into action, which is made doubly harder because the beast is now wearing the carapace of another Labor it destroyed earlier -- a sign of intelligence that will only compound this unfolding tragedy.

And as this battle rages one, Saeko manages to break away from Hada and then watches the chaos far below on the stadium floor. And while the beast appears to have the upperhand against the machines, it makes the fatal error of trying to eat Ota’s weapon, taking most of the Labor’s arm with it, too, into its mouth.

Here, Ota pulls the trigger and the viral bullet punches into the creature’s brain pan. And as her surrogate daughter screams in agony and thrashes around violently below, Saeko throws herself off the upper tier. Hata manages to catch her by the hand, but he can barely hang on as the rain pelts down and she slowly slips further away. 

And by the time Ishihara’s shock troops arrive and burn what’s left of the monster to ash, leaving no evidence to be traced back to him, Saeko slips away and dies on impact, bringing this tragic mystery to an end.

Well, not to confuse you even more, buuuuuuuuuut, WXIII -- or Wasted 13: Patlabor the Movie 3 came nearly ten years after the Patlabor franchise had essentially ended and the events depicted in this sequel, chronologically, take place between the first and second movie. And while Kazunori Itô and Mamoru Oshii had written and directed (respectively) those first two films, the OVAs and most of the TV-series, they were both long gone by the time WXIII came out. Replacing them were directors Takuji Endo and Fumihiko Takayama and screenwriters Masami Yûki and Miki Tori, who do a commendable job of capturing the look of an Oshii film but it kinda lacks the philosophical depth.

If anything, the film might’ve been better served being divorced from the franchise altogether. As I mentioned earlier, those looking for the usual humor and action and drama of the Patlabor ouvre won’t find it here. But then again, as presented, no prior knowledge of the franchise is really necessary to understand and enjoy WXIII on its own merits. And I do enjoy this film, quite a bit. I mean, What’s not to love about a standard monster movie that’s presented as a non-standard buddy-cop movie?

And I love the angle of two capable flatfoots slowly and deliberately piecing this together, and all the leisurely montages of Hata and Kusumi tracking down leads or the all too brief but fascinating glimpses into their home life. For, aside from one bit of happenstance with Saeko’s car breaking down at an inopportune moment for her but not Hata, and the coincidence that gets them involved in the warehouse attack, it’s solid investigative work that moves the plot along.

And putting all these incidents together into a coherent whole takes time, and take the time these filmmakers do as there are a lot of evidentiary scenes that are shown without context or comment, forcing the audience to really pay attention, challenging you to keep up with the unfolding investigation and draw your own conclusions. It’s a lot to absorb, and it runs the risk of getting “stranded in a maze of its own invention,” but it’s all their to see even if you can’t quite make all the pieces fit.

And then, as Beethoven’s "Piano Sonata in G Minor" (-- or Pathetique, which means ‘passionate’ or 'emotional' and not ‘pathetic’ --) plays over the climax and we reach that elegiac pisser of an ending, we already knew how this was all destined to end in tragedy for everyone involved, which makes it hurt even worse. And that’s why WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 joins the likes of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue (1997) in reaching that rarified air between style and substance, resulting in something truly unique that will continue to haunt you long, long, long after it’s over.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 23 reviews down with just three more to go! Up Next: Something Brutal, Evil, and Ghastly Beyond Belief In Stunning Sort of Blood Red Color!

WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002) Bandai Digital Entertainment :: Emotion :: Headgear :: Madhouse :: TFC :: Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (TFC) / EP: Kazumi Kawashiro, Fumihiko Takayama / P: Takuji Endo, Sook Yhun / D: Takuji Endo, Fumihiko Takayama / W: Miki Tori, Masami Yûki / C: Kazuhisa Asai / E: Kyooko Ootake / M: Kenji Kawai / S: Katsuhiko Watabiki, Hiroaki Hirata, Atsuko Tanaka, Mîna Tominaga, Toshio Furukawa

1 comment:

Ross said...

"Scientist tries to resurrect daughter by mixing her DNA with otherworldly creature goo, creating kaiju" is also the plot of Godzilla vs Biolante. I assume the connection is deliberate. By a strange coincidence, another "Foolishily promise to review a horror-or-adjacent thing every day in October" blog I follow hit that one yesterday.

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