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10 January 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

NEW YORK -- This above-average anime puts character development before action, although there are still enough fisticuffs, robots and monsters to hold the interest of the genre's core otaku (fan boy) audience.

The third film in the "Patlabor" series is not as philosophically complex as its predecessors, which were directed by anime master Mamoru Oshii (who also helmed "Ghost in the Shell" and the live-action "Avalon"). But Fumihiko Takayama's "WXIII (Wasted 13: Patlabor the Movie 3)" should be sophisticated enough to attract a select crowd on a limited release, especially now that "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke" have demolished the Western notion that anime is only for kids.

In Japan, the "Patlabor" series spans manga comics, television series and films. Created by Headgear, a talented group of anime professionals that includes Mamoru, it is set in a slightly alternative present-day Japan. "Labors" are highly advanced, manually operated giant robots that were developed at the end of the 20th century to aid construction projects. As the labors are such powerful pieces of machinery, they are often stolen and adapted for use by criminals and terrorists. So the Tokyo Police developed their own Patrol Labor or Patlabor robots to police criminal labor use.

The appeal of the "Patlabor" series largely comes down to the action antics of the Special Vehicle Division Section 2 and their terrific machinery. But "WXIII" takes a different stance, relegating the giant robots to a showcase finale in an abandoned stadium. Instead, the story plays out as a delicate sci-fi, focusing on a relationship between a Section 2 cop, Hata, and a sad widower, Misaki, who's suffering because of her young daughter's recent death from cancer.

This film blends the usually distinct anime subgenres of monster and robot. A giant, highly adaptive biological mutation is menacing a land-reclamation project in Tokyo Bay. DNA tests on the fishy monster reveal that its biological makeup is a combination of cancer cells and special Nishiwaki cells. Hata becomes suspicious of a medical company, which employs the forlorn Misaki as a researcher. The tone turns poignant when it's revealed that Misaki created the destructive beast with her dead child's cancerous cells to allow her to live on. Unfortunately, the Patlabor robots will have to take action against the creature anyway.

The tone of "WXIII" is thoughtful, though it never approaches the deep and melancholy introspection of classics like "Jin-Roh" and "Ghost in the Shell". But the cartoon characters are certainly engaging enough to take on real personalities. Director Takayama also includes myriad political asides, which take in everything from public suspicion about the U.S. military presence in Japan to worries about research laboratories using dangerous chemicals. The eponymous monster WXIII is a pretty good meld of bio-tissue and assimilated robotic technology, and Takayama works hard with the scientific jargon to make it all seem believable.


Pioneer Entertainment

Bandai Visual Co. and Tohokushinsa Film Corp.


Director: Fumihiko Takayama

Screenwriter: Tori-Miki

Producer: Yutaka Izubuchi

Story: Masami Yuuki

Character Design: Hiroki Takagi

Mechanical design: Hajime Katoki, Shoji Kawamori, Yutaka Izubuchi

Music: Kenji Kawai


Detective Kusumi: Katsuhiro Watabiki

Detective Hata: Hiroaiki Hirata

Misaki: Atsuko Tanaka

Running time -- 100 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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