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As a fan of Mamoru Oshii's action-packed, yet intellectually provocative anime films, like "Ghost in the Shell", "Patlabor", and "Jin-Roh", I was expecting something interesting from his live-action films. I started by watching "Avalon," which lived up to my expectations. I then decided to watch "Red Spectacles" next because it takes place within the same alternate world of "Jin-Roh".
While "Red Spectacles" starts off with a full-color live-action shootout that could've been straight out of "Jin-Roh", that's about as far as the similarities between "Red Spectacles" and its animated kin go. What follows the opening credits is a sepia-toned black & white genre-bending tour de force reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville".
Veteran anime voice actor Shigeru Chiba plays Koichi, a former member of the elite Kerberos police unit who has returned home after spending several years in hiding only to discover that the world he left behind has totally changed in his absence. "Red Spectacles" is constantly shifting genres, from action to slapstick to thriller to tragedy, and though these mood swings can be jarring at times, the film always maintains a surrealist tone. Oshii uses the language of film to cinematically convey Koichi's confusion and paranoia as he fights to uncover a government conspiracy that still wants him dead.
I won't give away the ending, but I will say that the last 5 minutes were visually breathtaking. The cinematography is especially remarkable at the end and Oshii introduces a metaphor in the final frames of "Red Spectacles" that he explores in detail a decade later in his screenplay for "Jin-Roh".
However, I must warn people who are expecting an action flick; "Red Spectacles" will probably bore and/or confuse you. I personally appreciate avant-garde film, so I loved "Red Spectacles", but my bloodthirsty anime "otaku" friends spent the whole film scratching their heads and begging me to fast-forward.
The next film at the top of my "To-See" list is Oshii's 1991 live-action sequel-of-sorts to "Red Spectacles" called "Stray Dogs: Kerberos Panzer Cops" (aka "Jigoku no banken: kerubersu").
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