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URUSEI YATSURA meets JIN-ROH meets David LYNCH ...
RED SPECTACLES starts typically enough for an Oshii film. First of all it is based on the same manga that much later inspired JIN-ROH so the power suits seen right at the beginning of SPECTACLES will look very familiar to those who've seen that later film. It is also shot in a very desaturated way, kind of similar to AVALON in how it is almost monochromatic. In a series of texts on screen we are introduced to a future world where an elite police force has just been disbanded and forced to disarm. Three officers refused to give up their weapons and it's their fate that this film will mostly be about. They hole up in a dilapidated building and are soon attacked by dozens of civilians who are out to collect the bounty that has been put on their heads. However, with their superior guns they mow them down like so much corn at the time of reaping. But still, only one of them can continue his escape as the other two (a man and a woman) are badly wounded. They make him promise that he'll eventually return and he's off.
The rest of the film is about his return and his adventures in a very changed city. But I was in for a big surprise! If I thought this would be a typically gloomy and melancholic Oshii film at the beginning I soon realized with utter amazement that this is one hell of a weird hybrid of a film. Yes, there are a lot of typical Oshii-esquire moments of philosophizing and melancholy but for every such scene you get one in which the hero suffers from diarrhea and runs around making silly faces while looking for a toilet. There are a total of 3 (!!!) scenes of that in the film and they are acted, filmed and scored (by the once again brilliant Kenji Kawai) like a post-modern Japanese take on LAUREL & HARDY. And to make things even stranger there are also entire scenes set on a theatrical stage! Oshii resorts to simply filming the actors acting like they were in a play, sometimes even resorting to pantomime! Awesome, just awesome! Then, towards the end of the film it takes a turn for the surreal that I won't spoil but it involves a girl who may or may not represent fate, BLADE RUNNER skylines and the mysterious contents of a suitcase.
Well, what can I say? When I popped in this DVD I expected Oshii's patented brand of beautiful and cultivated tedium but instead I got what could possibly be described as a bizarre hybrid of URUSEI YATSURA and GHOST IN THE SHELL with elements of the films of David Lynch thrown in for good measure. I found the film to be extremely ahead of the time it was made in. Even after 15 years RED SPECTACLES still feels fresh and intriguing and thoroughly modern. Which is only further testament to the genius of Mamoru Oshii, who is simply one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge out of Asia in the last 2 decades.
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