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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.
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
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").
I recently purchased Mamoru Oshii's Cinema Trilogy Box Set. This was
the first film, and I must say that I was more than pleasantly
surprised. I was expecting action and sci-fi... and while I got a
little of that, I also received a huge helping of intelligent,
thought-provoking mystery and a large dose of entertaining slapstick
comedy. In truth, this film is a throwback to silent film (Just as
Quentin Tarantino's films are often throwbacks to pulp fiction,
blaxploitation, chop-socky, spaghetti western etc. films)... It truly
is a silent film with dialogue. The actions and expressions of the
actors are excessive and exaggerated, techniques commonly thought of as
"primitive" in the cinephile community are used, and there's, of
course, the sepia tone that covers most of the film.
Shigeru Chiba is definitely the shining star of the film, portraying qualities that Hollywood action, drama, and comedy stars would kill to have. Chiba is also featured in the other two films in the box set, and definitely carries all three films with his small yet enormous presence.
This film, along with "Stray Dog" and "Talking Head," does not spell out each and every little thing for the viewer... Mr. Oshii trusts the audience to be able to come to its own conclusions. I definitely respect that and would recommend this film to anyone who would listen.
This film is not for everyone. It is not even for all fans of Mamoru
Oshii necessarily. It is extremely bizarre, often seemingly
incomprehensible, very unpredictable, and a mix of several genres that
is not necessarily seamless. It seems that most of the negative
reactions to it are from viewers that were expecting something more in
line with Jin-Roh, and being that it is supposed to be part of that
saga, this isn't exactly a wild conclusion to make. However, it is
quite different from Jin-Roh and other Kerebos related works. It is
possibly Oshii's most bizarre work to date, and although not completely
different than Jin-Roh, still a different beast. Mostly, I would urge
viewers not to go into this expecting the heavy doses of action
delivered in his anime works.
For what it is, the production values are quite good. Most of the film is shot in black and white, but it is one of those movies where this helps the tone and it feels natural. The opening sequence is an over the top action scene in color where the main characters mow down a bunch of bounty hunters with their gigantic machine guns and power armor, but after that it is mostly straight surrealism layered with general insanity. The tone shifts frequently and leaves you never knowing what to expect. You just never know if you are going to get an action scene, comedy gags, or long sequences of social commentary... which are sometimes intertwined with action and comedy.
Red Spectacles is one of the finest works of surrealism I have seen. The feeling it evokes is very unique and stayed with me for days. It bounces between noir drama, gun fights, kung fu, suspense, tragedy, slapstick comedy, and set piece driven sequences without any given indication. It is a wild ride that will take you off guard, for better or for worse. It is steeped quite heavily in symbolism as usual with his films, but I feel that this is one of his best deliveries in terms of that. The ending is incredibly powerful in particular, and paired with Kenji Kawai's brilliant soundtrack, and the outlandish landscapes, ended up being straight up haunting. The OST is absolutely one of Kenji Kawai's finest scores as well, and I do not say that lightly as I hold his work in the highest regard. The epic main theme is unforgettable, and the movie would not have been what it is without him.
Lastly, Shigeru Chiba's performance is simply amazing. You may know of him from his anime voice acting career. I assure you that the film is at very least worth watching for his over the top and ridiculous performance. He is honestly even more entertaining on screen than he is as a voice actor, it would have been great to see him in more live action films. He single handledly brings the film alive and makes it even more than it could have been. His performance here is reminiscent of Tomorowo Taguchi's acting in the films of Shinya Tsukamoto.
Love it or hate it, I guarantee you will never forget it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I learned about the existence of this movie after watching Ghost In The
Shell. Being a fan of the franchise, I thought other work from Mamoru
Oshii would be at least as good. So, I stumbled upon Red Spectacles.
Inspired by "1984" it said, so my interest was picking up. And then I
watched it and was left disappointed, to say the least.
I'm not going to say why I like Ghost.. because this review will turn into review of the anime. Japanese anime and movies have tendencies to confuse the one watching more often than not, and while this is not always a good thing, there is always something that grips you to try to understand it. This movie is just confusing, and there never is a sign that something is going to happen that will explain things. It's just more confusing junk piling over at every corner, intertwined by pretentious quoting of Shakespeare and toilet humor.
Yes, toilet humor. There are scenes actually when the protagonist is struck by diarrhea. While the first time this happens it is amusing and you can attribute it to the quirkiness of Japanese culture, but by the third time you come to question the the director's fascination with it.
Second thing i don't get is why is considered dystopian, Orwellian, and other words connected with that meaning. At the beginning, it really sets the story in that direction. But by the end, (here come spoilers), you realize it may all be happening in the protagonists head. So why exactly am i watching this? It reminds me of another also pretentious western movie with Tim Robbins now that i think about it...
The only thing that made me give this movie 4/10 is the visual style, witch were this a different movie with actual plot would be great, and the score by Kenji Kawai. Besides that, nothing makes this movie worth your time.
I watched the trilogy by Mamoru Oshii. The words surreal, Orwellian and Kafkaesque come to mind. However, despite all their bizarre aspects I believe they are essentially jokes. The darkness was there as a chiaroscuro backdrop to highlight the humor. The first, Red Spectacles, is about a man who can not let go of his past not matter how painful and dangerous it was because he never felt more alive that when he was facing death. The second, Stray Dog, shows that man during an interim period when he seems to be almost at peace, being brought back to that death-seeking modus operandi which precipitates the events of the first film. The third film, Talking Head, while not directly related to the events of the first two, does refer back to them as a man attempts to create truth out of illusion. The idea is that film, as an art form, is essentially an exercise in madness and that illusion is finally a higher truth, an idea that was touched on in the first film. But it is the humor that is Oshii's ultimate goal. He doesn't want to make highly significant pronouncements on the nature of humanity and reality. He just wants to tell a story, and if the story is funny, all the better. I suppose that many parallels could be drawn between Oshii's work and that of Philip K. Dick.
This is, for lack of a better term, an art film. This should be said
from the start, because while many of Oshii's anime films are of a
philosophical bent, they hew closely enough to convention to appeal to
mainstream movie fans. This film probably does not.
Judging the film as a whole, it makes some interesting philosophical points and pays off at the end. The question is whether this payoff is enough to justify what went before. I am not sure about this.
Normally one assesses a confusing film that can only be fully grasped at the end by looking at that film's secondary characteristics.
Judged as an art film, the movie's technique is expert, but it is not so innovative or visually compelling so as to justify the film by itself. There is nothing wrong with the acting in this movie, but it is not so compelling that it shifts one's focus from the film as a whole.
Judged as a more commercial or mainstream film, this movie is distinctive for its emphasis on humor. That humor is an old-fashioned form of slapstick however, and while this will make the film for some people, if you do not especially like this form of humor, then the fact that it is placed in a confusing and rather dark movie will prevent the individual bits of humor from coalescing into a funny unity greater than the sum of the parts.
The one thing that cannot be denied or dismissed, is that this film is an original one, and is philosophical without being preachy. If this is enough, then you are certain to be satisfied.
I too am a big fan of Oshii's anime work, but I have to admit I went
this movie expecting an action packed movie such that it starts out as,
it ends up being something akin to Lynch's Mullhuland Dr. I was perfectly
willing to accept that, and I enjoy all kinds of movies, and would
particulary enjoy a very high brained live action anime type flick, and
visuals where spectacular in many scenes.
However, I wish someone who saw this film would explain in depth more
about what exactly was going on, as they saw it. I have to admit that I
didn't get half of what happened in the last half of the film, and I would
consider myself pretty versed in metaphoric interpretation of film.
According to others what was being shown is a reflection of the confusion of the character trying to find out what happened to his friends who he left and let die? Perhaps only in that the viewer is confused by what they're seeing?
I don't know, but if you consider when this movie was made, in 87, it was extremely advanced in quality of the film.
Red Spectacles is an odd mix of film noir, surrealism, slapstick and
anime mech(at the beginning and end). As a whole it does not work. I
think possibly as a series of vignettes it might work better but
collectively the parts do not sit well together and the humour for me
at least is sadly lacking.
The cinematography ranges for excellent to below par. Some shots are very film noir and others have bad framing with heads cut off and shot without enough shadowplay to justify there lenght.
The sound is very poor and distracting. All sound was added in post production so there is a spareness to the sound which makes everything seem overly poignant and frankly off putting. The score is poor for the most part and sometimes inappropriate music is used for a scene, at least inappropriate to western culture.
As an art film it does not really compel this viewer, neither does it have any particularly outstanding aspects technically or thematically. It is run of the mill with a few nice visuals.
After watching Avalon (which was decent only because of the very nice digital fx), and several anime films written by Oshii, including Jin-Roh (which is fantastic) I decided I should check out the Oshii cinema trilogy box set. Being that the Red Spectacles and Stray Dog are related, I will comment here on both. And let me tell you, it was one of the biggest wastes of money I have spent in a while. I first watched Stray Dogs and then The Red Spectacles. I am sad to say that these films are quite possibly the most boring two movies I have ever seen. For only about 10 minutes in each film do you get to see some action between the the characters, who are only dressed in the "Panzer Cop" outfits for a few fleeting scenes. The rest of the time you will see some very drawn out scenes filled with boring dialogue in some less than impressive locations. I really don't understand the motivation behind these two films at all. I love the Wolf Brigade outfits and the idea behind the plot, but the films themselves leave much to be desired. I would suggest NOT watching these films, and certainly do not buy the box set like I did, unless you enjoy wasting money. Oh, and if you are wondering what I think about the 3rd movie in the set, Talking Head, I couldn't even bring myself to watch it before I purged the box set from my DVD collection via eBay at a $20 loss. If you want cool Japanese live action, check out Returner, or Ichii the Killer or the Zeiram series.
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