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In a future world, young people are increasingly becoming addicted to an illegal (and potentially deadly) battle simulation game called Avalon. When Ash, a star player, hears of rumors that a more advanced level of the game exists somewhere, she gives up her loner ways and joins a gang of explorers. Even if she finds the gateway to the next level, will she ever be able to come back to reality? Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Oshii Mamuro. Known for his slow pace, attention to detail, quite complicated storylines and his moodsetting. Always works together with Kenji Kawai (sound) and Ito (story). Other movies include Ghost In The Shell, Patlabor 1/2/OAV/Minipato, Urutsei Yatsura:Beautiful Dreamer. Also contributed to Jin-Roh and Blood. All these are worth a peek, especially if you like Avalon. Strange little fact : Oshii's a total dog freak. Watch his movies carefully.
Well, I can be short here. Set in an alternative present/future, a girl (Ash) sets out to find a hidden level in a VR-game (Avalon). It may be a bit thin, but a good setup for the main theme of the movie. Besides that, Oshii's movies were never all that story-based to begin with, as he pays a lot more attention to general moodsetting of his alternate realities. Oh, and for those who claim it's too confusing, try to focus a bit. After two viewings, most of it can be understood (minus a few little details). One warning though. The pace is as slow as ever. Oshii is one to leave you a lot of time to think about certain things that happen. Some like this, most of you probably won't.
Kinda hard to judge, as the movie was made in Poland, with Polish actors. Personally, I find the acting adequate. No oscar nominations here, but good work from the leading actress and the guy that plays Murphy. It all depends on what you like. To me the charm came from the exotic language, some will probably find this a turn-off. The conversation is minimal and not so important. It's just there to deliver the facts, not to explain emotions. Comments about the coldness of Ash have nothing to do with bad acting, but with the character she plays (another one of Oshii's trademarks).
Typical Oshii. A cold female in the leading role. The only time she shows emotion is when she's in the vicinity of her dog / dogs in general. Besides that, she's an ice cube. Personally, I like 'em like that. The others are interesting because of their little quirks and oddities, not because of their background stories, emotional struggles or deeper motives. All in all, they're a memorable bunch, but only there because you can't make a movie without characters.
Every Oshii movie has it's own theme. Beautiful Dreamer was about the boundary between dream and reality, Patlabor 1 about the relationship between mankind and machinery and Patlabor 2 about war in general. Avalon tries to question the boundary between reality and virtual reality, using the first-person game genre as an ideal setup. Which world is real, which isn't, does it actually matter and is there a way to find out what's real and what isn't. Oshii poses all these questions, but doesn't deliver any answers. Which, in my humble opinion, is the best way to handle it. When a movie does try to give you an answer (Existenz), it doesn't stimulate the viewer to think about it afterwards. So, it all depends on what you're looking for. You want some questions to think about, this is your movie, you want a quick story with cheesy moral (Existenz again), avoid.
* Special effects
Again, the opinions here are diverse. I think it's one of the most visually impressive movies I've ever seen. Everything looks absolutely gorgeous, especially when you compare the original shots with the result. But allow me to stretch the term SFX a bit. This isn't The Matrix with twirly, flashy, in-your-face SFX. Instead, the first hour or so is completely reworked with a superb sepia-colored filter, which gives the movie a 1940 postcard kinda look. Besides that, the SFX are a lot more subtle. Those which are in-your-face (like the rendered vehicles) are done nicely. I especially liked the Citadel, and although the rendering is not perfect, the designs are marvelous.
Oshii regular Kenji Kawai made all the songs for this film. Oshii's one of the last to realize the effect a good soundtrack has on a movie. And I don't mean finding some pop idols and putting them on a CD, but really incorporating the songs in your movie for extra effect, and even working the other way around, by adjusting the images to the sound. All the songs were written for Avalon and vary from ambient to something close to opera. Even if you don't like the movie or haven't seen it yet, the soundtrack should be part of your CD/MP3 collection.
* General Moodsetting
Well, this is what makes the movie one of the best there is. It requires a special kind of taste to like it though. The characters' reality is a bleak and cold one, with little room for emotions, yet portrayed in such a way that it still feels kind of warm and cosy. It's hard to explain but I believe it's best compared with the darker side of romance. The feeling you get when you're sitting in front of your window, it's raining outside and your girlfriend just left you. It's a sort of gentle comforting sadness. He atteigns this through the music, the sepia filter, slow pace and briliant camera swoops/positions. One of the fears I had before I saw the movie, was that he wouldn't be able to capture this mood in a live action (he normally makes animated movies, which all have a certain style of their own to begin with), but he did a magnificent job. Very unique and stylish.
I would like to say this movie has no similarities with The Matrix or Existenz whatsoever. People who expect a movie like the afore mentioned will be disappointed. This is 100% Oshii. It's a bit difficult to recommend to people who don't know him and his way of working. My advise is, try to watch Ghost In The Shell first. It has an easier job holding your attention (if you like animation that is), but is still representative for his other work. Personally, I think this ranks among the five best movies ever. It's refreshing, it's unique and made with passion. Hollywood fans beware, others, try it out.
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