This is a gorgeous, darkly beautiful work of film that’s probably the most surreal work that Oshii has made (helped by the fact that Yoshitaka Amano did much of the art for the film and co-wrote the story). It is the first film I’ve seen that I don’t feel qualified to analyze.
Maybe it’s my autism preventing me from seeing some of the underlying metaphors or understanding some of the film’s imagery. Maybe I need more knowledge of art and the vocabulary therein. Maybe I need to know more about philosophy. It’s depressing, tragic, sorrowful, and melancholic. It’s a film which I’d definitely describe as an art film, in that you look at the film, and afterwards you don’t talk about the plot, or the characters, but more about the emotional context the film provoked, the same way you don’t necessarily talk about the story of a painting in an art gallery.
I really want this film to get a release from the Criterion Collection, because I’d totally watch another 77 minutes of film scholars and animators talking about this film and the themes and imagery therein. Just so long as they stuck to the film – I really don’t want to hear a whole bunch of general bitching about how this is the only work of anime that’s had any artistic merit the same way I hate it when film historians complain about special effects are killing cinema as a medium*.
All of that said, this is an incredibly slow paced film. It’s dark, and there are a whole lot of scenes of nothing exactly happening – which you should expect if you’re familiar with Oshii’s work. It’s something that causes the film to not benefit as much from repeat viewings. There’s enough slow bits there, that on a repeat viewing you’re more likely to gloss over the film, rather than notice new bits that you missed the first time.
I completely understand why this film tanked at the Japanese box office – indeed, this is the kind of film that is never commercially viable. However, due to the nature of animation as a medium (and the costs therein), when a film puts this much detail into its animation, and so much craft into its art in general, you have a situation where it ends up costing more than say, something like Koyaanisqatsi or The Holy Mountain. An additional problem is the fact that, well, this is a film that has very minimal dialog, but consequently every line is important. Considering that this film has not received a legal US DVD release (at least on its own), if you import the film and watch it without subtitled, there are bits of the narrative that you’re going to miss, especially when you come to the film’s conclusion.
In spite of all that, should you watch this film? Yes. Once. Maybe a few additional times if this movie gets a Criterion Collection release with a whole bunch of material from film historians. Or maybe if it gets a release from Discotek Media with some audio commentary by anime historians like Carl Horn, Brian Ruh, or Frederick Schodt. Or if you’re planning on getting into animation and want to soak in all the wonderful little technical details of this film. Otherwise, just see it once. But see it.
Unless you have depression. Then you probably shouldn’t see it.
*Looking at you, audio commentary for The Wild Bunch.