February 20, 2003 -- "Patlabor: The Movie" (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ, also known as "PatLabor: The Mobile Police) is a Japanese sci-fi anime with lots of transformer-like robotic devices running amok. It also attempts, with little success, to dive into the shallow waters of environmentalism, social consciousness, corporate greed and technophobia. Everything ends up at a fairly juvenile level.
The story concerns a police unit equipped with giant robot-like devices called "labors" used in crime-fighting, while construction companies use civilian types of labors for, well, labor. So a labor is really a mechanical laborer. It isn't exactly a robot, since the device houses a human who controls it. Some of the later models have an artificial intelligence module that makes the machine into more of an automaton, so it can, in fact, turn into a sort of robot. When some of these labors begin to run amok in Tokyo, the police suspect that the new artificial intelligence software is to fault, but they can't say anything until they are sure because of politics. The company that builds the labors is very powerful and news of a defect in their product could ruin them. The police have to tread carefully.
Some of the artwork in the film is quite good, but mostly it is just average. The animation is jerky, as is often the case of anime of this vintage (this film was released in 1990). Advances in computer animation have helped to increase the smoothness and fluidity of motion in anime films in recent years, probably by increasing the number of cels per second of film projection. Some anime movies, especially the older films, had far fewer cels per second than the best American feature animated films. The best American animation features run from 12 to 24 cels per second. Using 12 unique cells per second is called running in twos, since every cel is repeated once to make up the 24 fps projection speed. The top animation detail of 24 cels per second is used in films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam" where cartoon characters appear on screen with real life characters. It is also used where finer kinds of motions are depicted. Cheaper American animated films also use fewer cels per second.
In addition to jerky animation, this film suffers from too many static scenes where the characters stand rock-still, except for their moving mouths. They talk, and talk and talk endlessly, making the pace of the film very slow. There is some decent action in the film at times, however. The final scene, involving a robot attack aboard a huge artificial platform in Tokyo Bay is fairly intense. The plot has a little complexity to it, and there are some police in the story who do actual detective work to solve the case, although the final solution involves a number of unproven suppositions. The film gets into environmental concerns, corporate greed and corruption and, a Japanese favorite, the threat of runaway technology. There are also a number of Christian references, such as the mark of the beast and quotations from the Bible. None of these themes is really explored in any depth, however. This is an O.K. movie for kids, but there really isn't enough meat on its bones for the average robust adult movie appetite. This film rates a C+.
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