Vexille (Japan 2007)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/31/08

"To pass on hope to the next generation ensures eternal existence."

From the animation studio that brought us the superb "Appleseed" (2004) comes this cautionary tale of technology and humanity. Japan has become the world leader in robotics and biotechnology, and as the world starts to fear their power, the U.N. starts proposing guidelines and restrictions on the development of new technologies. Infuriated, Japan withdraws from the U.N. and cuts itself off from the rest of the world with an impenetrable electromagnetic shield. For ten years the Japanese have remained in complete isolation, and now they're starting to infect other countries with their forbidden android technology. To combat this threat, the U.N. special forces team called S.W.O.R.D. is called in. The key players are Vexille Serra and her lover Leon Fayden, and they are sent to infiltrate Japan and gather evidence as to what they're up to. Nothing can prepare them for what they find... On the inside, Vexille meets up with a tough woman named Maria who happens to be the leader of an underground resistance force. Together they make a desperate attack on the Daiwa Technologies headquarters in an attempt to put them out of business.

The film's greatest strength is that it's very pretty to look at and the visual style never gets old or boring. Unfortunately, the writing doesn't hold up as well. The film starts off strong, but then grinds to a halt with an overly long and plodding second act, and finishes up with a confusing and not particularly satisfying high octane ending. The "Appleseed" connection is very strong, and Vexille is a carbon copy of Deunan Knute. One could also argue that Leon has a lot in common with Briareos, and that their relationship shares many traits. However, the world of Vexille doesn't have the depth and warmth of Masamune Shirow's work, and it suffers as a result. Sure, there's a lot of really cool mecha, tons of techno-babble, high intensity combat, and a good helping of political intrigue, but there's no spirit. The entire film feels emotionally empty and I can't figure out why. The film also has a surprisingly strong anti-Japanese sentiment to it, although its nihilistic ending could be viewed as the country's salvation. While "Vexille" certainly has its flaws, it's still an entertaining film if you have the patience for its philosophizing and the tolerance for some of its sillier elements (namely the whole jags construct).