Assault Girls (Japan 2009)

Rating: **(*)
Review Date: 8/1/10
Written And Directed By: Mamoru Oshii
Music: Kenji Kawai
Cast: Meisa Kuroki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki

Disappointing. Director Mamoru Oshii revisits the virtual world of "Avalon" (2001), but unfortunately forgot to bring a script. Oshii gets all of his cerebral philosophizing out of the way in the first seven minutes of the film with a non-stop, mind numbing, psycho-babble monologue discussing politics, economics, ideology, and the nature of reality. From there, we're dropped into the virtual reality game "Avalon(f)" where four players are trying to take down a boss monster. When they all fail, they spend the next 45 minutes moping around until they realize that the only way to level up is to work together as a team. The end. Seriously? That's it?!?

The only thing the film has going for it is Oshii's remarkable talent for visual storytelling, and it's definitely a beautiful film to watch. Unfortunately, it also suffers from Oshii's tediously slow pacing, which is accented by numerous close-up shots of snails. In fact, there are more snails listed in the credits than actors... (seriously) The visual effects are mostly competent, but there are a few instances that made me cringe (including the dreaded digital rain effect). Kenji Kawai's melancholic music score is delightfully smooth as you would expect.

The film features some excellent girls with guns moments, and a highly amusing "versus" battle between two of the characters. Meisa Kuroki is amazingly beautiful and looks GREAT with a sniper rifle and combat fatigues. Wow... Hinako Saeki fits her role perfectly and handles a gun quite nicely. I'm not sure what Rinko Kikuchi was doing, other than being cute and random. And then there's the sole male on the team, a dirty and obnoxious loser named Jäger who represents the conflict and destabilizing factor. Much like "Avalon," Oshii seems obsessed with watching people eat, and we get to watch Jäger sloppily eat an entire meal, which is rather disgusting. Another oddity is that the entire cast performs in English, which is extremely awkward. The explanation is that "Avalon(f)" requires players to speak in English, which may have thematic merit, but the film suffers from it. Acting in a foreign language has got to be extremely difficult, and the actors have a hard time verbally emoting. As a result, everything comes off as stiff and unconvincing. In addition to their accents, it's hard to understand them since they're speaking through masks or headsets most of the time. Fortunately, there's almost no dialog in the film, and what is there is of little consequence. Much like the game that it portrays, the film is all style and no substance. It's ultimately an empty experience, and even though it's only an hour long, I had trouble remaining engaged.