The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War (Japan 2015)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/26/16
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Music: Kenji Kawai
Cast: Erina Mano, Rina Ohta

Director Mamoru Oshii revisited his "Patlabor" universe in 2014 with a live action series called "The Next Generation Patlabor," and "Tokyo War" is an extension of that series which focuses on the theft of a stealth helicopter and a terrorist bombing of the Rainbow Bridge. Captain Gotoda's rag-tag team of misfits from SV2 (Special Vehicles Section) is approached by the mysterious and tough-as-nails Inspector Takahata from Public Security who asks if they can do some "unofficial investigation" of the situation. Gotoda's sense of duty won't allow him to act in such a rash and unsanctioned way, but circumstances eventually make him change his mind. In the last ten minutes, two decommissioned Labor units are put back into action and attempt to bring down the increasingly dangerous rogue helicopter before more lives are lost. The film ends with a gratuitous tease, which sets up a possible sequel.

Like his earlier "Patlabor" films, this one is superbly crafted and overly talky. The pacing is glacially slow, but Oshii's long meditative shots are exquisitely beautiful. The acting is good, but tends to be a bit stiff due to the stoic and militaristic nature of the characters. With the exception of Russian soldier Ekaterina Krachevna Kankaeva (superb Rina Ohta), everyone in SV2 is completely useless, which makes you wonder why they're on the team. Akira Izumino (adorable Erina Mano) is an expert Labor pilot, but her unit gets destroyed mere seconds after it's deployed, which leaves her with very little to do in the film (apart from looking adorable). The actress who plays Takahata does an incredible job and nearly steals the show with her no-nonsense attitude and shockingly brutal tactics. You do not want to cross her. And of course, Kenji Kawai's melancholy music score does a nice job of emphasizing the drama.

The visual effects are quite good for the most part, and the cinematography is outstanding. The film uses a cool and slightly desaturated color palette which creates a very somber mood and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the climax is a huge letdown because there's literally less than a minute of actual Labor footage. For a show that's supposed to be about giant robots, it's really disappointing to have so little robot action. However, the real pay-off comes in the middle of the film during an astonishingly intense raid on the bad guys' hideout. Akira is quite handy with a shotgun while Krachevna single-handedly wipes out most of the installation with her AK-47. There are a number of jaw-dropping female action sequences, including some amazing bayonet fighting from Krachevna and some ruthless gunplay courtesy of Takahata. Those scenes alone are worth the price of admission. It's just a shame that the film ends on such a dull note.