Assault Girls

Certificate: Unrated
Running time: 65 mins
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Starring:  Meisa Kuroki, Hinako Saeki, Rinko Kikuchi, Yoshikazu Fujiki
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

It’s testament to how much the world loves Mamoru Oshii that none of us hold him responsible for influencing James Cameron or Zack Snyder and therefore responsible for Avatar (and it’s two…count them, two sequels) and the bitterly disappointing Sucker Punch.  In Assault Girls Oshii offers us up more of the world he has created to call his own (a virtual world) and a sequel to Avalon.  Now it’s worth pointing out that you don’t need to have seen Avalon to watch Assault Girls, it will enhance the experience but is not necessary.

The world is a dystopia which has affected the population to such an extend that most people live their lives inside an RPG called “Avalon”.  Four highly skilful players who team up in order to advance to the next level and in doing so face a world of monsters and creatures that must all pass by their crosshairs.

It goes without even saying that the film looks beautiful, of course it looks beautiful.  This is Mamoru Oshii, the camera is his brush and he is masterful with it.  He has an amazing eye for capturing the simply sublime.  The rough terrain of the games setting is framed extremely sensitively.  It’s never flashy, which seems counter intuitive to the genre but works so well.  If it wasn’t for the heavy arsenal the film would look, at least in parts, like The Story of the Weeping Camel as it’s absolutely gorgeous landscape and scale simply engulf you leaving you nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the film.  The juxtaposition between what would be the “natural world” created inside the game and the “artifical” objective based environment is brilliant.  In Avalon Oshii understood that gaming graphics are great but they are not perfect and this is a technique he has utilized to wonderful effect again.  Whether it’s the spheres in the background of the way in which the giant carnivorous worms shatter when killed it leaves the audience under no illusions.  This is a game and as such will be interacted by performer and audience member alike.  The key to this ethos is Oshii’s understanding of how sophisticated and involved gaming has become.  Many people look down their noses at the medium but these people haven’t seen a video game since Pong and are way out of touch.

There’s very little dialogue performed in the film, though there is a narrator and the return of the  Game Master, which is probably a good thing as the Japanese actors delivery of English always comes out a little rushed and creates the impression it’s been learned phonetically.  You can’t really blame the actors for this, can you imagine Keira Knightly starring in a Japanese language version of Pirates of the Caribbean?  There’s something genuinely interesting about this decision (not just to speak English but to limit the dialogue).  It means that so much of the actors performance must be physical and played out through gestures, when you think about this choice you realise that it actually strengthens the idea that Oshii makes purely visual cinema, art even.  Narratively Japanese is forbidden inside the game as it’s a “local language” and implies an occupation of some sort.  It strikes a beautifully Orwellian notes as to limit language is to limit imagination and creativity.  Where Avalon ran parallels with Poland during the Second World War the American of Assault Girls speaks to the cleansing of language and coverage of the decade long war in Iraq and how we have been limited politically by the creation of an unnecessary conflict. 

Meisa Kuroki (as Grey) is great in what you would consider to be the lead role.  She’s come a long way since One Missed Call Final and isn’t hampered in the slightest by the lack of character development in the script.  The world is a dystopic mess so it’s obvious she has a back story and it’s bound to be sad otherwise she wouldn’t be in Avalon and though it would be great to actually get some of it so we can care about the character it isn’t necessary for Kuroki as she wears it on her face during several key scenes in the film, one in particular in which she’s debating about the pros and cons of joining a gang.  Fujiki (as Jager) is also extremely strong, the long shots of him traversing the terrain, half hunched but strong carrying his rifle hints at a life before this, one that was comfortably with the rocky landscape.  All this is implied, of course as Oshii’s film has little interest in the past of his characters or their reasons for being who and where they are.  The likely outcome of this is that Oshii fans will read what they can into it while the rest dismiss it.  Kikuchi (as Lucifer) and Saeki (Colonel) are giving brief spotlights in which to showcase but without any real dialogue or dare I say story they’ve got little to do other than play the game.  It’s difficult to gauge how good they are, as their time is limited, but they’re most certainly not bad.  Saeki’s a little annoying though.

The score is as grand as the cinematography, it creates a huge wave that carries many sequences and is as lyrical, beautiful and poetic as any score in Oshii’s work. 

There are problems with the film though and they’re too obvious to be overlooked.  The pace of the film is a little sporadic as it exits lavish action sequences and slips into a dragging spiritual mode that isn’t really necessary, jars with the rest of the film and just feels completely out of place.  The biggest issue with Assault Girls is the complete lack of story, the film has a feeling of improvisation.  It’s as if the director has given his actors and cameramen a scenario and told them to run with it as there’s little more than what’s outlined in the opening paragraph.  There's no fear of consequence or tension or drama or drive.  This is a crying shame as it’s what hampers Assault Girls from being an excellent film.  It’s already insanely enjoyable imagine if there was an actual story.  It's cinematic art, the Japanese renaissance but what's the point if you can't really care about anything?   Ghost in the Shell was 1995, there’s only so many times you can either go back to that well or live off the back of it and as entertaining as Assault Girls is it leaves a bad taste behind when you consider the possibility that a genuinely brilliant director might be coasting.










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