"Not even rumors get through this town."
The Red Spectacles (紅い眼鏡) (1987) is the first live action film directed by acclaimed anime director Mamoru Oshii. This is film begins a trilogy of feature films including StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991) and Jin-Roh (1999) which together are known as the Kerberos Saga, though chronologically this film is the last of the trilogy.
The Red Spectacles takes place in an Orwellian dystopia where there once was a heavily armed elite police unit known as the Kerberos (after Hades' Cerberus) but due to a violent public act this group was dismantled and shut down. This film follows Koichi who refused to disarm and quit the Kerberos and (with two friends) decided to make an attempt at fleeing the country. Koichi ends up having to leave his friends behind but makes a promise with them to regroup and meet again, this film takes place three years later as Koichi has returned to Japan to look for his friends.
The "good" in this movie revolves around Mamoru Oshii. He was already a well known anime director before this point having a crucial part in the creation of the anime for Urusei Yatsura and Patlabor. But this film is his first attempt at directing a live action film, and although there's some shots I felt were oddly framed and little things he tried to do that weren't as successful, for the most part the direction in the film is really great. He does a lot of really creative things that aren't typical with the standard Hollywood way of making films, and that kind of creativity is the kind of thing I really enjoy watching in a film.
Also like many other of Oshii's works the film is loaded with lots of nods to literature and stories from not only across time but across the world. The film also asks some really deep psychological questions, this is something that Oshii becomes really well known for. And best of all I really enjoyed how well all of these higher concepts were integrated into the story of the film, it's not easy fitting lines from Shakespeare relevantly into a story, but he does it really well.
The film's pretty low budget so the action sequences are creative but still don't seem that realistic, but the film doesn't have too much of that so it really didn't bother me too much. The main problem I have with this film is the comedy. This film is loaded with lots of wacky Japanese slapstick humor that really seems out of place with the rest of the very serious, dystopian tone of the film. I think Oshii probably saw Brazil (1985) a few years earlier and decided to mimic that, but Brazil although very cooky in it's own way, does it a lot better than this film.
And adding a lot to the humor of this film is Shigeru Chiba who plays the lead, Koichi. Chiba has the "hammiest" acting I've seen in a movie in a long time! He's trying to play this stoic hero character but in the goofiest way possible and it really doesn't work for me. But Chiba's not the only one, most of the entire cast acts very strangely. I think this surprisingly works for most of the enemies in the "cat gang" pretty well, very similarly to A Clockwork Orange (1971), but I was not surprised when after watching the movie, I looked up the cast and found they were all anime voice actors Oshii had worked with on previous projects. This film was pretty the entire cast's first time acting in live action.
I'm not going to spoil the ending but it seems worth noting that the ending has a possibility of making you question why you watched the film at all, but I personally found the journey to get there was worth it more so than not.
The magnificent thing about this film is how effectively they create a dystopian setting on a very low budget: few locations, a lot conveyed through acting and story and small props and even the monotone color of the picture really help set the mood of this world. This would be a great film to review if you were intending on creating a dystopian type movie on a small budget.
The Red Spectacles (1987) is a great first live action film, and a wonderful dystopian mindfuck. I think it shows a lot of Mamoru Oshii's potential and with this film he created a world that is very interesting, so much so that it's no question why this film spawned a manga and other films and things that also take place in this world. 3/5 Stars.
Check back everyday this week as I will continue to review more of acclaimed Japanese director Mamooru Oshii's works.
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