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Original Theatrical Poster (sourced from www.wikipedia.org)

Original Theatrical Poster (sourced from http://www.wikipedia.org)

Patlabor: The Movie has been one of my favourites for a long time, and it is still an effective film despite some newly noticed flaws. This is a fairly spoiler heavy review, and note that triggering behaviour will be mentioned.

The Clumsy

In retrospect the early scenes of Noa Izumi and Asuma Shinohara flying out to pick up Captain Nagumo are some of the most painfully clumsy infodumps in anime history.

These are gratuitous As You Know Bobs covering Project Babylon, the relationship between the forward (pilot) and backup (driver of the command car), and the importance of fighting spirit. This information is necessary, but is so clumsily delivered as to be flinchworthy.

However things improve rapidly once the film settles into telling its story.

The Story

The film actually opens with a smirking man, later identified as Eiichi Hoba, jumping to his death from the Ark, which is the enormous service depot built for the Labors involved in Project Babylon.

This then starts two parallel, but linked, storylines:

  • SV2 investigating a marked increase in Labors rampaging out of control [1]; and
  • Detectives tracing the history of Eiichi Hoba [2].

The link lies in the Hyper Operating System (or HOS) written by Hoba and that is allowing Shinohara Heavy Industries to dominate the Labor market. [3]

Much of this is a showcase for the sneakiness that is Captain Goto who shamelessly manipulates Asuma and the mechanic Shigeo Shiba into doing the heavy analysis.

Meanwhile Detective Matsui is backtracking Hoba through a series of beautifully rendered ruins and slums.

This eventually comes together when it is realised that Hoba planned to use resonating sounds off the Ark and three buildings in Tokyo to send every Labor in Japan on a rampage. The disaster would be triggered by a typhoon, and destroying the Ark in time is the only way to prevent it.

The Social Commentary

The Tokyo of Patlabor: The Movie is a mix of modern developments and abandoned, decaying, slums. These have an eerie feel as Matsui and his partner move through them.

Beautifully drawn, and hauntingly accompanied by Kenji Kawai’s superb soundtrack, simply looking at these ruins makes you wonder how much of Tokyo’s history is being lost in the quest for the new.

Which is the entire point, especially as the new can always be seen from the various apartments [4] that Hoba stayed in.

Project Babylon itself is an example of this writ large as it will turn huge chunks of Tokyo bay into reclaimed land, thus causing the cycle to repeat itself.

Although Goto and Matsui discuss this, and frame it in terms of the Tower of Babel, it is the imagery preceding the discussion that really makes the point to the viewer.

Compared to the earlier infodumps this is remarkably subtle, as is the fact that the issue is left deliberately unresolved. No-one in the film ever really comes out and says that Hoba was wrong to be concerned about this; they simply have to deal with it as police and prevent the disaster.

For the first half of the film SV2 are reacting first to Hoba’s plot and then to the attempts of their superiors to sweep the mess under the carpet.

There is a look at the intertwined politics within Japan of business and government, it isn’t a flattering look, and for a moment SV2 are being set up as the fall guys.

Even when they set out for the Ark it isn’t clear whether they’ll be heroes or criminals the next morning but, as Goto points out, they have no good choices left to them.

The Ark

The final act of the film on board the Ark during the typhoon is superbly handled. It draws on the established characters perfectly, and does so within some heart pounding action sequences, including this one (it does lose a little for being dubbed):

One thing I always adored about this film is that there is nothing of the Faux Action Girl about either Noa or Kanuka: these are professional police officers who react intelligently to combat and other changing circumstances.

As the Labors on board the Ark start to rampage Kanuka makes a deliberate choice to risk activating the Type 0 to assist Ota whilst Noa is assigned elsewhere. This does eventually turn against Kanuka, but it was right choice given what Kanuka knew at the time.

The assignment of Noa to investigate the possible presence of Hoba onboard is also well justified [5] and plays well with the logic of the film as previously established. It also provides the final mechanism to drop the Ark when the main computer is compromised by the Babel virus in HOS.

The final combat between Noa in the Ingram and the rampaging Type 0 also reflects Noa’s experience with and trust in her machine. Although physically outclassed by the Type 0, Noa is able to think laterally and execute a sacrifice play to save Kanuka that the Type 0 could not counter.

This concludes the film in an entirely satisfying way, and one that establishes that Noa’s status as a Patlabor ace is genuine, and not an informed attribute.

The Pretty

As I’ve alluded to above Patlabor: The Movie is beautifully designed and animated film, especially for its venerable age. The only exception is some of the night time scenes on the ark, although these might well be improved by a remastered edition. This is accompanied by an awesome Kenji Kawai soundtrack that neatly fits the changing moods of the film.

The Verdict

Patlabor: The Movie remains an excellent film, and one that should have more exposure to modern anime fans. For those who adore Ghost in the Shell this is where Mamoru Oshii established much of his reputation, and for good reason. Recommended.

Day 1 – New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning (1996)
Day 2 – Naruto Shippuden The Movie (2002)
Day 3 – Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
Day 4 – Steamboy (2004)
Day 5 – Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Day 6 – Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Day 7 – Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Day 8 – Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (2000)
Day 9 – Summer Wars (2009)
Day 10 – Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984)
Day 11 – Silent Mobius I (1991) & II (1992)
Day 12 – Space Firebird 2772 (1980)
Day 13 – Junkers Come Here (1994)
Day 14 – Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Day 15 – Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Day 16 – ???
Day 17 – ???
Day 18 – ???
Day 19 – ???
Day 20 – ???



[1] This does not include Ota raging out of control. Asuma tries to rein him in, but as I’ve long thought that Ota is an expy of Tackleberry from the Police Academy films…


[2] That his abbreviated name of E. Hoba can be read as Jehova is not an accident.


[3] This is not a reference to Microsoft’s dominance of the OS market at the time. Nothing to see here. Move Along. I’m a Hedge. Move Along.


[4] Those that survived, about half of the apartments were gone by the time Matsui gets there.


[5] Let’s face it, Asuma wasn’t going to send Ota for anything that might not involve combat.