JAPAN 2009  Directed & Written by: Mamoru Oshii  Produced by: Issei Shibata  Music: Kenji Kawai Cast: Meisa Kuroki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki

Together we can. Or so. That’s the metaphysical message of Mamoru Oshii’s latest live action experiment ASSAULT GIRLS. Picking up somewhat after AVALON in a quasi-sequel attempt and creating an Avalon 2.0 (online) gaming world called Avalon(f), three female players and one man are competing to advance to the next level.

But the fighting against some uberfiend is eating up all their resources and without sufficient credits they would need months to reach their goal. The only solution: join or form a group of players and fight as a team. After challenging each other for the longest time of the movie they finally join hands and destroy the enemy. Mission accomplished.

The movie runs 65 minutes and has substance for 10 but, gosh, do the girls look great. It remains Oshii’s secret however what he intended to achieve here. Disregard the eye candy and Oshii’s usual “visuals first” approach, the movie falls short of its own aspirations.

A significant 10% of the running time is spent on the epical prelude that is supposed to prepare ground for what follows. The world as we know it has vanished thanks to a ruthless orientation towards capitalism and individualism. After decades of war and political struggle the new world order settles with the status quo, avoiding any form of development, innovation or progress. Our existence is static, with one exception: Avalon(f).

Avalon(f) is the last resort of mankind’s ambitions, competitive nature and relentless me-first Darwinism, a virtual playground to go for gold and eliminate everyone else. Advanced technologies allow the player to put himself into the game, so 3D is so yesterday. Being completely immersed in the world of Avalon(f), the players fight for the only thing left worth fighting for – points and player rankings.

ASSAULT GIRLS is not your conventional SciFi movie, but you’d probably expect something different given this is coming from Oshii. ASSAULT GIRLS is a meditation on human behavior, our nature and purpose of existence. Trying to find this purpose is the player’s true goal, just as it is ours day in, day out.

Starting with the highly complex and philosophical introduction Oshii aims extremely high by giving us a lot of food for thought, unfortunately the movie never really answers any questions or follows its own pre-conditions and hypothetical construct. The beginning is intriguing, and then we keep waiting for ASSAULT GIRLS to fulfill the promise until the closing credits start running.

I cannot deny that ASSAULT GIRLS has some very strong moments, and its aestheticism is breathtaking at times, and its atmosphere is indeed meditative and contemplating, all of it making ASSAULT GIRLS a very beautiful film, but looking at it realistically it never really advances to the next level itself. It remains an Otaku fantasy, an exercise in high-tech filmmaking, Tsutsumi’s CHINESE DINNER in cyberspace.

Also I felt Oshii has been borrowing too much from others this time – scrutinizing film fans will notice a range of small details that we’ve seen before in certain Japanese and Western movies. That becomes even more obvious in view of the short running time.

The conclusive lesson that, even we may temporarily put the collective first, we never learn and will always end perceiving ourselves as the center of the universe, is logical but it wouldn’t have required a movie, not even a short one, to tell us that or any other of the philosophical lore.

What remains is a lot of non-directional thinking, SciFi action and girls-and-guns. ASSAULT GIRLS is pretty appealing and entertaining for an hour, but I can’t help feeling I am watching a trailer.


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