Sunday, July 26, 2015

Nippon Reviews: Gekijoban Psycho-Pass (Psycho-Pass: The Movie)

Psycho-Pass: The Movie (Gekijoban Psycho-Pass): Written by Gen Urobuchi and Makoto Fukami, directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Naoyoshi Shiotani.  Starring: Kana Hanazawa, Kenji Nojima, Shizuka Ito, and Ayane Sakura.  Running time: 113 minutes.  Based on the anime of the same name. 

Rating: 2/4

            It’s the future (isn’t it always?), and Japanese society is now overseen by the AI Sibyl System, a computer program that detects and analyses potential criminal threats before they even happen, allowing the police to rush in and take out whoever the computer determines to be a future threat to society.  Since the system has worked so well in Japan, the government is now exporting it to surrounding nations, including several in Southeast Asia that are engaged in internal civil conflicts.  Our movie begins with a raid by a police force team led by Akane, which stops an exchange of arms.  However, things turn personal for the squad leader after they learn that the group they stopped was sent by a former teammate of hers, Shinya, who went AWOL years earlier and is now known to be leading an armed resistance within one of the nations that utilizes a prototype version of the Sibyl System.     

            With the stakes for her now very personal, Akane is sent in under cover to find Shinya’s hideout and determine why he’s turned into a rebel leader.  Along the way, she also has to deal with a team of elite hit men (and one woman) sent by the local government to take Shinya out, and a cadre of corrupt military officers who may or may not be subverting the Sybil System for their own greedy purposes. 

            The anime-series roots of Psycho-Pass crop up early on in the film.  No time is spent on introducing the characters of the team, whose relationships to each other and character archetypes can only be gleaned in passing.  One of the smaller members on the team appears only in the beginning and again at the end to establish that he has a personal grudge against Shinya.  The movie is expertly animated and the fight scenes are slick and fun- an early combat scene in a bombed-out shell of a city deserves special praise- but it’s clear that any deeper enjoyment or understanding of the stakes can only be had if you already know the anime.  This is no statement on the quality of the anime- for all I know, it could be brilliant- but it does mean that Psycho-Pass falls as short as most series-movies do in terms of working as a stand-alone feature.  It doesn’t bore for a minute, but neither does it ever stop to let itself rise above its serial origins. 

            There are efforts on the film’s part to inspire thought about the broader messages of the world it creates.  The Sibyl System itself is an obvious focal point for discussions of the pros and cons of Orwellian surveillance systems, but instead of trying to visualize or scatter topical discussion about it, we just get a closing, moralizing monologue from Akane to the central mainframe for the program about needing to respect the development of human history.  Like I said, I can imagine that this gets better face-time in the anime, but here, it comes across as forced.  Casual anime fans should not be dissuaded by my rating from seeing this one, but just go in with the awareness that, fast-paced as it is, Psycho-Pass does not wait for anyone to catch up. 

-Noah Franc 

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