Film of the Week: Patlabor 2

Throughout Mamoru Oshii’s filmography there lies an interest in Japan’s political history. The end of World War II and its subsequent consequences serve as the nexus through which Oshii creates the alternate setting of his films. With Patlabor 2 (1993), Oshii questions the role of Japan’s military, the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF), during times of supposed peace. Patlabor 2’s action and historical backdrop suitably allow Oshii to examine the trauma caused by war not just on soldiers but citizens as well.

The story begins after the Yokohama Bay Bridge is destroyed in a missile attack seemingly launched by a JSDF plane. A black-sheep police-unit known as the SV2 are tasked with carrying out a covert investigation on the incident. Meanwhile, martial law is declared, and civil war threatens Japan as the JSDF and various politicians begin to fight amongst themselves in the ensuing panic and confusion.

More somber than its prequels—Patlabor 1, and the ten-episode OVA, Patlabor: Early DaysPatlabor 2 is a serious spin on the traditionally light-hearted series. Further distancing itself from the franchise is Patlabor 2’s set pieces which carry a more reflective atmosphere rather than one focused on action or comedy. A montage of Tokyo’s industrial landscape blanketed in gray clouds and dim sunlight provides the scenery for an argument on the merits of a just war versus an unjust peace.

Kenji Kawai’s ambient pieces here, and Kazunori Ito’s more philosophical writing arguably set the tone for Oshii’s future and more well-known cyberpunk work, Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004). Still, however, despite not dealing with cyborgs (although mechs are involved), Patlabor 2, like Ghost in the Shell, concerns itself with the cost of human life in an age defined by rapid advancements in the military-industrial complex

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