Director: Mamoru Oshii
Starring: Meisa Kuroki, Hinako Saeki, Yoshikazu Fujiki, and Rinko Kikuchi
The name Mamoru Oshii carries a lot of weight in the realm of Japanese film-making. That most of the weight stems from his work in animation does not take away from the number of live action efforts that he has done throughout the years. While generally below the radar, Oshii’s live action films are, in many ways, quite a departure from his more well known animated works. Assault Girls is a film that I imagine will be quite divisive in reviews.
A loose spin-off from his earlier film Avalon (2001), Assault Girls introduces the viewer into the world of Avalon-f, a type of upgrade to the game that is the crux of his earlier film. Viewing the first film is unnecessary however, as the ‘players’ are in another country and playing towards different sets of goals. The film is quite short, clocking in at barely over 70 minutes, and there is not much a narrative at that. Basically, the films follows four gamers in a particular map that are playing to earn points by killing sand worm type creatures. Those familiar with online multiplayer games will be familiar with the archetypes of each player. Each player, while among the highest in the map, are all unable to defeat the boss of a stage, a giant sand worm known as Madara. Thus, a partnership is formed among the four to unite and take down the Madara, with the benefit of advancing to the next stage.
Overall, the film suffers from it’s lack of narrative. There is some character development early on and a possible glimpse at who these players are in the real world, but because of the simple goal and the fact that the film stays firmly within the boundaries of the game, you as the viewer have no idea whether what the players say is truth or just chat during the course of their mission. Coupled with the long stretches of walking and a real lack of dialogue, in many ways, the film comes off as amateurish at best. Acting is lackluster with one of the top billed actresses having no dialogue whatsoever. The narrator introducing the film for the first 7 minutes has more lines than the rest of the characters in the rest of the film combined. One would presume that Oshii was merely trying to emphasize the visuals or the time demands of playing such a game, but in my opinion, if a 70 minute film seems to drag on, something is wrong with the pacing. Those familiar with Oshii’s Keroberos Corps. films will be comfortable with the bits of humor that are interspersed throughout. While at first funny, unfortunately, many of these jokes do drag on a bit too long and in effect, the humor gets lost.
The visuals and cinematography is at times quite breathtaking. The use of shadows and angles is of particular note. Visual effects in the film are quite good and they definitely feel like a cinematic in a modern video game. The music is surprisingly good as well, with composer Kenji Kawai appropriately emphasizing the solitary nature of the players at points, as well as amping the viewer up for the eventual showdown with the boss creature. Costumes are visually appealing as well, with the attractive female leads in various types of black military wear and the solitary male character in an outfit quite reminiscent of the Road Warrior.
In conclusion, while not unwatchable, Assault Girls is a film that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Wooden acting coupled with long stretches of inactivity really took me out of the film quite quickly. The few bits of entertaining action and comedy are too few and far between for me to give this film a positive review.
You may like this film if you are a fan of: Avalon, online MP games, and over-sized guns.