The name Katsuyuki Motohiro may not mean much to most anime fans at the moment, as the fact that Psycho-Pass keeps getting referred to as that “new Butch Gen thing” perhaps attests to. Yet, Motohiro’s most recent live action effot, Bayside Shakedown The Final (the latest, and presumably last, spin-off from an earlier TV detective procedural show on which he worked) topped the Japanese box office a couple of weeks ago, and the fact that he’s attached to Psycho-Pass as the shows chief director is bring the series attention from outside of the regular anime fan circles. Which is exactly what the point of Noitamina was supposed to be.
Back in 2000, Motohiro made a movie called Space Travelers. This was back in the day when I seemed to have far more free time and far less to watch, and I liked to buy boatloads of cheap HK releases of goofy Japanese and Korean movies to watch. I picked up and enjoyed Space Travelers back then, but never bother to revisit it. With Motohiro’s name popping back up thanks to Psycho-Pass, and having a three hour train ride into London to kill, I figured this weekend was as good a time as any to revisit it.
The movie follows three guys who grew up in an orphanage, who decide that it’d be a great idea to rob a bank. They’re looking for paradise, which is only slightly less abstract than it is in Wolfs Rain by virtue of them at least having a photograph of it – a tropical beachside where they have no idea of the location of.
Of course, best laid plans rarely go correctly, and when the bank manager and the former detective security guard lock themselves in the bank vault, they’re stuck waiting overnight for the vault to reopen. To make matters worse, cute bank clerk Midori had just announced her engagement to her slimy co-worker, and their in-bank engagement party had a police theme to it, which leads a couple of passing police officers to completely misjudge the situation.
The fact that one of the other hostages turns out to be an internationally wanted terrorist doesn’t really help their situation either. The protagonists are pretty much stuck, surrounded by a police presence that’s escalated far beyond what the situation requires, trying to delay the inevitable.
Words of wisdom there…
Of course, Midori and Mr Terrorist aren’t the only hostages they have to hand – there’s also an appliance repairman who doesn’t get along with computers and just can’t remember his pin number, Midoris nervous geeky co-worker, and a wealthy couple in the midst of divorce rounding out the group. By “Group”, I mean that the lot of them quickly suffer from a bout of stockholm syndrome and decide to help out with one of their delaying tactics.
You see, one of the robbers is a fan of an old, SF anime show called Space Travelers, which was fictional until they made an OAV of it a while later. Which is reputedly terrible, yet I do believe it managed to make it’s way out in the US completely independently of the movie which spawned it. It looks to be a weird hybrid of Cowboy Bebop and Star Wars, with a healthy does of the more manic iterations of Lupin III – it’s alleged to be about a group held together by self-interest more than camaraderie who fight against some kind of evil empire. If I was a bit more familiar with anime of the era, I might have said it owes a lot to Crusher Joe (intact, one of the characters is referred to as Crusher), but I’m probably wrong on that.
As far as the movie goes, Space Travelers the Anime is presented through the movies opening sequence, with a nice chunk of animation that runs through the series characters listing their names and special skills. The animated sequence has a pretty weird look to it – not so much the mechanical stuff, which has a nice, competent 80s animation style to it, more the character design. It’s hard to place a specific influence to it – it’s got this odd look that’s part standard 80s SF anime, part old Tatsunoko kids show, part Lupin III and part GI Joe. The character trading cards which one of the protagonists collect look really quite peculiar to an even further degree.
Anyway, why this is relevant is because the robbers decide to try and make themselves seem like a larger operation than they actually are, so that the police will be put off taking any serious immediate action. To this end, they, and their hostages, each take on the person of one of the characters from the Space Travelers series when talking with the police, which conveniently map onto their personalities (to at least the personalities they’d aside to be). Except for the guy who has to be Hoi, essentially the Mr Brown of the lot, who is upset to be playing the only character who seems to be a jerk (Hoi seemingly being a skeezy Chinese smuggler-type who is out for himself more than even the rest of the cast).
Through this all, everyone learns some valuable life lessons and self-respect, and the movie builds towards an inevitable melancholic ending which really continues on for about ten minutes after it probably should have finished.
It’s a really entertaining movie. It’s got a great, very dry sense of humour, and there’s some really wonderful comedic side-story scenes which, whilst not related to the plot, provide a good laugh. The stuff with the bank manager and the security guard trapped in the vault is great, as is the scene where a visual-kei band about to announce their (completely faked for publicity reasons) breakup getting the rug swept out from under them by news of the bank robbery. Good stuff.
The problem with the movie is it’s excessive degree of earnesty. It’s not an uncommon problem with Japanese live-action, but it’s probably worst here than in most. It almost makes even the likes of Space Brother seem cynical – almost, anyway. Characters also have that habit of speaking their feelings aloud… basically, the movie lacks any real degree of subtly. It’s one of those things which’ll probably roll of the back of anyone who watchings a lot of Japanese drama or LA movies to a degree at least, but’ll be a little grating to everyone else.
Which is probably not what people are really hoping for going into Psycho-Pass, though in regards to what has been announced regarding that show, it’s a little hard to map on how any knowledge acquired from Space Travelers will apply to Motohiro’s approach in that show. I gather Motohiro is generally known for productions which focus on a strong group dynamic (things approximating to the likes of CSI in the western world, I guess, which I suppose Space Travelers plays on to a degree). I’d have to assume that most of the drama in Psycho-Pass will come less from those being hunted down, and more from the interplay between the various Executors and the Executive Akane who is supposed to ensure that they don’t go rogue. Some of the character design sheets for the show make it look like it may be slightly more humourous than some of the promotional art suggests, though – I do hope it’s more the dry kind of humour seen in Space Travelers than wacky anime comedy…
We’ll see, I suppose. To conclude, though, I’ve got no idea what the availability of Space Travelers is these days, but it’s a pretty cute movie if you’re looking for something slightly different to watch. I enjoyed it a great deal, and that’s not just because I was trapped on a train with nothing else to do – after all, I could have played Rio Blackjack on my ‘phone!