Tonight's main feature, Patlabor 2, is quite possibly even more thought-provoking than last semester's Patlabor movie. Director Mamoru Oshii (and his birds) returns this time to tell a story about the relationship between society and the individual, and he raises some hard questions about government as well.
When we left them at the end of Patlabor 1, the Special Vehicles 2 squad was the team supreme among law enforcement units. They were "allies of justice" who had just saved half of Tokyo from the berserk labors that was the legacy of a madman (from MIT).
Three years later, the only characters left in the SV2 are Captains Goto and Nagumo, as well as Hiromi. Shige has taken over as head of the engineering section. The formerly hen-pecked labor-carrier driver, Shinshi, is now asserting himself in his new job. The trigger-happy labor pilot Ota is removed even farther from the front lines. Noa actually passes up a chance to pilot her beloved Alphonse. And command officer Asuma, whom we'd always seen as Capt. Goto's protégé, has apparently reconciled with his father and taken charge of Shinohara Heavy Industries. We are left to wonder, "Is there a coherent story left to tell about the SV2 anymore?"
Fortunately, terrorists destroy a bridge in Tokyo Bay, and the Japanese Self Defense Force is implicated in the crime. Tensions build between the military and the police, and no one realizes that they're being played like a skipping LP.
Enter a shady character from military intelligence, who cannot go to the "real" police but is willing to accept the help of the SV2 (the SV2 you might recall, has a reputation for being more destructive and unpredictable than the criminals they take down). Through him, we learn of the existence of a cabal of Japanese and American warhawks. The twist is, their goal of profiting from the over-reactions of a frightened people has been subverted by their director, Tsuge (see sidebar).
The discourses between agent Arakawa and Capt. Goto explore issues like peace (Is peace merely the absence of war?) and war (Is there such a thing as a "just" war? Is peace always preferable to war, no matter the circumstances?). The intelligent viewer will ask themselves, "How much is the Japanese psyche still affected by the results of WWII? How do the Japanese reconcile their nation's pacifist position yet as a major industrial supplier enable other nations to wage war?" America's role as the sole world superpower looms even in this film, and we get a glimpse of how others view us.
Patlabor 2 is not entirely an action film, but we see plenty of it in the conclusion, when Tsuge employs a dead-hand switch on his terrorist weapon. So once more, the SV2 must place themselves in harm's way, knowing that failure would mean a million innocent deaths.
Fun Facts: The first generation of police labors made by Shinohara Heavy Industries was the model MPL-97S, codenamed "Asuka". It was obsolete by 1999.
English is the international language of aviation; that's why you hear the interceptor pilots speaking in English during the sortie over Tokyo.
For those with sharp ears, you might hear Goto say, "Otaku" during the conversation in the car ride scene. He is not calling Arakawa a geeky anime fanboy. "Otaku" in this instance is a more formal and respectful word for "you".
* The end of that quote is "...the more they stay the same." I think it's from the French (damn French).
A good soldier is not measured by mindless obedience, or casualties inflicted, or by the deadliness of his killer instinct. A good soldier is one who accomplishes objectives quickly and efficiently. Captain Goto knows this, and he knows that it applies to the police as well. So while the military and the police top brass scramble according to Tsuge's plan, Goto quietly prepares the SV2 for war and keeps his eye on the goal.
What if you developed and controlled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cutting-edge hardware? What if you commanded the loyalties of true and daring men? Suppose your unit is given a mission that is challenging but accomplishable. And what if the system you work under causes the destruction of your equipment and the deaths of your men? What would you do? To Tsuge, these are not merely hypothetical questions; it all happened to him.
Throughout history, men like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, who had the clarity of vision to see that something is wrong and the conviction to change it, have been regarded as heroes. Now, Tsuge feels that the nation whose desire for peace while profiting from the wars between others needs to be changed; the society that could produce the messed-up command structure that cost him everything must be changed. With the backing of a consortium of defense contractors and warhawks in the government, he'll see a new Japan forged in the fires of the coming conflagration.