Starring Meisa Kuroki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Ian Moore
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
It’s been a while since I last dived into Mamoru Oshii’s filmography, and it seems I have blundered into the worst spot to do so. Assault Girls is apparently a semi-sequel to a variety of short films Oshii made earlier, so perhaps I would better appreciate what it was trying to do if I had already seen those. But the film ought to stand on its own in any case, so I won’t be pulling any punches here.
Another of the film’s quirks is that it is almost entirely in English, with the unfortunate fact that all the actors, aside from narrator/gamemaster Ian Moore, are not very fluent in English. Rinko Kikuchi (best known to American audiences for Pacific Rim) would undoubtedly have been the best at speaking English intelligibly, so it’s pretty sad that her character, Lucifer, is the only one that has no dialog, remaining completely silent throughout the film. As such, much of the English in the film still requires subtitles to understand, and the resulting stiff acting really drags the film down.
Assault Girls follows the Mamoru Oshii tradition of combining evocative visuals with sluggish pacing. As such I’m a bit torn on it, just like most of Oshii’s films. This time I’m leaning much more towards boredom than interest, and only partially from the acting. The movie talks a lot about abstract social concepts, dumping a lot of explanation right at the outset. On top of that, the film has a lot of slow sections where nothing much is happening. This is a very good combination for tuning out and losing interest.
The plot revolves around four players of an online game, each trying to defeat a powerful monster and advance to the next area. They mostly don’t get along and operate alone, but the game tells them that they cannot advance without working together. So they grudgingly put aside their differences and team up to take on the giant snake monster blocking their progress.
It’s easy to see this as contradictory to the film’s setup. If people can only feel emotion in the game world, surely that would be where all the socialization and human connections occur, right? Well, not so much. The film has to be seen through the lens of Japan’s current social issues. At the moment, Japan has a dwindling population due to a culture that encourages workaholics. Marriage rates, and corresponding birth rates, keep dropping as people just don’t have enough time away from their jobs to sustain relationships out of work. The lower population has created a larger percentage of elderly retired workers, which puts even more pressure on the smaller population of young workers. This just feeds the problems that make people choose not to have a family, and so the spiral continues downward.
Seen through that perspective, Assault Girls starts to make a lot more sense. But just because I figured out some of its themes doesn’t mean the film is all that good. It’s still really dull to sit through. Oshii constantly returns to the image of a snail, and I can’t help but feel that an animal primarily known for its lack of speed truly is the most appropriate symbol for this movie. Even at a mere hour in length the film still drags its ass way too much for me.
I can’t say that I’m very fond of Assault Girls, but if you’re a big Mamoru Oshii fan you’ll probably find a lot to like here. It’s more of everything that defines Oshii’s style, with all the benefits and drawbacks that entails. The clumsy English dialog, bland action scenes, and obvious CG drag this one down quite a bit, though, so approach it with caution.