"To simply put it, Mamoru Oshii is a god."

- Len

Avalon (2001)

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Producer: Atsushi Kubo

Writer: Mamoru Oshii

Cast: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski, Bartek Swiderski, Katarzyna Bargielowska, Michal Breitenwald, Zuzanna Kasz, Alicja Sapryk.

Running Time: 107 mins.

Plot: In a future world, young people are increasingly becoming addicted to an illegal (and potentially deadly) battle simulation game called Avalon. When Ash, a star player, hears of rumors that a more advanced level of the game exists somewhere, she gives up her loner ways and joins a gang of explorers. Even if she finds the gateway to the next level, will she ever be able to come back to reality?

Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com


LEN'S REVIEW: Beautiful. Amazing. Gorgeous. Brilliant. These are some of words that can be used to describe this film. Because really, this film is all of the above. It's beautiful and features some of the most amazing visuals I've ever seen. Everything is so right in this film, from the gorgeous cinematography to the brilliant score. The acting is solid, the story is interesting, the direction works. To simply put it, Mamoru Oshii is a god. The guy is good at directing anime, but this film more than proves that his real talents lie elsewhere.

I'm tempted to say that the plotline is somewhat similar to The Matrix, but the similarities are only on the surface. In a not too distant future, young people are getting their kicks from a virtual reality wargame. The game has dangers, as sometimes players are unable to come back from the game. However, despite the dangers, the best players play to get massive respect and loads of money, although some play just to achieve the higher experience levels. One of these players is the lovely Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak), an ex-member of the elite WIZARD team, who's currently playing solo. She is forced to gather a party as she goes in search of the mythical nine sisters, and the legendary ghost that can open a passage to the highest level.

Ok, admitted the storyline doesn't sound too impressive. But somehow, Mamoru Oshii manages to make it all very plausible. After ten minutes, the world of Avalon seemed very real. In a unreal, hypervisual way at least. This is mainly achieved by the amazing cinematography. Looking at the film, it's quite obvious that Oshii was very much influenced by Eastern bloc directors and films. The whole film looks more like something that Andrei Tarkovsky could've directed instead of looking Japanese. In fact, nothing in this film looks japanese. The visual style is very Polish, and the world of Avalon looks like it's stuck in the communist era. The cinematography by Grzegorz Kedzierski uses the scenery brilliantly, and he manages to make a difference between the Virtual Reality and Reality using subtle hints, coupled with some of the more outrageous visual effects employed by Oshii.

And the amazing score by Kenji Kawai deserves a mention too. It's amazing. Whereas his score for Oshii's Ghost in the shell sounded somewhat minimalist and japanese, this time he has gone for a very classic sound. I don't have words to describe how great it is. It fits in the film perfectly, setting an unique feel that goes very well with the amazing visuals.

However, Avalon is not all perfect. Although the story is good, the actors are all brilliant and I liked Oshii's direction, the characters are somewhat shallow, and their motives are somewhat vague. Also, the pacing was bit off, with the middle of the film being somewhat empty. A nice action scene like in the beginning would've helped things out tremendously. That said, even though Avalon has few amazing action scenes, they are few in between all the talky bits and fans of hardcore action won't find much to enjoy here. However, if you are not afraid of actually having to think a bit while watching a film, Avalon is highly recommended.