Today’s selection: The Red Spectacles (1987, dir. Mamoru Oshii)
Subgenre: Dystopian, artsy
Available from: Bandai
Red Spectacles is the first part of Oshii’s magnum opus (though it does make a reference to Angel’s Egg, and features an extended cameo from an obscure Urusei Yatsura character, but all of Oshii’s work does this stuff), the Kerberos saga. The story, told in black-and-white (flashbacks are in color), is about a future (1995) with armored super cops, and one (Shigeru Chiba!) who goes on the run from the government when they’re disbanded. He returns to Japan three years later, and things are… weird. That doesn’t begin to capture the really trippy scope of things, but it’s the gist.
Based on nigh-universal backlash, I expected The Red Spectacles to be unwatchable, but I actually found it pretty engaging, though exhausting to watch. It’s loaded with cinematic quirks and mind-screws, but that does not make a horrible film in my mind. I think many people came to it expecting Jin Roh (its popular anime prequel), but this comes from a period when Oshii was much more playful with his filmmaking; if anything, it’s relentless rather than boring, and sort of bonkers. The influence of 1950s noir is apparent, though there seemed to be some sort of big black-and-white cinematic movement in Japan in the 1980s. I also really dug Kenji Kawai’s rocking score and the movie’s interpretation of future fashion sense, not to mention the iconic “protect gear” armor.