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Image Entertainment presents
Patlabor The Movie: Limited Collector's Edition (1989)

Gotoh: Sometimes it's tough doing what's right. Think we should call it quits?
Shinohara: No, sir. If I'm gonna regret something, better something done than undone.

- Ryusuke Ohbayashi, Toshio Furukawa

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: April 25, 2006

Stars: Toshio Furukawa, Miina Tominaga, Ryusuke Ohbayashi, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Michihiro Ikemizu, Daisuke Gouri, Yo Inoue, Shigeru Chiba
Director: Mamoru Oshii

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mild language, animated violence
Run Time: 01h:38m:57s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 858604001004
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In the world of anime, the mecha genre remains one of the pillars of the form. For the uninitiated, mecha commonly refers to humanoid exoskeletons, more or less, usually piloted by humans. They can range in size and power, from the immense to the more practical. Mecha stories span a range of time periods and approaches, as well, and the Patlabor "universe" has always been one of my favorites. Patlabor was created in the late 1980s, and it includes a television series, a couple direct to video series, three films, and a manga series. The first of the three films is now the subject of a lavish release by a new spinoff label of anime giant Bandai, called Honneamise. Directed by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame, Patlabor occasionally stumbles in its transition to the big screen, but on the whole, it remains a solidly enjoyable film.

Set in Tokyo in 1999, the world of Patlabor: The Movie is largely recognizable as the near future, with one main difference. Technological advances have made the labor a ubiquitous part of the landscape. Labors are the mecha used by industry to carry out heavy work and construction. But some will naturally make use of the powerful machines for criminal purposes, and law enforcement thus has a need for labors of their own. The Special Vehicles Unit is the branch of the Tokyo police that handles labor crime, and the SV2 are the heroes of Patlabor. A group of eccentric but effective characters, they are under pressure when the film begins due to a series of labors running amok. It could be tied to a new operating system, created by a man who erased almost all records of his existence before committing suicide. What the SV2 discovers could result in the destruction of the city, if they cannot stop it in time.

The themes of Patlabor aren't too difficult to ferret out; technology run amok at the cost of nature lies at the heart of the film. Oshii often includes shots of random, usually lone animals amidst the sprawl of the city, underscoring the ways in which we have shut out the natural world in exchange for greater technology. It is relatively subtly conveyed though, unlike some anime with a similar message. He also underscores the inexorable march of progress, as the investigation into the culprit sees the wreckage of the past vanishing under the wheels of ongoing work.

The design of the film is quite attractive; the character designs have been re-done for the bigf screen, looking more realistic and less cartoony than their small screen versions. Kenji Kawai's music provides an appropriately moody feel, relying on percussion to carry its message. My only complaint with the direction is Oshii's penchant for using extreme, distorted close-ups as a comedic effect. It barely works the first time he does it, and it grows more annoying with each subsequent use. The action scenes are vigorously done though, with the opening and closing sequences packing some real force.

If you're a newcomer to Patlabor, you'll be missing out on bits and pieces due to the backstories of the characters, but it doesn't render the film incomprehensible by any stretch. Having previous exposure to the series in some form will make understanding the relationships between the members of the SV2 admittedly easier. Still, it shouldn't hamper what is an intelligent science fiction film. If you're looking for lots of explosions, you'll be disappointed. Oshii's languid rythyms are the guiding force in the film, and there's more dialogue than there is action. Some will consider that a negative, but I wouldn't be one of them.

Available as either a functional single disc release, or, more to the taste of the hardcore, a limited edition box set, Patlabor: The Movie is a thoughtful, involving film, and I'm glad to see it get a release like this. The second film in the series is supposedly due for similar treatment, which is good news to me, based on the results here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This film was previous available as a letterboxed, 4:3 transfer of dubious quality from Manga Films, who thankfully let their rights to it expire. As a consequence, we now have an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that doesn't look too bad. It's not up to current standards in terms of sharpness or sheen, but the slightly hazy look seems to suit the ambivalent nature of the world of the film. Optional English subtitles are provided and other than a couple proofreading mistakes, are fine.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
Japanese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The previous Manga disc had a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, which was okay as I recall, but this new edition takes advantage of the "Sound Renewal" track done a few years ago. This new Dolby 5.1 track packs a much bigger punch, with active use of the surrounds. I sampled the English dub track, and it sounded decent.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 29 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Patlabor: The Movie Archives: 184 page book
  2. Patlabor: The Movie Storyboards Book
Extras Review: Here's where your choice comes in. Honneamise has released Patlabor in two editions. The first is a single disc edition made for the casual fan. It includes trailers, teasers and TV spots as the only extras. The second option is the limited edition set, which is a beautifully packaged box set with a run of 10,000 copies. It's pricy (MSRP $89.99), which puts it into the territory of the hardcore fan. What do you get for your money? First, you get a second disc with a making of (00h:30m:59s) It's interesting and worth watching, but I see no reason why this couldn't have simply been appended to the first disc. More interesting are the non-DVD extras. These are comprised of two books. The first is a lavishly illustrated history of the first Patlabor film, covering the various incarnations (TV series, OAVs, manga, films) with a focus on the development, design and making of the first film. It features material taken from several different Japanese sources, and to have all this material translated and presented in one concise book is almost worth the price of the set to this Patlabor fan. The copious illustrations and glossy paper add to a slick-looking product. The other book presents Oshii's storyboards for the film, with directions and dialogue fully translated also. Normally, I have little use for storyboards, seeing them as the province of animation students more than anything else, but the fact that these feature translated notes, the script, and a glossary to explain the tech terms make this a cut above.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Not a perfect film, but an intriguing one nevertheless, Patlabor: The Movie has been given a high quality release from Honneamise, its printed extras pushing it over the top in terms of quality. The presentation is excellent as well, coming in a sturdy, silver foil box that is pleasing to the eye. The transfers of the film is solid as well, with a vivid 5.1 soundtrack to accompany an upgraded picture from the first DVD release of the film here several years ago.


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