Mamoru Oshii’s live action/animation hybrid “AVALON” is interesting. It is fairly obvious from the beginning that the film is not for everyone, yet when you think back, you may come to realize that the film does have a very powerful message. The film is a very idiosyncratic experience in the manner by which it tells its story. “Avalon” will undoubtedly have detractors and few will be impressed; this is the type of film that intends to give you more food for thought than cinematic excitement.
In a future where virtual reality is all the rage, some people make their living by playing these games. Some become brain dead and while others are ‘unreturned’. Ash (Malgorzata Foremziak) is one such player who is one of the best, respected players in a underground virtual reality game. Ash was part of an elite group called “Wizards” that has become disbanded. There are rumors that she had caused the break up and Ash is now playing solo and makes her living from the profits she makes from the game. Ash has no friends and her only relationship comes in the form of a dog who she feeds each time she comes home. One day, a new Bishop-level player (much like an RPG, players are ranked as such) performs better than her and Ash becomes intrigued as to who he is. This player is operating from inside the game itself, and is looking for players to go into the ultimate level of the game; a secret level called “Class Special A”. For the first time after the “wizard” incident, Ash works alongside a team to pass the games’ ultimate hidden level and just what is the future for this game. She is also adamant to find out exactly what happens to unreturned players and the secrets of a lost friend…
I won’t lie to you, it is easy to find “Avalon” quite opaque and dense. The visuals of the film is quite impressive, and the settings have that sepia-like coloring that gives the film its very gloomy atmosphere that gives the world that Oshii manufactured a very desolate feel. The film boldly dares to become possibly too cryptic after the film goes into its story, and it doesn’t help much when there is very little characterization that the viewer may instantly become unattached to its main character. “Avalon” has a lot of metaphysical elements that brings forth a lot of questions and what makes the film very difficult to appreciate is what makes it memorable. Oshii always had brilliant ideas and themes when it comes to filmmaking and this film is no different.
Oshii shot the film in Poland and in its native language. I guess the writer/director is going for the feeling of isolation and Poland would definitely satisfy this need. The world of Avalon appears to be a future that is a dead end, where hopes and dreams have no chance of ever being achieved. The film is very bleak and the sepia tones assists in this presentation to make it look darker and much more pessimistic. In this world, everything appears pointless, besides for maybe pets and food that are shot in its natural color. Honestly, “Avalon” is a very demanding film; and I would not be at all surprised if a lot of viewers would just give up in trying to answer its questions that it leaves for the viewer to ask and to answer. But once you look back into what you’ve seen the inaccessible aspects of Oshii’s themes hit home, and you realize that the film has brilliance going for it.
I guess the film’s weakness would be its very slow pacing that this may well be an alternative to sleeping pills so have your coffee ready. The viewer is treated to some very impressive visuals and actions, and once it winds down to tell the story, it becomes incredibly taxing to stay interested. The mood of the film takes over, and I’ve mentioned that it is pessimistic and so Oshii makes no effort in placing some scenes that generate excitement to match the film’s opening sequence. No, the best way to approach the film is to stay frosty and open-minded. Oshii is more interested in creating a desolate, post-apocalyptic world than the one we live in. The film is filled with social commentary, political/economical cautionary themes and even throws in the metaphysical aspects. The youth is clearly harboring a desire to be “let out”, freedom only comes to those who dare demand it and those who are strong enough, and that it is up to you to make your own reality. There is also some bits of a cautionary theme that humanity may be on the verge of destroying themselves if they are left to their war-mongering instincts. Once the film begins to puts things together, one needs to pay attention since its layers are full of cryptic metaphors that are quite intriguing and will make one ponder its conclusion.
Despite the fact that “Avalon” may be a little too much to comprehend, I thought this was still a brilliant undertaking by Mamoru Oshii who directed the anime hit “Ghost in the Shell” and “Sky Crawlers”. The film defies all expectations and please don’t let the dvd cover art fool you, this is not an action film but more of a thematic affair that relies on its visuals and storytelling to get its point across. Just because something is difficult to comprehend doesn’t mean that it is a bad movie. In “Avalon’s” case, while the film may be hard to digest, its impenetrable style is actually part of its narrative. Oshii proves that he is more than an anime director, and if “Ghost in the Shell” didn’t convince you that anime can be an art house experience then “Avalon” will. “Avalon” is more of a contemplative cinematic experience that requires patience, and patience does have its rewards.
Recommended! Only to TRUE Cinema Fans [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Avalon is by far one of the most accessible of film's by Mamoru Oshii. Like many of his other animations, specifically Ghost in the Shell 1 and 2 and The Sky Crawlers, Avalon employs a deliberate pacing that is a near polar opposite of the quick-cut editing of Hollywood films. However, for some reason which I can't put my finger on, Avalon's pacing seems less likely to lose it's audience. Maybe it's because Avalon is live-action. I don't know. Just know, that if you've been frustrated by Oshii's … more