As a fan of Asian cinema, I've often wondered why I haven't reviewed more Japanese anime. Traditional anime has very complex storylines that can put most movies to shame. "VEXILLE" (a.k.a. Vexille 2077 Nihon Sakaku, Isolation) is from the same folks responsible for Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.. Director Fumihiko Sori and writer Haruka Handa's latest is a blend of traditional 2 dimensional animation and 3-D effects that gives us a vision of a futuristic world. People who saw Appleseed may notice the similarities to Masamune Shirow's futuristic designs since they both worked on the 2004 hit animated film.
The story in "Vexille" begins as Daiwa Industries leads Japan in technological advancements as an attempt for Imperial Aspirations (recalls Japan in WWII). Daiwa began experimenting in extreme cloning, bio-engineering human tissue to combine with machine parts. Enraged with these experiments, the U.N. orders Japan to cease all activities. In retaliation, Japan sanctions a rule of total isolation from the rest of the world, and the country even goes as far as generating a magnetic force field around its borders.
After 10 years, American intelligence intercepts information that Japan has developed a procedure that can turn humans into cyborgs. A black ops group called "S.W.O.R.D." is sent to infiltrate isolated Japan to find the truth of this matter and stop it if necessary. Vexille, one of the commando units sent to Japan soon finds herself the lone survivor who may be able to stop Daiwa with its sinister plans. She hooks up with Maria and her gang of renegades to infiltrate Daiwa. But is Maria more than what she seems? The shocking secret may be more than they bargained for....
I've read that "Vexille" wasn't such a huge hit when it came out in Japan. Perhaps, anime fans experienced some "cyberpunk" overload because there are quite a lot of features that show a futuristic world with "mechas" involved; or maybe because the plot in "Vexille" portrays the country as a "rogue" government in the world's eyes. I wouldn't know the true reason. But this original work by Sori and Handa seemed too similar to Shirow's past works. It incorporates familiar themes of the usual corporate entity that wants to play God, a strong-willed, gutsy but beautiful heroine, futuristic military weaponry and the premise of man vs. machine or the morality of man and machine. The film may actually be homage to Masamune Shirow.
The animation in "Vexille" is kind of a mixed bag. I loved the fact that the characters don't have the usual over-expressive "bulging" eyes, odd colored hair and perfect complexion. Vexille and Maria (as well the entire supporting cast) looked almost realistic in their features, it sidestepped the usual anime conventions that we're used to in the past. Their movements are also very fluid and smooth that outshines the motion capture in "Beowulf" but comes a lot short of the quality of the fantastic animation in "Final Fantasy: Advent Children". I also found it a bit amusing that Americans looked like they're mixed and still looked a tad Asian. (Not complaining, just stating an observation) Also, I saw this film in its original Japanese language; voice actors Yasuko Matsuyuri as sexy rebel, Maria (This character makes me want to become a cartoon) and Meisa Kuroki as Vexille do a very decent job in expressing emotions.
The film totally looks enchanting with the execution of CGI and traditional cell animation. The effects work by Oxybot is perfect for this type of movie. "Vexille" seems to borrow elements from Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner and even Dune. (You'll be impressed once you see the "Jags") The one fault that the film has, that somewhat lost its effectiveness is the lack of dramatic impact. The story is deep enough to keep experienced viewers interested but the execution seemed a bit lackluster. It opted to settle for the usual histrionics and missed a fantastic opportunity for emotional content by exploring the dramatic repercussions of the film's main premise. Graphics can only carry an animated feature so far.
Overall, I did enjoy "Vexille" more than I did "Appleseed Ex Machina". I guess I'm so used to Anime with all the dramatic elements explored that I was somewhat disappointed. The film had all the dynamic potential with its deep premise that wasn't fully realized.
Recommended! For Japanese Anime or Sci-Fi films FANS! [3 ½ Stars]
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Stills from Vexille (click for larger image)