Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Appurushido (Appleseed) - 2004 - Shinji Aramaki

all posts may contain spoilers


This DVD was a Christmas present from my brother in law. To my joy, he took my wife’s approach to buying me a present: walking into HMV, going to the world cinema section and just picking one that looks cool. When I opened it - though I appreciated the gift - I thought I had already seen it... until I realised that this was a new 3D CGI version of the film adaptation of this classic comic book. The story may be the same as the original but I can hardly remember as I was about nine and was only interested in the big robots having guns aspect.

Animation / Action / Spectacle

The combination of 3D CGI and 2D hand drawn features was absolutely beautiful. The ability of 3D CGI animation is far superior - in my opinion - than 2D animation at creating epic and immersive worlds for the viewer to be mesmerised by. One of the negatives of CGI is that faces are often nowhere near realistic enough, destroying the illusion as characters become almost impossible to relate to and identify with. This is remedied in Appleseed by using 2D illustrations and animation to cell shade over the characters. They then have a full 3D presence but all the expression that can be generated from hand drawn features, which is seen most prominently in the eyes of the characters. This 2D element also gives the animation more weight; CGI can often look floaty and lose a lot of the impact that a film like this requires. These animation techniques combined brilliantly with the art direction, pacing, editing and all other aesthetic elements. The result is the creation of a beautifully realised world along with breath taking action set pieces. Just a quick side-note about spectacle and action: Many consider that you can either have narrative or spectacle but I think that that’s a big load of bollocks. There are many films that have proven (in my humble opinion of course) that spectacle, contrary to diminishing narrative, adds to a film’s ability to immerse the viewer, bringing them into the world. I really don’t think that the Matrix would have been as impressive, nor would it be held held in such high esteem if it hadn’t have had its fair share of visual spectacle.

Strong Females

My childhood film watching was always a mix of Hong Kong kung fu films (including Cynthia Rothrock), anime and the usual Hollywood suspects, so I didn’t really notice how absolutely useless women are, according to mainstream Hollywood cinema that is. As I got older and watched less anime and Hong Kong kung fu (on accounts of the videovan-man not coming on our street no more - sad days) I began to understand why feminists were always so pissed off with the silver screen. Why do we so rarely see the type of female characters that are presented in this film in any western production. I’m sure there are many exceptions - Ripley from Alien for instance – but on the whole we don’t get to see these women. Smart and tough, not without beauty and sex appeal but that not being their absolute defining feature. Not unable to fall in love but also not acting in the sole interest of the (apparently) much more important male lead. In this film it is not only the lead character (Deunan) but I was myself surprised to find the Dr Gilliam character - who was built up as being the greatest mind to have ever existed - to be a woman. I should be ashamed of myself automatically assuming that it would be a man but I guess that is the Hollywood brainwashing that my generation (and many prior) have suffered at the hands of.


This may be disputable but I think the Japanese do cyberpunk themes better than any other national cinema on earth. There is possibly a link there with this interconnectedness of man and machine along with the origins of modern videogames being strongly rooted there. In Appleseed, the cyborg/artificially created humans had slight deviations from the usual “oh but if they can think then don’t they deserve life, just like us, blah, blah blah”. The use of reproduction as a narrative tool literally uses castration theory as the major threat or centre of importance as the final threat was that mankind would be made completely infertile, subjecting it to a slow extinction. The film breaks down the essence of humanity and life to the ability to reproduce and that the other (irrational) elements of humanity – love, hate, revenge, etc derive from this reproductive urge.

The balance between dystopic and utopian visions of the future that is often straddled by the cyberpunk genre edged on the side of utopian in this film's instance. After warning of the dangers of such powerful scientific knowledge, it showed that society will ultimately try to coexist, taking the least easy but more human (irrational) path to the future.

Other slight tweaks involve the ‘man-made creations kill humans to protect mankind (Irobot) plot’ being slightly displaced by the same motive coming from a group of chosen human wise men. Also, the Gaia concept, which is frequently present in the cyberpunk genre is seen here but the deviation was that humans had created it. Gaia was its usual self regulating guardian of the earth but it was manmade rather than mysterious and natural.

Plot holes or loose storytelling

There is obviously always the chance - which I am not ruling out for a second - that I am a little slow, but there were a few points where I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or more to the point why it was happening, as if some parts of the plot had been squeezed through in too lean a fashion. For instance, why do the gigantic moving fortresses rise up? Did the elders order this or did Gaia? or did the Army? Or were they simply acting on their own/bioroid behalf? I suspect that problems like this arise in the process of adaptation. In the original comic they may have been fully explained and realised but in the process of cutting corners when translating to screen and coming in at a reasonable time (which this film mostly did really well). In this process, the film not only chopped off the fat of the plot set up, but the muscle along with it.


Action, spectacle and visual ability get a massive tick. Characters were pretty basic but fully engaging, respectable and as I said above the lead going to a female character is something I would die to see more of in Western films. The pacing was brilliant coming in under two hours and having a pretty exciting almost climax before more reveals then an even more exciting final set piece. It played the genre game perfectly with enough familiarity to make it easy to engage with and allow yourself to be immersed at the same time as shedding new light on ideas with variation from the norm.

For some reason I now want to go play some very Japanese games and really cannot wait for the release of final fantasy XIII.


  1. ooh, will have to check this one out. I have the original which is also awesome, gotta love robots with big bunny ears!

    Also I saw a Swedish vampire film t'other day called 'let the right one in' which I think you would enjoy, and would like to see a review on here for (if we are allowed to make requests that is)


  2. Yeah I saw Let the Right On In at the cinema - it was defo in my top five of the year. Coming of age alienation at its best for a long long time. One question though for anyone who has seen it BUT DON'T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T. At the end, when he went off with her. From Oscar's point of view, was it a happy ending as he got what he wanted or is it really quite sad cos she is just using him to be her day-walking, blood fetching slave - just as she used the old fat guy? Does she love him or is she just using him - or both? Or even if she is, does it matter if that is what he wanted. Ooh I don't know, but I love coming away from films with these kinds of unanswerable question.