Vexille (Fumihiko Sori, 2007)

Most of my Japanese animated film viewing has been Studio Ghibli but I was overdue to try something new. I have no idea why this was on our Love Film waiting list – neither of us have any recollection of hearing about it or ordering it and yet, here it was. Our best guess is that it was on a “Like that? Then you’ll love this!” recommendations.

Vexille is a curious beast of a film. It’s a Japanese sci-fi dystopia, in which the central and titular character is a US agent sent to find out what the villains of the piece, the Japanese, are up to. Ok, it turns out that the ordinary Japanese are victims, and it is the hi-tech robotics firms that are the villains but it’s still an interesting psychological move – and it’s all too easy to see this as an allegory for World War II and the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. It may or may not be that crude, because Vexille seems to lurch between subtlety and nuance and crass adolescent romance.

The setup is that Japanese companies have been experimenting with cybernetics and robotics to a point that has made the rest of the worlds scared into restricting them. In response, Japan has imposed complete isolation (another nod to history, the Tokugawa seclusion) and carried on developing in secret, blanketing out all scanning or spying from outside. The US, worried about what the Japanese might be doing, send in a crack team of rocket-suited agents to find out and report. When they get there, the team is attacked and only Vexille escapes, leaving behind her team leader and lover, Leon. Helped by an active Japanese resistance, she meets Maria, a local leader who also has a history with Leon. Shocked by Maria’s revelation of what the companies are planning, which has touches of a Terminator-style revolution, and what they have already done, Vexille offers her help in their struggle.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the nature of the graphics. This is not the subtly rendered world of Ghibli nor the more conventional animation I’m used to. This is more akin to game graphics, very clean and stylised. Sometimes it’s thrilling, sometimes it’s beautiful but, other times, it’s a little distancing. Perhaps this is a perfect medium for a film about robotics.


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