The 2nd Dimension

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Viewing Journal: Avalon

Overall =
So I just saw Mamoru Oshii's Avalon the other day and I have to say that I think I have the same reaction to just about every one of his movies. When I first watch it, I don't like it. It's not until after I've had a chance to think about it for a while, and maybe watch the movie a couple more times, thatI actually realize that it's not all that bad after all.

I think the trouble is that when you watch the movie it seems like it's a lot more complex than it actually is. I mean, Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, Jin Roh... they all have pretty strait-forward plots. But because Oshii tends to spend a lot of time on single scenes and show a lot of detail in a character's daily life, you (or at least I) become convinced that there's more to it than there really is.

Avalon had that same complex-but-simple feel, especially at the end. When the movie finished, I was convinced that the ending was so baffling that I would never understand it. Then, while driving later that night, my wife (who had watched about 3/4 of the movie with me) said, "So did you understand the end of that movie?" My first response was "Not at all". But then as we talked it out, we started to connect all the pieces and within the span of maybe two minutes I suddenly realized that it wasn't all that complicated after all. You have to put two and two together, but ultimately it's not rocket science to understand.

I even had an general idea of the movie's theme... (spoiler warning)... That being essentialy that this world that we live in ("Class Real") is as good as it gets, so appreciate what you have. (end spoiler) Whether or not that's the intended theme, I don't know. But that's what I got out of it.

Other than the actual story itself, there were a couple of other things initially confused me when watching. The first is that the characters are all speaking Polish, not Japanese as I thought would be the case. It's kind of obvious once the characters start talking, but I didn't know this going into it. From watching the director interview, there were a lot of reasons why Oshii filmed in Poland, but the most amusing reason was that he likes "Polish actresses".

The other thing that didn't have so much to do with Oshii as with Miramax: When watching the movie in subtitles, I noticed that occasionally text would appear when there was no dialogue. Eventually I realized that Miramax had added extra narration in the english dub version to provide additional plot explanation. The subtitles followed the dub so even though there would be no dialogue in the original polish version, the subtitles would show up anyway. I have no idea why Miramax did that, especially since they had a second english sub option for "hearing impared". Plus, Neil Gaiman did the translation, and you'd think a guy that like would have enough respect for the director to avoid that kind of thing. Regardless, I tried to just ignore the extra subtitles, but it was still really annoying.

In the end I give the movie a ("Eh") rating. I did like that you had to put forth a little mental effort to fully understand the ending. It kind of gives you a sense of self-satisfaction to know that you solved the riddle, regardless of how simple that riddle may be. Still, I'm not yet sure if I really enjoyed the movie overall. I'll probably have to see a few more times to know for sure. But it's pretty much par for the course for Oshii films.

1 comment:

straightfromthecask said...

Another reason for Oshii's shooting in Poland was the very low price for destroying old T72 tanks and other military materials,
if I remember correctly. I didn't like it as much as I liked (loved) Innocence, but it is so different (except for the theme) from other Oshii movies that it does not compare. I agree it leaves a strange, weird impression on 1st viewing, but there's something striking and it is not a movie one forgets that easily so... success ! Well, I loved it too in fact.
I didn't know for the English subs, a pity. We don't have this with French subs.