Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor the Movie Review

Title: Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor the Movie
Length: 1 x 99 minute movie
Genre: Mecha, drama, comedy, mystery, police
Year of release: 1989

“They’re not ordinary cops,” Matsui, a detective enlisted to help the amateur sleuths solve the riddle, muses to his colleague. “They’re superheroes.” That quote sums up the film beautifully: this is a movie about ordinary people doing amazing things, saving the world through sheer determination and effort, and makes that in itself truly exceptional.

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Patlabor’s movie does indeed go to great lengths ensuring that you see these people as ordinary too, but that’s not a bad thing at all. With snappy retorts and inane bickering, refined, subtle character animation, fantastically detailed background art and expert character development, the world, attitudes and daily lives of the cast are built up charmingly and with scope for so many more stories to be told. Despite the movie being a perfectly good starting point to the franchise, Patlabor’s cast represents part of a greater picture: beyond this movie, these characters have everything needed to go on, breathing, living, and even saving the world a few more times too.

Despite centring mostly on Asuma, the young, spunky amateur computer nerd of the group, the team atmosphere is key to the movie’s success. Noa, the tomboy obsessed with her robot (who even names it rather cutely), manages to bag many of the film’s major climatic points, but that is not because of any other reason than the team being a well-oiled, functioning unit. Noa was just one cog in the greater machine that is Patlabor’s wider team, and realistically, any of them could have done it. Yes, Section 2’s quirky and hamstrung team are definitely superheroes, but they are, first and foremost, professionals, and more than anything, friends.

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The sheer majority of the movie is Gotoh and Asuma, mostly separately, trying to solve the riddle of the Labors going out of control. I included Mystery in the tags because Patlabor feels like a well-crafted detective movie. Mind you, this is not an Interview-to-Interview type of detective movie, and it paces itself well with the different intermingling threads rising and lowering in importance until they come to a shared conclusion for the movie’s final, adrenaline-pumping act. That said, the sleuthing sequence of the movie perhaps went on a bit long without short-term payoffs – there were no gunfights, action-based detours or major difficulties, even if there was a general atmosphere of sneakiness to the pair’s work. Perhaps the biggest problem of this portion of the movie was the montages, which were just a little too avant-garde to fit in particularly well, even if I can admire their craft.

The finale of the movie is where Patlabor pays its dividends. The snappy script was built for action movie wise-cracking and there is shines. As the team load up and head off to the final conflict, the (admittedly dated) OST cranks up to a seriously engaging level, and it wouldn’t be unlikely to find yourself suddenly at the edge of your seat. The final conflict itself, by the way, is so utterly brilliant in conception that I was smiling from the minute I realised where it was headed – it was just so natural, yet still bonkers. There was plenty of opportunity for the ending to go on and pat itself on the back, but the slick ending gets major props from me.

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I really loved watching Patlabor. The movie had a couple of battles with delusions of grandeur, but for the majority of its runtime, Patlabor stuck to its guns: having a charming cast of ordinary folk do something extraordinary to save the world. It might have been just another day in the office that got out-of-hand for them, but I’m strapped in and ready for more – the grand-conspiracy solving, yes, but also the day-to-day meandering. Building a franchise looks so easy when you do it like this.

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