Patlabor XIII

January 17, 2024 · 0 comments

By Andrew Osmond.

The film’s title card reads, “Patlabor Movie 3.” The functional name is in line with the previous Patlabor films – and at least this one has an extra tag, “Wasted XIII” – but it’s the most misleading part of the movie. Released in 2001, eight years after Patlabor 2, Wasted XIII isn’t a sequel to the earlier Patlabor films in any true sense. Even calling it a spin-off invites confusion. It’s best to see this film as an adjunct to the wider Patlabor multimedia franchise – if anything, its closest link is to the manga of Patlabor, as I’ll explain.

Made by a different studio and creative team from the other films, Wasted XIII is crucially not about the characters in the other Patlabors – the SV2 (Special Vehicles) Unit, including Noa, Shinohara, Ota and Goto. All of these characters do make appearances, but only for a few minutes of screen time, and mainly in the last minutes. The same goes for the Patlabor mecha, though in fairness they were marginalised in the earlier films as well. The main characters in Wasted XIII are two detectives, but neither of them is Detective Matsui, who appeared in the previous films.

The film does retain the background of (more or less) present day Tokyo Bay, and the story is another combo of police procedural and mystery. The two detectives are the youthful Hata, first seen playing baseball, and the senior Kusumi, who relies on a crutch. Both are single (Kusumi is divorced), though Hata gives a lift to an attractive woman professor early on and is plainly interested in her. The case begins with Labor construction vehicles being mysteriously attacked around the Bay, the machines destroyed, their operators… Well, there’s not much left of them, as if they were eaten.

By now, most readers will already know what kind of film this is. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie, soon confirmed in an extended action set-piece that leaves us in no doubt that the monster’s real, huge and hungry. The monster action feels very much like an homage to a classic film, and that doesn’t mean Godzilla. Wasted XIII is more reminiscent of an American film which helped to inspire Godzilla, 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. That had a huge creature lurking in the deep, eating submersibles and knocking down lighthouses, before it finally takes on New York. Unlike Godzilla, the Beast was an animated creature, created in stop-motion by the legendary Ray Harryhausen.

The existence of the monster means that Wasted XIII really doesn’t feel like Patlabor the Movie or Patlabor 2. Both of those were grounded techno-thrillers and conspiracy pieces; beside them, Wasted XIII doesn’t feel like it’s in the same timeline. The closest the film comes to its predecessors is in an early sequence where Hata and Kasumi comb the harbour area for clues, talking to locals and ending up at a derelict stadium that may play a big role later. Otherwise, watching Wasted XIII after Patlabor 2 is like following Dirty Harry with Q – The Winged Serpent. They have obvious overlaps, but they still feel so different.

But then Patlabor has always encompassed multiple timelines. Mamoru Oshii, who directed the first two Patlabor films, also directed a hunt-the-monster Patlabor story called “The 450-Million-Year-Old Trap” (it was part of the video series Patlabor: The Early Years). Whereas Oshii’s cinema Patlabors were totally sober, this yarn was a complete and utter leg-pull, with a wonderfully loony punchline.

Wasted XIII is not a leg-pull, playing its monster action with complete seriousness. Its direct source isn’t Oshii’s video but a straighter monster storyline that ran in the Patlabor manga. It was created by Masami Yuki, one of the original members of the “Headgear” team that conceived the Patlabor franchise. The manga story had many elements that were kept in the Wasted XIII film, though unlike the film it was centred on Patlabor’s regular characters

The first Patlabor movie was animated by Studio Deen and a fledgling Production I.G. which was called I.G Tatsunoko back then. Production I.G took over for Patlabor 2, but it was a collaborating studio on the first film, Madhouse, which would handle Wasted XIII. It premiered at the Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival in 2001; the same year, Madhouse also released Metropolis and Millennium Actress.

Visually at least, Wasted XIII feels broadly consistent with its predecessors. The endless real-world details comprise a kind of photo-realism that doesn’t rely on CGI. One thing the film lacks is its predecessors’ sense of season; the first Patlabor film was set in sweltering summer, the second in crisp winter. However, Madhouse makes its mark with the extended action set-pieces, involving the ravening monster and the humans fleeing in terror. The action in the first two films largely used machines; Wasted XIII’s action feels fleshy, organic.

The new film’s characters were designed by Hiroki Takagi, who’d previously animated on Patlabor for TV and video. He also designed the characters for the anime of Dominion Tank Police and was a key animator on Akira and Project A-Ko. (He died in 2018.) The film was directed by Fumihiko Takayama, best known for directing SF video miniseries such as Orguss 02 and the Gundam spinoff War in the Pocket.

A big point of continuity with the earlier films was the return of musician Kenji Kawai, creating the same ambience of mellowness and melancholy. Since his work on the first two Patlabor films, not to mention all the other Patlabor anime for TV and video, Kawai had become far better known internationally for scoring Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and the live-action Ringu.

Wasted XIII’s main woman character – the professor that Detective Hata likes, called Saeko – is voiced in Japanese by Atsuko Tanaka, who Japanese viewers knew as the dub voice of Nicole Kidman but who anime fans knew as Kusanagi, heroine of Ghost in the Shell. Meanwhile, the young Hata is voiced in Japanese by Hiroaki Hirata. Whereas in this film he’s a naïve rookie, a decade later he would make a far more seasoned figure his own – the loveable single-dad superhero Tiger in Tiger & Bunny.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. Patlabor XIII is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

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