By Andrew Osmond.
The PSYCHO-PASS franchise has returned with the feature film, PSYCHO-PASS The Movie, on Blu-ray and DVD
on October 3. After two TV series, the film takes the story beyond Japan for an action-heavy war story. More significantly for fans, it sees the return of former Enforcer Shinya Kogami, who went AWOL at the end of the original series. Behind the scenes, it brings back director Naoyoshi Shiotani, who we previously interviewed here, and Gen Urobuchi, one of anime’s most famous writers, who gave us Puella Magi Madoka Magica. (Spoiler: There are no magic girls in PSYCHO-PASS.)
PSYCHO-PASS envisions a world where Japan is a socially-ordered “utopia,” thanks to the Sibyl system. However, the film reveals that the outside world is in chaos, and other nations are importing Sibyl for themselves. SEAUn – the South-East Asia Union – is riven by war, but its leader (the polite word for warlord) has adopted Sibyl in the name of order.
It’s natural that an Orwellian system of total control would be attractive in a chaotic world. “Imagine the most horrible situation like the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, in a world where terrorists accomplished too much,” said Urobuchi. “If the world got even worse, the last hope would be the Sybil System.” Urobuchi notes the system is designed for people who want it. “It is a system that includes the weak who depend on it.”
Urobuchi’s writing collaborator on PSYCHO-PASS is Makoto Fukami, who supervised the scripts on the recent TV incarnation of Berserk. He thinks that setting the PSYCHO-PASS film outside Japan throws the franchise into a new light. “By setting the story in another country, the contrast with Japan made the theme of the first season clearer,” Fukami said. “If you watch season one after the movie, you can get a new way of seeing statements like ‘The Sibyl System is necessary,’ in a country where security has totally collapsed.”
This is where Kogami comes back into the story. “Kogami hasn’t changed much,” says Tomokazu Seki, who voices him in the series. “Of course, leaving Japan has been hard for him, but he thrives on a challenge. He got his revenge in the first season, and that probably made him see the bigger picture. He looks much calmer. He comes across as less toxic, possibly because he has more scenes with Akane in the movie.”
That would be Tsunemori Akane, Kogami’s former police partner and heroine of the franchise. “Looking at Akane in the second TV season, I don’t feel she changed that much,” says Urobuchi. “If I watch the movie straight after season one, I might have had the impression that she changed dramatically, but the second series filled the gap, which was lucky.” (Urobuchi wasn’t involved in the second TV season, PSYCHO-PASS 2, in which Kogami was absent and Akane was an established, steely leader, though far from invulnerable.)
How does Akane develop in the new movie? “In the movie, I think Akane’s awareness of Sibyl’s issues become clearer,” says Urobuchi. “She thinks Sibyl underestimates humans.” Voice-actress Kana Hanazawa, who plays Akane, says, “She grew up a lot in the second season and it’s made her braver. But at the same time, she talks about marriage with her friends. Akane has reached that age, I thought. But she doesn’t seem to have anyone special.”
Hanazawa is delighted to see Akane and Kogami reunited in the film. “More than anything else, I was so pleased that Kogami was alive. I was excited to see him again, and the thought of getting to see us fighting together made me look forward to the completed film. Not having Mr Seki around at the recordings for PSYCHO-PASS 2 was like missing a family member. So my feelings and Akane’s sort of overlapped.”
The story in the film kicks off when SEAUn terrorists show up in Japan, and Akane sees an image of a suspected rebel leader; it’s Kogami. “Has Kogami changed?” says Urobuchi. “We wrote it so that Akane was trying to find out the truth. Part of Akane cannot completely accept Kogami. She has an obsession because of that.”
Urobuchi was particularly keen to compare Kogami with Makishima, the chief adversary in the original series. “This is a story that asks: “Was there a risk that Kogami would turn into Makishima?” They were treated as if they are similar and Kogami survived. But Kogami does not have such a wide perspective. At the place he ends up in, he fights simply because he cannot let the evil go. He is a born hunting-dog. When someone throws a ball, he has to chase after it.”
Provocative as ever, Urobuchi suggests Makishima would have been more useful to the SEAUn rebels than Kogami. “Kogami doesn’t think about changing society. In a way, he is a bad man. In the movie, he supposed to have a charismatic charm, but we arranged it so he overlaps Makishima. If Makishima came to SEAUn he would have led a revolution. Kogami, on the other hand, can lead people but he doesn’t have a vision.”
As for the setting, director Shiotani says that it arose from early discussions about the film. “We didn’t have any concrete idea where the location should be, so during the table reading, we discussed it… We thought that maybe 100 years in the future, South East Asia might have become a federation. And then internal conflicts leave them with no choice but to introduce the Sibyl System.”
Research was done in Cambodia, with Shiotani, the film’s producer and the layout animation director Shinichi Yokota, going there for about ten days. “We took photo reference material, mainly in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat, but we only decided exactly where each scene would take place when we got back to Japan.” The Asian mise-en-scene, and the story of Akane’s search for an agent gone rogue, may remind viewers of Apocalypse Now.
Shiotani wanted to make the film with staff from PSYCHO-PASS’s first season. Although Shiotani also directed PSYCHO-PASS 2, that was made at the Tatsunoko studio, whereas the first series and the film were made at Production I.G, ‘born’ from Tatsunoko back in 1987. The PSYCHO-PASS film entered production before PSYCHO-PASS 2, though the film was released a few weeks later in Japan, and set later.
“The character designer on the film would be Naoyuki Onda, who was the chief animation director in the first season,” says Shiotani. “The art director would be Shuichi Kusamori, who did the concept design for the first season. I invited the people I wanted, and got the staff I asked for.”
As well as the non-Japanese setting, one of the big departures for the film was its level of military hardware, deployed spectacularly on screen. “The rule in season one,” says Urobuchi, “was to have criminal cases in a society without weapons [except those used by the police]. In the movie, we took it to another country so we could have all sorts of action scenes with firearms and weapons.”
Unlike the futuristic police weaponry in the TV PSYCHO-PASS, the military weapons in the film are from today. “Development has stalled,” explains Shiotani. “The weapons we see are contemporary for us, which makes them a hundred years old by the timeframe of the movie. SEAUn uses mainly Western or American firearms, and the guerrillas mainly have Eastern Bloc or Russian technology. The rifle that Kogami is using is Russian, but it was different to get good reference material.”
One vital piece of reference material was live-action film as a basis for action scenes. “The early scene with the shoot-out between the Public Safety Bureau and the terrorists was based on a training exercise which we filmed,” says Shiotani. “We put a car at the training centre and recreated the blocking for the two sides. The scene of Kogami sliding down a rope was based on film we shot of Tamura Tactical Gear Development staff actually demonstrating it. We also took their advice on scenes showing wounded soldiers receiving medical treatment.”
That particular scene was important, says Shiotani. “We were at the training days with Tamura Tactical Gear Development, and I asked them if there was anything that wasn’t done in movies. They said that scenes of treating the wounded were hardly ever shown, and I thought that was a brilliant idea.”
Unarmed combat was also based on live-action film reference. “As in season one, we got assistance from the Japan Pencak Silat Association. Thanks to the champion, Mr Bang Bang [yes, really!] and Erik, the deputy, we were able to film materials for all the scenes that showed Silat, including Akane’s sparring scenes and Kogami and Akane’s fighting scenes.
“Akane is a person who fights all the time, even when it’s not physical,” Shiotani adds. “She takes on everything in these emotional conflicts, and she fights using words as a weapon. But Kogami attacks before he opens his mouth. I thought that was a good contrast.”
PSYCHO-PASS the Movie is out now from Anime Limited.
Standard edition Blu-ray version available from 31st July 2017.