Avalon

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“Infuriatingly uneven cyberworld pic: looks great, but loses its way far too often.”

While this is live-action, Oshii is best known for his anime work, such as Ghost in the Shell. That also had an action heroine, great visual style and lost its way in philosophical navel-gazing. There, it was the nature of self – here, it’s the nature of reality. Set in Poland, which may be a first for a Japanese film, the heroine, Ash (Foremniak), is addicted to an illegal computer game called Avalon. When she hears about the existence of a special level in it, she’ll stop at nothing to find the entrance. But, for her, the line between life and pastime is becoming more and more blurred…

It’s a fabulous concept, and the virtual world is realised beautifully, with CGI that are carefully made to look like CGI. There are any number of cool touches, such as how the only people in Ash’s “real life” who move are animals and other players – everyone else is frozen in place. But the tedium of her real life is hammered home to such an extent that it becomes every bit as dull to the viewer, as it is to her. Worse still, the final confrontation is interrupted by lengthy, pointless shots of an orchestra playing portentous classical music; what could, and should, be a gripping climax is brought to a grinding halt.

Still not quite convinced it completely makes sense, with a lot of unanswered questions at the end, some of them significant: suspect David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ covered similar ground with much more confidence. However, even if Oshii needs to exercise tighter control on scripting, this is probably still worth a look, purely for the eye-candy of the game sequences.

Dir: Mamoru Oshii
Star: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski

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