Way back in 1995, Mamoru Oshii unleashed his dazzling animation feature Ghost in the Shell, which helped consolidate anime's
international acceptance--and also burrowed itself into Andy and Larry Wachowski's overall concept for The Matrix.
The movie's sequel, Innocence (2004), was the inaugural Japanese animated film to compete for the Palme d'Or at Cannes,
and it left heads spinning as much for its style and innovative effects as for its oft unfathomable plot.
Always the trendsetter, Oshii now presents us with Tachiguishi Retsuden (Tachigui: The Amazing Lives Of The Fast-Food
Grifters), which has absolutely nothing to do with Ghost in the Shell, nor Japanese anime for that matter.
Say hello to Oshii's creation "superlivemation." It's not quite animation, nor exactly live action. Instead
the cast endured somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 snapshots, which were digitally processed and reconstituted in a deceptively
simple paper cut-out fashion reminiscent of Balinese puppetry. The movement itself is a stilted, stop-motion style that echoes
sequences from Shinya Tsukamoto's experimental Tetsuo (1988).
"I couldn't think of any method but this one," Oshii said in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri. "I
realized that this project was not suitable for traditional animation."
The cast choice is equally enigmatic. Kenji Kawai--who also composed the superlative soundtrack--appears as a ravenous
burger fanatic, while renowned Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki spends his screen time being murdered in bizarre fashion.
Others include Katsuya Terada, who dabbled with Oshii on Blood: The Last Vampire, and Shinji Higuchi--a special effects whiz
who's worked on Godzilla movies.
Koichi Yamadera's narration sounds like the stuff of a dry NHK documentary, which belies the comic undertone here as well
as Yamadera's extensive career voicing stoic anime characters like Spike Siegel in Cowboy Bebop.
And the plot itself is a bizarre reimagining of post-World War II Japan in the context of various fast-food off-shoots--from
soba noodle shops to gyudon stand-up bars; American hot dogs in the heat-up trays of convenience stores to McDonald's-inspired
burger-chain restaurants. "Food is a primal root of desire," asserted Oshii, by way of explanation.
Thrown into the mix is a new breed of consumer. The fast-food grifters of the title are people who don't like to pay for
their tucker and are constantly fine-tuning their elaborate scams to score free munchies.
Oshii says his ulterior motive was homage to the "art" of eating food on the streets--something still considered
a bit of a taboo in this country, and which goes some way toward explaining the title's use of "tachigui," which
means eating while standing.
A director of live-action movies (Avalon, Stray Dog) as well as animation, Oshii has often blurred the definition between
the two mediums. The celluloid result here is deposited somewhere in the gray area between both formats.
At times the visual experiment here is as exhilarating as it can be irritating. Just don't ask what it's all really supposed
to mean; Oshii's films, which are equal parts cerebral and innovative, are often not particularly clear story-wise. Where
Oshii succeeds is via a liberal dose of black humor--here you'll find Kentucky Fried Rat, death by hula-hoop, the world's
fastest samurai burger chef--and in the movie's very nature of surrealism.
This is a man who defers to the influence of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, and perhaps owes as
much to Andrei Tarkovsky as he does David Lynch. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that at one stage a B-52 bomber does
a fly-through in a Yoshinoya look-alike franchise. The 54-year-old writer-director seemed to think this natural. "The
Japan I depicted in the movie may not necessarily be faithful to reality," he suggested.