Even in the early days, Oshii’s distinct visual design translated to the live-action render, with his odd-looking costumes, arcane weapons, and European fetishism, but with Avalon and beyond, we add in a liberal dose of Japanese CG. Oshii’s no fool when it comes to the limitations of technology, or perhaps it’s just a happy accident; the visuals in Avalon, and those in the upcoming Garm Wars: The Last Druid, have a surreal feeling to them — plot-related in Avalon, but overall contributing to the unique look.
The same effect of unreality is achieved in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, with its CG infusion to traditional 2D art that’s less ‘graceful’ than in the original. We can trace another line through these three movies, as they ask similar questions and with similar casts. Ash might be interpreted as a live-action Major Kusanagi, given her silent, brooding nature, and visual appearance in accordance with Oshii’s penchant for heroines with short hair.
In Avalon, Ash is addicted to an online wargame, which is the only kinetic and lively part of her brown and dull orange life, in which she preempts Batou by hanging with her Bassett Hound and doing little else. This is reality, and so she escapes to a make-believe land that echoes Arthurian myth.
She soon spirals into a journey through layers of unreality, and in the end, the audience cannot be sure what is true. It’s a similar situation to a thematic duology of Cronenberg in Spider and eXistenZ, the latter of which is a science-fiction version of the former moreso than a Videodrome update. These two films peel back layers of perception, but Avalon leaves it open at the end, where Cronenberg is far too interested in the physical to leave on an ambiguous note.
Oshii is closer to Cronenberg than to Lynch, but his interest in dreams is apparent in many of his works, particularly the earlier ones, whether it’s a pure light and sound show in The Red Spectacles, or a visually interesting version of the same in Angel’s Egg. Dream logic and continuity is key to both, but with one of his techno-thrillers, does this theme still apply?
Maybe in spirit, as maybe we’re all just dreaming. Hopefully our dreams aren’t better than our realities, but if we’re as cool as Ash in the game Avalon, they certainly are.
Theme and Oshii-prodding aside, Avalon is a visual feast. I love Ash’s warrior costume, the whole Polish ninja sniper look. I love the stylized vehicles, the helicopters, the ‘Citadel,’ and even the tanks, which need no stylizing.
In a year with a Bong Joon Ho science-fiction film, a sequel to The Raid, an American Godzilla, and a documentary about Jodorowsky’s lost Dune epic, Oshii’s Garm Wars is easily the most anticipated. The trailer is out, and if you’re excited, it may just be because Avalon is so damn good.