First-time director Hiroyuki Imaishi and world-renowned Anime house Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, Furi Kuri) are young, very young, and grew up in the hyperkinetic world of Takeshi Miike’s ultra-violent cinema, Playstation 2, high-powered and inexpensive computers, and techno music.
So it’s no surprise that their first collaboration, under the patronage of Manga Entertainment, Dead Leaves, reveals that lineage. This attention-deficit-disorder of an anime title doesn’t even pretend to slow down for a second. In fact, it not only hits the ground running, it hits on a throttled-out, nitrous-breathing, rice-rocket running on jet fuel. Dead Leaves never lets up until the credits roll.
Dead Leaves is like spending half a day in an espresso bar/gun shop with a hundred ADHD kids on a sugar high.
To say that Dead Leaves is stylized is to say Salvador Dali’s paintings are stylized. Imaishi’s direction of Takeichi Honda’s kinetic screenplay actually bears more than a close resemblance to Furi Kuri, Dead Leaves draws from the visual aberrations of that short series and overemphasized action set pieces within to create a 47 minute long action set piece. It would not surprise me at all to learn that Production I.G. crew of Dead Leaves also worked on the Furi Kuri title.
So what the hell is this OVA about anyway?
We open with two characters, Pandy and Retro awakening in a field outside a large and imposing city. They have no memories. They immediately embark on a massive crime spree until captured, tried, and shipped off to a penal colony build into the remaining crescent shaped rock that was the Moon.
This all happens in under 30 seconds.
Once at the colony the two try to come to grips with their situation. Pandy appears human while Retro is clearly some sort of man-machine clone (he has a TV for a head). These two classes are both treated equally on the Moon, that is, crappy. They are wrapped like caterpillars, strapped, and moved from cell to feeding tube, to pooping room, to mine via ceiling mounted hooks.
Who controls this place; why? Why don’t Pandy and Retro have any memories? How do Pandy and Retro seem to know the layout of the prison, and how to get out of their restraints?
These questions are central to the incredibly thin plot of Dead Leaves and over the course of the next 45 minutes all of them will be answered, (satisfactorily to my amazement for a film much more concerned with increasingly ridiculous gun battles than dialogue).
Once Pandy and Retro escape their restraints they lead a revolt of the mutant clones imprisoned with them against the sadistic guards 666 and 777.
To say anymore would spoil the fun of watching.
This is not Production I.G.’s best work. The animation, while highly stylized, alternates between extremely choppy and only “Okay”, the character design draws much more from Bakshi than Myazaki and gives the OVA a definite cartoony feel. Also, because it’s hard to emphathize with any of the characters, the audience is forced to remain passive for the entire 47 minute running time, but that has more to do with the screenplay… The backgrounds are ultra distorted and the supporting characters like prison guards or pedestrians are almost completely featureless. The colors are all taken from what appears to be a 64 color pallet, and while adding to the style of the characters and animation, doesn’t allow for any visual depth. Worse, the relentless action sequences become so indistinct it’s hard at times to determine just what the hell is going on.
I hate that.
Manga releases Dead Leaves in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby 5.0 with Japanese and English language tracks, English subs, and a whole boatload of extras.
The directors commentary offered far less technical information than I’d expect from this sort of film allowing Imaishi to talk about the fun they had putting it together and pointing out the little details that are otherwise lost in the kinetic action (dicks going into people’s mouths, etc…). There is also short film and Q/A session with the director, writer, score composer, and a couple of voice actors taken at a club in Tokyo. The interesting thing about this is Imaishi wants the audience to “dance along” while viewing and is surprised when the audience doesn’t. There is another Q/A that is almost the same only in a smaller and more formal setting. Finally, we get a drunken game of Truth or Doubt that reveals little additional doo-dads about the movie. The Truth or Doubt game goes on for a really, really, really, long time; great fun if you are one of the participants, annoying if you’re a viewer.
Hiroyuki Imaishi suggests that the best audience for Dead Leaves is one that’s been drinking, and I can’t say I disagree, this OVA gave me the bed spins, and I was stone sober.