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Vexille
voice cast: Meisa Kuroki, Shosuke Tanihara, and Yatsuko Matsuyuki
director: Fumihiko Sori

105 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
If there are two criteria by which anime films are most often judged by viewers, it is the quality of the animation and the visual imagination of the world-building. After all, anime seems to inhabit some alternate narrative universe in which a coherent, well-structured plot is considered superfluous. Vexille, of course, looks fantastic, but it also manages a plot that holds together for nearly half the film's length. That must be some sort of record.

Initial impressions are not good. When a film opens with a voiceover explaining 'history' between now and the film's time, 2077 AD, it's never a good sign. And there's plenty that needs to be said, as the world of 70 years hence bears little resemblance to ours. Robotics has seen a great many advances, and robots are ubiquitous. Androids, however, are banned by international treaty because... it's important to the plot that they are. Ten years previously, Japan suddenly isolated itself, and put up an impenetrable force field over the country. Since then, no one knows what's been going on in there. But as long as the robots and weapons manufactured by Japanese industrial giant Daiwa continue to be shipped out through the barrier, no one cares.

When an android escapes from a Daiwa ship docked in the US, and manages to utter some enigmatic clue to Commander Leon Fayden (Shosuke Tanihara) of UN strike force SWORD, the UN decide to infiltrate a seven-man team into Japan. Fayden leads this team with his wife, Lieutenant Commander Vexille Serra (Meisa Kuroki), as second-in-command. Their mission is to carry in and trigger a device that will turn Japan's force field transparent to the UN's spy satellites. No sooner have they landed on Japanese soil than they are attacked, and by robots, of course. Only Vexille survives - and when she comes to, she's the guest of Japan's much-reduced population, who now live in a single shantytown behind a huge wall. The rest of the country is a wasteland, inhabited only by deadly Jags, sandworm-like creatures made of whirling pieces of scrap metal (and owing perhaps a little too much to Dune). Vexille must help a group of rebels destroy the Daiwa offshore complex if she is to escape. And rescue her husband, who apparently did not die but was captured.

The central premise, the reason why Japan has isolated itself, is nonsense. The moment when Maria (Yatsuko Matsuyuki), in whose hut Vexille awakes, makes her appearance is the moment when the story begins to unravel before your very eyes. By the time it's finished, not even the lovely visuals can re-hang your suspension of disbelief. It's not that a single corporation, Daiwa, used the entire population of Japan as guinea pigs in an experiment. Or even the introduction of 'cyber-metal', into which all the Japanese have apparently been transformed. No, it has to be the rebels' plan to lure Jags into the tunnels connecting the Daiwa complex with the shore - by trailing metal cables that will attract the Jags. The tunnels themselves... are constructed of metal.

But then no one expects a coherent story from anim´┐Ż. As long as it looks good... And Vexille looks very good indeed. The film is CGI animation, but deliberately emulates cell animation. It gives us the look and the feel of old style anime, but the character movements and action are almost as natural appearing as live actors and actresses. Except for the faces, which are stiff and show very little expression. These are minor criticisms - Vexille's visuals are much more impressive than many others of its type.

The second disc contains a 48-minute interview with Fumihiko Sori, in which he discusses the making of the film; and a 60-minute featurette on The Secrets Of Vexille, which is also a making-of documentary. Prior to Vexille, director Sori was best known as a producer of Appleseed, although he got his start as a visual effects animator in James Cameron's Titanic. Both featurettes are informative, although they cover similar ground.

Take note that this region two release is not dubbed into English, but is offered only as Japanese language with English subtitles. The region one version apparently has been dubbed in English - with Vexille's voice provided by the bizarrely named Collen Clinkenbeard.

Vexille looks impressive, and it almost makes sense. Which means it's a superior example of its type, and worth seeing.
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