Written by Fernando Ramos
Eden of the East Movie 1: The King of Eden
Spoiler Alert: While this review will not spoil the movie (too much), we will assume that the reader is familiar with the series, including its ending. Please do not read if you don’t want to be spoiled on the TV series.
Eden of the East was a curious beast to say the least. However, director Kenji Kamiyama’s inexplicably refined mix of romantic comedy and politically charged suspense-thriller made for a fun ride as the 12 “Selecao” schemed with their super-phones (and dodecagon agent Juiz) against each other to become the savior of Japan. As anyone who watched the final episode knows, many things were left unresolved.
Not quite. In the opening minutes, we learn that the aftermath of the incident has left Japan an economic pariah. Telling of mass-scale corporate pull-outs and worsening unemployment, Saki’s opening narration states simply: “The damage done to Japan was even greater than it would have been if the missiles had just hit us.”
Furthermore, the Game set up by the yet-unrevealed “Mr. Outside” hasn’t ended yet. The surviving players are still out in full force, with Takizawa having disappeared under yet another alias. The man may not be there, but his presence looms large in omnipresent “AIR KING” posters bearing his visage, Che Guevara-style.
Everyone may still be out for blood and the country’s economy may be in tatters, but at least our heroes have moved up in the world. No longer stuck in a dingy, cluttered office, the Eden of the East image recognition site has exploded in value. Its success is such that the staff and the fancy computer setups now reside in a swanky office building in Tokyo and everyone’s drinking the fine bubbly. The brief moments spent inside the meticulously kept walls bring out the biggest themes: growing up, change and the place of young people in an aging, frail society.
As these elements get woven into the main plot, there is a quiet melancholy that permeates the proceedings and it’s fascinating to watch. Perhaps the most obvious display of this is in the reluctant CEO Hirasawa, who can’t stop feeling a certain alienation and loss of purpose despite owning the biggest Internet start-up this side of 2ch and Facebook. Even oddball Kasuga shows a pensive side, nixing most of his cupboard-hiding antics to speculate on what the future holds. The disconnect between carefree college life and the scary real world borders on becoming too much for our heroes to handle.
I may be burned at the stake for drawing this comparison, but it reminded me of the shift between the original Patlabor series and the second Patlabor movie, albeit on a far less dramatic scale. Where Oshii made the SV2 crew a bunch of sourpusses, Kamiyama is content to merely stick the Scooby Gang of the East in suits. Even so, considering both series’ Production I.G. roots and Oshii’s influence on Kamiyama, it’s impossible to think that such a move wasn’t deliberate, especially considering that he has admitted to not being above copying wholesale.
Taking that with the pervasive 9/11 symbolism along with still more overt J.D. Salinger quotations, I could pick apart the thematic undertones for ages. But when it comes down to it, Eden is a franchise made popular by its accessibility. It deliberately waged war with itself, juggling a love story and politics fueled by a Battle Royale with deus-ex-machina devices, cracking jokes about Taxi Driver and Dawn of the Dead all the while. It was loose, yet the pacing was tight and references were usually on the ball.
Ironically, for being based on a show so focused on random movie trivia and lampooning movie antics, the film version feels declawed somehow.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect is the animation. It’s on-par with the TV series, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it was a sharp-looking show. However, it’s also a shame since having TV quality animation on a big screen makes me wonder the need to put the show in the theater, the need to make money aside. Particularly grating are the CG scenes on any given highway, where it just looks fake. Sure, it’s New York and Tokyo, two of the most plastic cities in the world, but still.
On the bright side, hearing Kenji Kawai’s score in full booming stereo surround is always satisfying. While, it nothing in the soundtrack particularly stands out as must-listen material, his moody ambience and pulsating rhythms are always welcome.
But what keeps bringing me back to this franchise are the characters. As could be expected, the relationship between Saki and Takizawa remains as sweet as ever. They have a great chemistry that lets us forgive how contrived their chance encounters are.
Mostly this is just because actor Ryohei Kimura’s nasally voice gives him an instantly likable quality. One memorable scene has him convincing a New York cab driver that Saki’s purse harbors a dirty bomb. It’s completely absurd and unbelievable, but we buy it and so does he. The whole thing had the audience around me cracking up, a rarity for notoriously quiet Japanese moviegoers.
It’s just that the actual plot, which moved so quickly and effortlessly in the 11-episode series, just seems stuck spinning its wheels as it heads to its supposed climax. There is no sense of where this is going and not in the good, edge-of-your-seat way.
Maybe it’s just my Japanese skills failing me, but there wasn’t as much of the double-triple-quadruple crosses that made the series so much fun. There also isn’t a sense of any real immediate story arc. Instead, the movie stops with nary so much as a “to be continued” to make us feel like coming back in March when the second film is scheduled to be released.
But come back we will. The show offered too much promise and the movie leaves just enough hints dangling that, like a donkey chasing the carrot put in front of him, we will follow. There’re little moments of utter brilliance stuck in there.
To go into details would spoil the fun, but there is a sense of an elaborate meta-commentary on pop culture, film and the effects of media on a populace, coupled with an increasingly irate Juiz, that keep it from completely going lukewarm.
Perhaps next time we’ll see the tension boosted a little higher. This time it’s a character piece with the politicking taking a backseat. The magic is still there, it’s just doing a much better job of hiding its Johnny.
Review by: Fernando Ramos
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