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Year: 2000
Malgorzata Foremniak visits Avalon

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Cast: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupsi
The Skinny: Director Mamoru Oshii's live action/animation hybrid will be inaccessible to many, but it's a landmark of the genre. Or, if you're part of the "slow pace is murder" crowd, it's like Nyquil without the side effects.
by LunaSea:

     Beyond its amazing visuals and memorable soundtrack, Avalon is almost impenetrable. There's little or no attempt to make you care for the characters or their personal develoment. The film puts you in a position very few films dare to by defying initial expectations. You're initially given some amazing action sequences and CGI, but the film quickly settles down and brings up metaphysical questions. It creates a world that's dark and pessimistic. It's more interested in giving you food for thought than shocking you with fantastic battles or special effects.
     Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is one of the best, most respected players in an underground virtual reality game. She was part of the "invincible" group Wizard, which is now disbanded. There are rumors going around the community that she caused the break up, "resetting" the game for the first time among the members of the group. She's now going solo, and lives day-by-day with the profit she makes from the game. She hardly connects with anybody, and her only decent relationship is with her dog. It's a relationship with very little emotional demand, though. The dog doesn't complain, and just greets Ash and asks for food whenever she comes home.
     Her first challenge in a long time comes when she sees a Bishop level player (players are ranked by levels, like any respectable RPG) perform better than her. She tries to find information about him, but it leads to nothing. It seems like he's operating from inside the game, and is searching for partners to venture into the ultimate level of the game, Class Special A.
For the first time since the Wizard incident, Ash decides to work in a team. She wants to know about Class Special A, and what that will bode for her future. She also wants to find out about the truth behind the "unreturned" (players who accessed Class Special A but returned with nothing but a coma), as it will help her understand what happened to one of her friends.
     Mamoru Oshii's decision to shoot the film in Poland (entirely in Polish) might not have been just because of budget concerns. The locations better represent a feeling of desolation. The physical setting of Avalon looks like a future with no escape, where people hardly connect with one another. The film style (predominantly sepia tones and filters) is used to make everything look darker and adds to the overall pessimism of the picture. The decision to use color for food and animals might be to show that the game also creates a void in the players' mind. Everything except food and pets feels secondary, alien, or even pointless.
     Avalon is an incredibly demanding film, and most will give up after watching it two or three times. It's an intelligent piece of filmmaking, but it's up to you to answer the film's questions, to ask yourself what the end means, and to understand Oshii's messages behind the more inaccessible aspects of the film. The film works better if one isn't looking for something to top the first ten minutes, and watching it more than once certainly helps that. Oshii is more interested in creating a world that resembles an apocalyptic version of what we're experiencing today. He seems to give us a warning that's social (youth is clearly trying to escape a world that gives them no space to move), political/economical (there's no freedom even in Avalon, and only the best survive) and at the end even metaphysical (Oshii asks you what is reality after all).

     It's probably too much to handle for just a film, but this is nonetheless an amazing achievement by Mamoru Oshii. His work shouldn't be overlooked just because the film is emotionally impenetrable and so difficult to understand. Avalon is something that's hard to digest at first, but it confirms Oshii as something more than just an Anime director. He clearly wanted to separate himself from the belief that Anime is something for only kids or fanatics. If Ghost In The Shell wasn't enough to make you believe there can be Anime arthouse films, Avalon will certainly do the job. (LunaSea 2002)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC (Marked as Region 3)
Panorama Entertainment
Polish Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Bandai Visual
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Polish Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 6.1ES
Removable English Subtitles

image courtesy of Panorama Distributions Co., Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen