J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Psycho-Pass: The Anime Movie

There had to be some honest and conflicted cops in Orwell’s 1984. If so, Akane Tsunemori could relate to them. She is an inspector in a dystopian Japan, tightly regulated by the Sibyl System. She tries to only enforce legitimate, threat-to-the-general-populace crimes, but she clearly has her doubts. Nevertheless, she will somewhat knowingly become a pawn in a scheme to export the Sibyl System into Southeast Asian during the course of Katsuyuki Motohiro & Naoyoshi Shiotani’s mostly stand-alone-ish anime feature Psycho-Pass: the Movie (trailer here), which screens nationwide for two days only this Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Philip K. Dick echoes in the Psycho-Pass universe are obvious and intentional. The world is in anarchy, except Japan. There, the Sibyl System closely monitors each citizen’s mental state, calculating the probability each might develop criminal tendencies. When their Psycho-Pass reaches unacceptably high levels, the Public Safety Bureau quarantines them. The system is not fool-proof. Those who are “criminally asymptomatic” record artificially low “crime coefficients.” Some of them have even penetrated the Bureau.

In the two seasons of the regular anime, Tsunemori has seen enough of the inner workings of Sibyl to make her skeptical of its ultimate intentions. However, she remains within the system, unlike her former colleague, Shinya Kogami, who has gone rogue. In the opening action sequence, Tsunemori’s unit takes down a terrorist cell, only to have them ominously whisked away by her superiors. Based on information extracted the hard way, they learn the terrorists had contact with Kogami in SEAUn, the Southeast Asian Union. Tsunemori is sent to investigate and hopefully capture him, presumably because she is both competent and expendable. However, once in-country, she finds the oppressive government has somehow perverted the newly installed Sibyl system, allowing the criminals to exploit the innocent with impunity.

There are a heck of a lot of challenging themes in Psycho-Pass, starting with the fundamental and increasingly timely question: how much liberty can free people afford to relinquish for the sake of security? Although Tsunemori’s place in this world is ambiguous, Acton’s maxim is stamped all over it.

Tsunemori is also a well-developed character, who really grapples with her reservations (and provides a brief interlude of fan service). Boldly, screenwriters Makoto Fukami and Gen Urobuchi further challenge viewer preconceptions with the thuggish mercenary who frequently quotes anti-colonial Marxist critical theorist Frantz Fanon. There is also quite a bit of action and sophisticated intrigue, but the film clearly presupposes viewers will be familiar with the anime, especially when a significant character makes an eleventh hour appearance, with little or no explanation for who he might be.

Still, it is worth rolling with the late inning wrinkle (which really has little bearing on the overall narrative), because you will not find a lot of films, animated or live action, that so seriously explores issues of freedom and the social contract. Those new to the franchise will be motivated to catch up with the anime and returning fans should dig this self-contained outing. Recommended for science fiction buffs (especially those who often read Prometheus Award winners), Psycho-Pass: the Movie screens this Tuesday (3/15) and Wednesday (3/16) in select theaters, including the Village East and Chelsea Bowtie in New York.

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