Currently snuggled in at #13
in my list of favorite movies of all time is David Lynch's Mulholland
Drive, and I will argue in favor of that particular film's brilliance until
the end of time. But in any discussion of the film's merits and the reasons for
its inclusion on a list as respected and erudite as my own, the following
argument is a statistical inevitability: "What?!That movie was
bullcrap. The only reason the pseudo-intellectual elite proclaim it to be genius
is because they don't understand it, and Lynch is laughing at them all the way
to the bank. I mean, it's no Pirates of the Caribbean!"
For sure. Still, that particular line of reason fascinates me for
endless reasons, not the least of which being attributed to the fact that MD
is probably Lynch's most accessible film since Blue
Velvet. But that is a cosmic haiku for another eon, and in the meantime we
probably want to know what the hell this has to do with Malice@Doll, a gloriously weird anime from
the minds of writer Chiaki Konaka and director Keitarou Motonaga.
Malice@Doll deals with
the story of Malice, a robot apparently programmed for sexual activity.
Somehow all of the humans are gone from her futuristic world, yet she still
seems to be functional and looking for clientele. When visiting a repair droid
for her usual servicing, she is instead accosted by an unfamiliar robot, which
systematically molests her with tentacles and metallic tendrils. She awakens,
only to find herself fully humanoid and organic, liberated from her motorized
shell. Like some post-modern pre-op Pinocchio, she has discovered that with her
kiss she can transmute other robots into full-formed humanoid beings. They call
the kiss "love", a transmittable disease which alters the flesh into a new
state, their being re-registered in quanta. Malice's kiss, seemingly a gift, is
a Pandora's Box which introduces pain, death, and despair into the cybernetic
personae. What seems like beauty is accursed, and Malice attempts at reversion
result in an ending both obtuse and circuitous.
Malice@Doll is a
many times a painfully obvious metaphor and meditation on lust, misplaced love,
youthful indiscretion, dreams and their reflection/redirection of
reality, AIDS, sexual confusion and gender identity. One could even make
the case that the entire film is a PSA stressing the importance and necessity of
sexual education. The robots are childlike, innocent, confused, and unaware of
there ever-morphing essences, immersing themselves in playful abandon within the
beauty of the "kiss", blissfully ignorant of its lethal nature on their forms.
There wasn't a scintilla of emotional connection between myself and
this 110-minute surrealistic sci-fi feast of bright colors, oily, grimy
corridors, robotic tentacles and copious amounts of sexy robot do-goodery.
That's not to say that I didn't gleam a few themes and a general vibe every here
and there, and, for the most part, I liked Malice@Doll. In fact, I found it to be an
ambitious and compelling piece of visionary filmmaking. Compared to the tedious
and overwrought Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Malice@Doll is practically a masterpiece. I
marveled at the CG animation, how it approximated the herky-jery rhythms of
stop-motion animation to give the film an even greater sense of veracity. It's
not the smooth, streamlined CGI you've seen in dozens of big-budget features in
the past. This is raw, visceral, and immediate, hearkening to the great European
animation of the 60s and 70s. The story itself is the film's weakest element;
while it starts strong and engagingly, it devolves into a melange of bizarre
imagery, plot obfuscations, and emotional expressions that dally in Dali and
paint themselves into an abstract portait which... well, quite frankly, I just
didn't get. Malice@Doll is
geared towards an audience that will return and revisit this tale many times,
combing for clues and digging for a deeper meaning.
presented in a full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The resulting video transfer is quite pleasing and rather vibrant
and engaging. Colors are eye-poppingly vibrant, with bright pinks, deep reds
and blues, and deep blacks. Contrasts are spot-on, demonstrating excellent range and depth.
Grain structure is evenly delineated throughout the transfer. Image detail is the only
real weak point. While the picture isn't overly soft,
it's not quite as sharp as it should be. Nonetheless, this is a
fine looking transfer.
The audio is presented
in Dolby Digital 2.0, in both the original Japanese soundtrack and an
English dub. The English dub sounds slightly superior to the Japanese track, but
overall both sound more than acceptable (although if you're listening to
anything other than the OSL, you deserve to be hung by your feet and forced to
watch Simon West movies until Ramadan.) Surrounds, while
discrete, are used engagingly and appropriately, while there is noticeable separation
in the front stage, adequate and effective use of LFE, and bright,
clear dialog reproduction.
A twenty-six minute
Interview with the Creators is the heart of the supplemental
material, featuring director Keitaro Motonaga and writer Chiaka J Konaka. They
discuss their visual and storytelling approach to the film, and their attempts
to recreate puppetry in a digital world. The interview is lively and edited like
a Michael Bay music video, but there's some nice material to be discovered here.
There is also a thirty-minute segment entitled Final Fantasies,
which features Jonathan Clements, co-author of the Anime Encyclopedia,
as he leads a discussion about digital animation. It's a fascinating feature
that is well worth your time, even if you only have a passing interest in the
special features on
this disc also include several text page Bio/Filmographiesfor the crew (character designer
Shinobu Nishioka, creature designer Yasu Morki, director Keitaro Motonaga, and
screenwriter Chiaka J Konaka), eleven still photographs of various
character models used in the film, trailers
Alice, and Blue Remains, and four pages of production
Not an easy film to understand, Malice@Doll remains a worthwhile endeavor.
It exists in a fully-realized world of its own, and if by the end the movie is
way too ponderous for its own good it remains generally compelling throughout
its running time. The DVD itself is a winner, with a fine transfer, solid
soundtrack, and respectable array of extras that really complement the film's