Patlabor: The Movie (1989) US Blu-ray

Patlabor_The_Movie_posterThis’ll be my third anime review I’ve done since entering the DVD reviewing arena three and a half years ago. Technically my sixth review if I add in those four Marvel Anime series (Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men, Blade) and Marvel’s two anime movies (Iron Man: The Rise Of Technovore, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher), but I won’t since I do distinguish a difference between Marvel’s delving into anime and general anime. And this will be my first ever anime review of a memory movie. Every so often I need to explain my usage of ‘memory movie’ for those who don’t regularly read my reviews.   It’s a term I casually came up with one day many, many years ago whole standing at one of my DVD towers perusing some of the movies I saw when I was a kid.

All those movies have one thing in common, they all come with memories, some more vivid than others, some fragmented, but memories nonetheless of where I was, who, if any, I was with and what life was like when I saw them, hence the term, memory movie.

This was back in the days of VHS, 1994 to be precise; I was 25 and working at the mall in the warehouse of a retail store called, Service Merchandise. I credit that year and half of the next for really being able to indulge my anime collecting. There was a video store at the mall called, Saturday Matinee, back then where I bought some from, others I ordered from this company called, Science Fiction Continuum (I think they were based out of New Jersey). Patlabor I seem to remember getting acquainted with through a trailer on some other anime tape I had, and Saturday Matinee happened to have it and it’s sequel, Patlabor 2: The Movie. I bought the first one first to see how good it was before I returned for the sequel. One more thing I remember about Saturday Matinee is how rotten they were when it came to labeling their anime tapes to signify which ones were dubbed and which were not. Yes, I prefer my anime dubbed. I only collect subtitled ones when there’s no dubbed versions available.

I can’t exactly remember which memory this one belongs to, Patlabor or the sequel, but I remember buying one, getting home and finding out it was the subtitled version. I returned it the next day for a dubbed one, but there was one after that, it may have been Patlabor 2 where, I believe, they only carried the subtitled version, and the label on the back of the one I purchased stated it was dubbed. Anyway, it’s one of many nice memories I have of that store. Used to frequent it a lot before it eventually went out of business.

In the year 1999 technology in Japan has evolved to the point where they can create these blue-collar mecha they dub Labors. They’re mostly used for construction, but as with all new technologies, criminals always manage to find ways to exploit it, so a special police force was created to investigate these Labor related crimes, and they have been given their own form of Labors. Infinitely cooler than any police car obviously, and these special Labors are dubbed, Patrol Labors, hence the title of the movie, Patlabor.

The movie starts off with two prologues. The first one is really short and it shows what we can easily presume is either a scientist or a doctor, for the white lab coat’s a dead giveaway, in the process of committing suicide by leaping off a building as other lab coated individuals beg him not to. The next scene is longer and involves some kind of military operation, or war, feels almost like war since we eventually see all these choppers, soldiers and Labors gunning down a four-legged labor, one that’s revealed to have no driver.

Both of these scenes are eventually explained as the story unfolds. Within the last couple of months there have been a rash of Labors “running amok” without their drivers. Special Vehicles Section (SV2 for short) is the division of the Police that investigates “Labor crime” and what they eventually learn is there was this scientist who deliberately put a virus into this new operating system that helps in making these Labors run amok. This scientist committed suicide prior to sabotaging this upgrade, which all the labors recently got and that Labor in the second scene in the prologue was just a taste of what it takes sometimes to bring down  crazed mecha.

As two detectives trace this dead scientist’s movements throughout his lifetime around Tokyo trying to unravel his motives, SV2 is tasked with trying to find out exactly how this “virus” is malfunctioning the Labors. They learn it’s sound. Only certain areas in the city have been plagued with rampaging Labors, but why only those areas? Because of the structure of the buildings in them. Wind passes through them differently and it’s this unique sound, which humans cannot hear, that’s triggering the “virus” and sending the Labors into techno-craze mobility.

There’s a typhoon coming and it’s been deduced that if the Ark, a massive facility where Labors are constructed, is subjected to these winds it could send all Labors into ultimate batshit mode, even in Tokyo where it’s also predicted to hit. Which would also be bad. So, now they have to launch an operation to infiltrate and destroy the Ark.

What makes this “mecha movie” unique is it’s pacing. It’s not an action packed movie, it’s constructed more as a “who-done-it” with the crux of the action happening in the final act. Personally, at the time I first watched Patlabor, I had never seen an anime about mecha paced like a mystery. It’s one of the reasons I really liked it.

As near as I can figure this first got released on DVD here in the states way back in 2000 through Anchor Bay, and then in 2006 Image Entertainment gave it the 2-disc special edition treatment. US based anime distributor, Sentai Filmworks/Section 23, is the latest bearer of this fine film and is set to release it on separate DVD and Blu-ray editions on May 5th. This would also mark it’s first blu-ray release here in the states as well.


Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.77:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—English subtitles only.

The transfer (colors and clarity) was quite good. I had no problems with the audio. It was clear and distinct.

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None of the extras on Image’s DVD have been ported over. This is a barebones release and frankly I’m okay with that. Just to have it on blu-ray is enough for me.

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About Shawn Francis

Movie collector and horror writer.
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