[Review] Psycho-Pass: The Movie
The film jumps right into the fray, with expectations to draw the viewer in with the familiarity of Kougami Shinya – a character from the first Psycho-Pass series who had gone into hiding. He’s on a battlefield, holding military arms and firing at his enemies. But this isn’t the first thing you process. Instead what you hear is a voice over in what is presumably English giving the audience an overview of a war-torn society outside the governance of the Sybil System. The dialogue tries hard at giving the film atmosphere, yet it becomes immediately problematic to the English speaking viewer when it becomes evident that the delivery using the English language with a Japanese lilt doesn’t quite mangle the sentence structure or language, but it does bring painful cringing without the context of the audience being primarily Japanese speakers, in which we’re watching a Japanese film made for a Japanese audience – the English instantly sounds garbled to an English speaking audience which becomes hard to listen to. If you’re not one to watch your anime with subtitles, you’ll probably have to here. It becomes a test of patience to wait it out until the Japanese dialogue comes into play before everything settles. Even then, the Engrish is interspersed with the Japanese dialogue when either Akane or Kougami are in the picture and using their high tech translators that lets the Japanese audience hear the dialogue in Japanese.
Let me explain first – I’m no purist when it comes to the use of English, Engrish, and Japanese dialogue. However, when it becomes the main focus to me as a viewer and raises a red flag to my viewing experience, it does impede my interest in the franchise of something I’ve come to enjoy. It’s jarring with the dialogue switches, and is an effort not to cringe whenever something that could’ve clearly been given a different introduction of context. The director used the correct tools here: a scene where a translator device is introduced into the conversation. Their editing is the mistake. What could’ve been a valuable tool of storytelling simply becomes cumbersome to the viewer. The story then becomes difficult to listen to even if it is easy to follow.
As for the main story itself, the writers have this time chosen to take a shift in their presentation. From the first and second series, we’re immersed in a utopia where peace is the rule and their version of Orwell’s Big Brother, the Sybil System, is the judge, jury, and executioner. We’re introduced to a war torn country in the South East Asian Union (SEAUn) region where the Sybil System has been imported, and it’s inevitably become grounds for conflict. Inspector Akane Tsunemori is dispatched to the region that is implied to be Cambodia to investigate the source of a terrorist attack that infiltrated Japan.
We’re shown a country in the midst of a civil war – the antithesis of the utopia Japan has become under the rule of the Sybil System. What follows is a series of investigations by Akane eventually leading her to Kougami. It’s not an emotionally packed reunion. It is simple, straight forward, and gives Akane a chance to look into her case further through the eyes of Kougami’s guerilla camp. His time outside of Japan hasn’t changed his ideals, and has made him a hero to the guerillas. The character interactions aren’t as meaningful as I’ve hoped, more stoic and hopefully having the audience have an understanding what’s unsaid between Kougami and Akane. If it floats your boat, why not? But at least for me, it lacks heavily in showing how much Kougami has evolved as a character. We’ve seen Akane’s growth from Season 1’s first episode to the movie. Her naivete having transformed into strong beliefs that has challenged the Sybil System, and logical enough that it has convinced the Sybil System to do feats its own logic couldn’t process without her ideals.
This concept becomes pivotal for the outcome of the film, but I feel it incredibly lacking that it begets a hopeful but anti-climactic resolution to the conflict. Chairman Han, a body double that has been imported by the Sybil System into Cambodia ultimately gives way to her way of thinking – the Sybil System taking Akane once again up to her challenge where protecting the law and democracy is the standard of peace, not the System’s brand of Coefficient values and hues. It’s become repetitive, if not predictable. Kougami, on the other hand, does not move forward. He disappears back into the unknown after his confrontation with Gino. It’s admittedly a well choreographed fight scene and their tandem is undeniable considering how many years they’ve worked together, but there’s no conflict that could’ve driven both of them to develop further. Gino has changed and grown from the first to the second season while Kougami remains stagnant. He hasn’t changed nor moved on from his views or his relationships and it could’ve made for a lot more interesting character interaction. It’s disappointing to know the initial excitement from his opening scene boils down to him rolling over to sleep in the back seat of a car. Perhaps it’s me and my own preference for character development and plot progression, but it’s ultimately boring to see nothing has changed but Gino’s hair length.
I’ve issues also with the pacing of the film. What starts out promising becomes slow and cumbersome, weighted by the bad delivery of dialogue editing plus the fact that there’s more idle conversation than I care to listen to. It’s repetitive stating that there’s conflict and the need for peace. Akane’s investigation didn’t take much. Some time spent with Kougami had sufficed but was a slow burn that I did honestly feel sleepy while watching the film. The action is great, there is no argument there. The fight scenes are well played out, as well as how the weaponry is showcased; yet while the conflict is well emphasized, plot progression takes a little too long for something as simple as this script. The story had to be drawn out.
The reason why people watched this movie is because it’s a franchise, thus familiarity to the characters is key to keep an audience attentive. It’s the opening scene that drew people in, and that’s precisely where it stops. Inspector Akane Tsunemori is a vanilla character on her own and this is what I’ve felt about her since the very first episode. I’ve albeit pointed out repeatedly that she’s the character that has had the most growth, but she’s also the most straight laced. She’s challenging, strong, and brave, but she’s got very little conflict where her morals are concerned after her confrontation with Makishima and the murder of her friend. Where’s Gino’s anger and Kougami’s drive? Hell, even Shimotsuki’s annoying delusions would’ve been a welcome change to the slow burn, single minded plot that was the film. The second season of Psycho-Pass proved that it could keep the same world building with a different perspective on story telling. With this film, they change the environment but not much else. It’s a repeat of season one’s string of murders translated into a war zone with essentially the same end – the Sybil System has a battle of wits with Akane and concedes to her way of thinking. If this keeps up, the next Psycho-Pass film or movie will have to cycle through the same thing: A conflict that the Sybil System will be a conspiracy of, then Akane comes to challenge them thus leading them to acquiesce to argument until another loophole in their security is found. It’s the same plot with a different magnitude of casualties.
It’s disappointing to have been excited about this film after a franchise has delivered a different flavour of procedural crime and conspiracy blended with utopian sci-fi. The breath of fresh air from all the dystopian/utopian themed series that seem to have bogged down story telling in the recent decade was taken with a different view in mind. Sadly, I guess the writers of the Psycho-Pass film have met a speed bump in their writing, with what they had going for them can’t be made up with plot recycling and bad dialogue. It’s a pretty good effort for a film on their part. I just wish it could’ve been better.