You would expect a film titled Assault Girls (Asaruto garuzu) to deliver high-voltage, non-stop, kick-ass action. The DVD cover art even seems to confirm this promise. Featured are three leathered-up, weapon-toting beauties who stand in front of a smoky sky dotted with planes, a strange orb and a giant Dune-like worm. Sounds good, right? Before you get too excited, I should mention that this is a Mamoru Oshii live action feature.
Oshii is probably best known for his 1995 animated feature Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku kidotai), which is about a female cyborg police officer who hunts the elusive Puppet Master. Thanks to the Wachowski brothers, who recreated many of its elements in The Matrix trilogy, Ghost in the Shell exerted a powerful influence on popular culture. It’s a highly lauded effort and it deserves all of the praise it receives. After I watched it, I became an instant Oshii fan and sought out his other projects. (I also love that he typically includes an animated dog, usually a basset hound, in his films.)
Even though most of his projects are animated, he does, very rarely direct live action features. Avalon is one of these. I don’t know if you necessarily need to watch this 2001 film to “understand” Assault Girls; however, both are about a future world in which people become addicted to a battle simulation game called Avalon. The 2001 Polish-Japanese production centered on Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak), a singular female who seeks out a hidden level in the video game; the “sequel,” Assault Girls, focuses on four characters who team up so that they can beat the game’s end boss. Neither film can boast an in-depth storyline.
Assault Girls begins with a VERY long, very philosophical sounding narration that sets the stage. Problem is, it’s completely unnecessary, because when you get right down to it, this film is essentially about gamers who spend most of their time shooting at giant sand worms. That’s it. No back story needed. The four “players” in this game world are : Jager (Yoshikazu Fujiki), a desert loaner with a giant gun; Lucifer (Rinko Kikuchi), a bowler hat wearing player who can turn into a giant crow and fights with glowing orbs; Gray (Meisa Kuroki), a sniper who has an aircraft; and Colonel (Hinako Saeki), a red-leather and feather attired horse rider. There isn’t much else to add. Lucifer dances a lot. Gray, or was it Colonel, develops an odd fixation on a snail. She eventually puts it on top of a statute and each character takes turns doing something to the snail. For instance, Lucifer dances around it; Jager eats it. If you think this is bizarre, you should watch the film. Some might call it “slow” or “contemplative,” I call it “what purpose does any of this serve?” The director spends countless minutes filming the clouds in the sky, and centering his camera lens on that snail. In one rather random minute, we see a dog standing in front of the aforementioned statute. What it’s doing in a gaming environment … I have no idea. For a film called Assault Girls, I expected a hell of a lot more action. And for a game that’s supposedly addictive, I would expect it to involve more than just shooting at sand worms. I would tire of this game REALLY quickly.
Another rather odd thing about Assault Girls is the fact that even though all of the actors are Japanese, they speak English. At first, during the DVD set up when I didn’t see a Japanese language track option, I figured they released a dubbed only version of it. But no. The Japanese actors are speaking English, and for most of the time, it’s incomprehensible. You MUST watch this film with subtitles or you won’t understand when they call each other “hag” or use other English colloquialisms that seem completely out of place. Near the end of the film, they do speak Japanese, but are chastised by the “computer” that has a British dialect. Because the characters are engaging in delicate negotiations about how they will work together to bring down the “boss” and how they will split the credits for doing so, the computer “allows” the Japanese conversation to continue.
Assault Girls was watchable for the first 15 minutes, and initially I thought “I should buy a copy of this.” But it quickly wears out its welcome when nothing much happens. The CGI is OK, and some of the camera work is artistic, but this really isn’t a good film by any stretch of the imagination. On the positive side, the costumes by Dango Takeda are amazing. I particularly loved Lucifer’s and Colonel’s. And composer Kenji Kawai gives the world another stellar score. I really disliked Avalon, but I loved the soundtrack so much that I spent a ton of money, buying it as an import. He loves choral work, and that’s just perfect by me.
Even though I wanted to like Assault Girls, I really didn’t, and wouldn’t subject my biggest enemy to it. Two stars out of five.