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Oshii Mamoru

Entry updated 27 December 2021. Tagged: Artist, Author, Film, TV.

(1951-    ) Japanese director, scriptwriter, animator and author. Joining Tatsunoko Productions in 1977 as an Anime storyboard artist, Oshii worked on such shows as Time Bokan (1975-1976; vt Timefighters; vt Timefighters in the Land of Fantasy; 61 episodes) about the search for a Scientist lost whilst testing his insect-shaped Time Machine and the strange jewel that returned in his place; he would go on to direct several episodes of its sequels, Yatterman (1977-1979; 108 episodes) and Zenderman (1979-1980; 52 episodes). In 1980 he moved to Studio Pierrot, becoming Chief Director of the first 106 episodes of the popular Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986; vt Those Obnoxious Aliens; vt Lum the Invader Girl) Television series, also writing a few. He directed the show's first film Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1983), but it was the second, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984), which he wrote and directed, that indicated he was a remarkable talent; however, it was tonally different from the rest of the series, and displeased the franchise's creator Rumiko Takahashi. He also co-directed Dallos (1983), thought to be the first direct-to-video animated release and therefore the first OVA.

In 1984 Oshii was recommended by Hayao Miyazaki to make a movie for the successful Lupin III franchise – created by Monkey Punch – about the adventures of the grandson of Maurice LeBlanc's gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. However, the producers were unhappy with Oshii's ideas – these included Nazi Germany stealing plutonium to make an atomic bomb, under the pretence of having discovered a fossil Angel, with both the bomb and Lupin III subsequently revealed to be fakes – so the film was cancelled, though some of the ideas were used in Oshii's later works. A couple of years after Oshii met with Miyazaki to discuss directing a film, «Anchor», for Studio Ghibli, but creative differences meant it too was never made. Leaving Studio Pierrot in 1984, Oshii then wrote and directed Angel's Egg (1985) for Studio Deen: though not well received on release ("Nobody gave me jobs for three years"), this is now seen as a classic.

In 1986 Oshii began the multi-media Alternate History Military SF Kerberos Saga, where the USA stayed out of World War Two leading to a German victory that included the occupation of Japan, which had sided with the Allies ... this was not quite a Hitler Wins scenario, however, as here Claus von Stauffenberg succeeded with his assassination attempt (see Jonbar Point). The focus of the series is on Kerberos, the heavily armoured police unit set up by the subsequent Japanese Government (The Weimar Establishment) to deal with civil unrest and crime: though eventually closed down because of their brutality, some members refused to disband. The series is more eccentric than this bare outline suggests. The sequence, mainly written and/or (where applicable) directed by Oshii, started with a 1987 Radio drama. It would include various Manga, novels, further radio dramas – and the live-action films The Red Spectacles (1987; original title Akai Megane) and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991; original title Keruberosu: Jigoku no Banken; vt Stray Dogs), as well as the anime film Jin-Roh (1999; vt Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade). A South Korean live action remake, Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018), did not involve Oshii. The animated/live action hybrid film Tachiguishi-Retsuden (2006) is also set in the Kerberos universe, but is a fictional documentary about "The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters" that Satirizes Japan's changing dining culture. It had two live-action spin-offs – the short OVA Onna Tachiguishi-Retsuden (2006) and the anthology of short films Shin-Onna Tachiguishi Retsuden (2007)

In 1987 Oshii joined Headgear, a team of anime/manga talents, helping create the Patlabor franchise: he directed Mobile Police Patlabor (1988-1989; vt Mobile Police Patlabor: The Early Days), Patlabor: The Movie (1989) and Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993); wrote the OVA Patlabor Minimum (2002; 3 episodes); co-directed and co-wrote the live action television series The Next Generation: Patlabor (2014-2015; 14 episodes); directed and wrote the live action movie The Next Generation Patlabor: Shuto Kessen (2015). Additionally, he authored three novels, and co-wrote a fourth, connected to the series.

Also in the late eighties/early nineties, Oshii directed and wrote the second part of the Twilight Q (1987) anthology Anime; the OVA Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai! (1989; 6 episodes) about a girl who Time-Travels to the present day to meet her ancestors, this followed by the compilation film MAROKO (1990); and the live action Talking Head (1992) about the making of an anime called Talking Head whose director disappears. Then came Ghost in the Shell (1995), where his work as director was acclaimed, including his skill at combining computer graphics and traditional cel art. The film had cost US$10 million to make, but the theatrical release only grossed US$2.3 million – fortunately the video release grossed over $40 million worldwide. Lana and Lily Wachowski have cited it as a major inspiration for The Matrix (1999) and James Cameron has acknowledged its influence on Avatar (2009). Later Oshii would direct and write Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004; vt Innocence), where Section 9 investigates the hacking of Sex robots (called gynoids), turning them into killers.

After the first Ghost in the Shell film there was a hiatus, ending in 1999 with the aforementioned Jin-Roh screenplay; Oshii then directed the Japanese/Polish live action Cyberpunk film Avalon (2001; vt Gate to Avalon), set in a Dystopian Near Future where the heroine plays an illegal Virtual Reality First Person Shooter Videogame whose secret level blurs the distinction between the game and reality. The later film Assault Girls (2009), directed and written by him, is set in the same universe but after a nuclear war. During this period he also created Mezame no hakobune (2005; vt Open Your Mind), a musical drama shown at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan, which was a mix of sf, religion and mythology covering the Extraterrestrial origin of life on Earth. He directed and wrote a short film for each of the live-action anthology series Killers (2003) and Kiru (2008; vt Rebellion: The Killing Isle), as well as directing the film Sky Crawlers (2008).

During the next decade Oshii directed and co-wrote the Canadian/Japanese live action film Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014), a story of tribal wars on the planet Gaia; directed the live action film Tōkyō Mukokuseki Shōjo (2015), about a Russian Invasion of Japan; directed the live action/CGI series Sand Whale and Me (2017; 5 episodes) concerning a military paratrooper crash-landing in an alien planet's desert and trying to survive by catching one of the sand whales that live there. He also co-directed and wrote the animated online series Vlad Love (2021; 12 episodes), about a schoolgirl who sets up a blood donation club to help a Vampire she befriends.

Skilled at directing both animation and live action, Oshii mostly produces sf, but these works can incorporate thriller, Horror, Humour and mystical trope. They are often imbued with philosophical and spiritual elements: Oshii lost his Christian faith in the early 1980s, but religious-derived imagery and references recur, and trying to comprehend the world is also a common theme. His art style is realistic but frequently used surrealistically; his writing is also ambitious, but can be obscure. Oshii is an important creator of modern sf. [SP]

Mamoru Oshii

born Tokyo: 8 August, 1951


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