Apr 5, 2014

Review: Jigoku no banken: akai megane [The Red Spectacles] (1987)

The Red Spectacles seems to be an odd mix of a variety of genres. There's elements of sci-fi, film-noir, action and at times slapstick comedy. Sounds pretty weird right? You'd be right and I'd be lying if I said that I understood 100% of everything that happened in this film.

The Red Spectacles uses a lot of literary references that escaped my ability to tie them into the story. All the same, the story is intriguing enough. It's set in a dystopian version of the late 90's where crime has risen to never before seen levels. The government creates a special police force that start to use questionable methods before being disbanded. They're branded traitors and are fugitives.

The main character Koichi Todome is one of those fugitives and he returns three years later. Everything has totally changed since he left, basically becoming a type of Orwellian-type society. He wants to go to a stand-up soba bar but those are outlawed because they encourage bad behavior. Things aren't good, that's for sure.

There are some very impressive shots in film-noir style at times but The Red Spectacles is never consistent, shifting between styles all the time. It's a little jarring at times but that's just how it is. Mamoru Oshii, the director of Ghost in the Shell isn't trying to make an easy to digest move here but I think a little more control would have resulted in a stronger movie.

The production values are not the highest to say the least. The action sequences are hard to follow and sounds at times can be pretty weak. Probably what irked me the most was the slurping of noodles which sounded pretty bad.

One thing I found interesting was the recurring use of cats. Meowing sound effects, waving cat figurines (maneki-neko) and even a cat brand of noodles. I did a little reading up on cats in Japan, on Wikipedia of course, in order to find out what I could. Cats are basically a good luck charm because an emperor was once saved from being struck by lighting by a cat waving at him. Those waving cat statues in businesses? They're basically there to give good fortune to the owners.

So what's the significance of cats in The Red Spectacles? I believe that since Koichi left those three years ago and came back, so much about his city has changed. It's barely recognizable to him and he can't believe it. If that much can change, why can't the meaning of cats change as well? Those waving cat statues become an omen of bad luck for Koichi. When he hears cats meowing? It's trouble. When enemies eat dog brand instant noodles? Well they get sick of course, they're the cats! He's called a dog on several occasions as well. It's all pretty weird but in the end I think it makes sense. Even if it's weird.

So is The Red Spectacles any good? It's definitely not for anyone and you have to be patient. I found it got more and more interesting as it went on even if it left me with more questions than answers. I'll be thinking about this one for a while trying to piece it all together. For its well-shot film-noir scenes and it's bizarre uniqueness, it's worth a watch.

6.5/10