Dead Leaves Review
The oddly named Pandy and Retro open this short OVA stranded on Earth, butt naked and with no memory of their past lives and how they ended up in this predicament. With her red eye and sleek physique Pandy is everything Retro could want in a girl, but then his first impression is a naked one so what do you expect? Retro has a unique physical trait of his own, that of a retro style television where his head might once have been. With no clue of what and who they are the two join forces and go with their instincts, they rob a bank and make a daring getaway utilising their exceptional physical strengths, ability to locate a small personal arsenal at the drop of a hat and follow the simple premise of "being violent to others is good"!
Pandy is susceptible to a black out every now and then so when she brings their frantic escape to an abrupt end the two are shipped off to a prison located on the earth's somewhat dilapidated moon. In the Dead Leaves penitentiary the two discover they and the other inmates are clones, of what exactly you may never know but in this controlled facility where the shackles never come off and everything from eating to shitting is carried out for you they must attempt to find the answer. Following some healthy casual sex initially using the only entrance their obtrusive prison outfits will allow the two emerge invigorated, magically busting out of their shackles and inspiring the hundreds of clones who also reside their to follow them in a daring prison break.
That all happens in the first 15 minutes and if you think any of that sounds crazy then trust me, you don't know the half of it! Dead Leaves is the latest short from Production I.G, a 45-minute original video animation commissioned by Manga Entertainment that was handed down to first time director Hiroyuki Imaishi based on an original concept by designer Imai Toonz. Together they have created a world filled with abominations to the human race the likes of which you will have rarely seen in such abundance, with lead characters Pandy and Retro having the most natural forms and then showering themselves in clothing from the bygone era of Punk. With these characters as the catalyst, a story is played out which taps into lost memories of childhood tales involving caterpillars and what they ultimately become, giving us hope for something beautiful to emerge from the destructive path our protagonists take as they run through the prison complex facing unknown challenges in the form of a sadistic experiment whereby each and everyone is fair game for a bloody demise.
What impresses most about Dead Leaves is how much the writer and director have squeezed in to the modest runtime. The story is short on concept but absolutely bursting with ideas, a philosophical undertone has been provided with the caterpillar theme though it’s hardly essential to how the feature plays out. Instead its there should you wish to delve deeper, but never detracts from the frantic pace director Hiroyuki Imaishi instigates from the opening credits and maintains right thought to the closing cards. This energy comes from the numerous characters we meet along the way, all of them clones rejected at some point in their creation due to their physical deformities. Dick Drill is one such character though I'm sure I needn’t say more than that? Vile yes, repugnant sure, is the fact his homosexual tendencies cause me a great number of laughs disturbing, probably, but when they create such a character and find a way to give a whole new meaning to being led by your dick I bow down to these people!
To depict the many strange and wonderful concepts on screen the team at Production I.G must have brought in a whole slew of new talent as Dead Leaves truly looks like nothing they have ever created before. Instead I would liken the visual design most to a recent trend seen in videogames, that of 'cel shading', with the outcome here looking very much like the world of Jet Set Radio due to its busy layout, primary colours and those damned hilarious policemen who all look alike and run around like programmed drones. Furthering the frantic nature already mentioned this bold animation technique is then directed like an episode of 24, with use of split screen and multiple camera angles to play out the often stunning action set pieces in which our characters kill or be killed, often in the most gratifying manner.
Subtlety is a word lacking in Dead Leaves dictionary, from the dark comic undertones that have you laughing at scenes involving sodomy and mass murder to the stark visual nature of the proceedings, the feature is rounded off by some wonderful voice acting that sees the actors do their best to keep up with the profoundly odd nature of the material and the high pace set by the director. The final touch comes from the music which, running almost constantly throughout the short's running time ranges from the orchestral operatic to the operatic electronic with both dance themes and classical anthems utilised to fine effect. It's like a music video, one that defies anything you have seen before and maintains the pace seen in promotional pieces for a whole 45 minutes.
Manga UK provided DVDTimes with the Region 0 American DVD release for review. Rather than take their word for it and present this as a Region 2 DVD review I am including this notice informing you that the UK DVD should be identical (bar the NTSC/PAL differences) in terms of features and presentation quality.
A recent production Dead Leaves is given the anamorphic widescreen treatment maintaining the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. With today's digital animation techniques you can be assured the print is as clean as they come with colours lovingly rendered and solid black levels present throughout while needless edge enhancement was nowhere to be seen. Detail levels are mostly very high with the compression handling the varied designs and busy compositions well, but for one niggling problem. Due to 3:2 pull down we get some interlaced and rather messily compressed frames which on such a fast paced animated show prove to be quite a detriment as you try and process the images being thrown at you. Though rarely so bad to be worthy of complaint the particularly high-octane early prison break sequences feature some rather blocky segments, with the short but oh so sweet motorbike face off between Retro and a daring police officer suffering the most.
Both the original Japanese language and English dubs are served well by Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround options. Personal preference led me to settle with the Japanese 5.1 mix which delivers an enveloping sound experience, delivering clear dialogue through the front speakers along with the large majority of sound effects while the rears are mostly reserved for the wonderful original score that adds a great deal to the proceedings. The English 5.1 carries the same basic mix only with the English dub in place, so for those who prefer not to read subtitles (and on a film with this pace it's certainly a tempting option) you can rest assured you get the same high quality audio treatment.
Optional English subtitles (signs only and full dialogue/signs options) are present in an easy to read yellow font with black outline and do a good job with no obvious spelling or grammatical errors. Subtitles are also present on all bonus material with the exception of the Manga trailer reels, though it was rather annoying that on the interview material only dialogue is subtitled leaving all Japanese text (which handily tells you who is on screen talking) left untranslated.
As they did way back when with their yet to be corrected and reissued Wings of Honneamise DVD release Manga Entertainment have sourced a welcome collection of bonus material.
Audio Commentary - The director and two unidentified staff members gather round following a few drinks (a common theme on the extras found on the disc) to discuss the film. Despite initial thoughts they're just going to joke their way through the running time the trio deliver an insightful track that is full of details such as who directed the animation in each sequence, ideas that were cut and how others were developed. They never run out of topics to cover and make for interesting listening throughout.
Club Asia - The Japanese premiere took place at this nightclub and the director (Hiroyuki Imaishi), creator/designer (Imai Toonz), music director (Mr. Ike) and two of the main voice actors (Pandy and 666) were present for a Q&A session afterwards. Interesting but overly promotional and full of the usual courtesies we see extended in events of this nature, you'll watch once and that's about it.
Japanese Premiere - Another one it seems this Q&A session includes the director, two voice actors (Galactica and Retro) and the creator/designer (Imai Toonz). Far more energetic that the previous feature this is mostly due to the voice actors taking centre stage and discussing the odd things they got to say in the recording studio.
True or Doubt - Recorded specially for the (Japanese) DVD is this drunken party game where head of production at IG (Mr. Morishita), the films director (Hiroyuki Imaishi), creator/designer (Imai Toonz) and the voice actor behind Retro (Kappei Yamaguchi) sit down in a restaurant for an impromptu session. Already half-way there the three of them (plus their host) enjoy a game where questions are posed to an individual and they give an answer which the others have to say is true or false. Whoever loses must drink a mystery shot, so following insights to a mystery "dick" in the background animation, initial ideas for Retro's character which were later dropped and numerous methods of masturbation the four emerge fairly drunk and ready to crash. As with the other video based extras so far there is a definite and rather irritating promotional skew to this feature but the drinks appear genuine and the guys here are having a laugh, so like me you'll most probably have fun too.
Film Festival Interview - Before screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2003 the films director (Hiroyuki Imaishi) and producer (Mr. Morishita) introduced the film on stage in another promotional item that features little in the way of insight to the production.
Recording Session - A featurette showing us the voice actors at work before going on to interview them as they discuss their individual characters. Interesting but again that promotional edge can be felt and is a little tiresome by now.
Dead Leaves Trailer - A nicely edited theatrical trailer which isn't afraid to focus on the numerous obscenities featured in the movie.
Manga Extras - Weblinks, static pages detailing their DVD catalogue and a generous 18-minute trailer reel.
A wonderful short Dead Leaves will have you thoroughly gripped from start to finish and then pull you back for repeat viewings just so you can pick out the various nuances packed into the production. Combined with some informative bonus material and a decent presentation this Manga DVD is easy to recommend, which in itself is refreshing to say and something I hope to be doing more often with DVDs from the one time mighty anime publisher.