The Garden Of Sinners Movie 1: Overlooking View

I was always amazed at how the Ghost In The Shell franchise took off despite what I consider to be a mediocre first film. Mamoru Oshii's opening look into that cybertech world resonated with folks despite its ponderous philosophizing and limited action, and I'm glad it did; I'm a fan of the second entry in the series, Innocence, as well as the TV series. So why bring it up here? Simply put, The Garden of Sinners: Overlooking View is the murder-mystery-supernatural-horror equivalent of the original Ghost In The Shell. Both look beautiful. Both have philosophical conversations less important than what they think they are. Both move slowly, and both know how to pull out the stops when the action finally comes. And it's going to take more than the first film in The Garden of Sinners series to make me a fan.

Shiki is a strange bird. Her refrigerator is filled with nothing but bottled water; her freezer contains just an unwanted cup of strawberry ice cream. Her only friends seem to be co-workers just as odd as she is. Is she really even human? It's a good question, but not one we're going to get answered here. Instead, what we do know is that a rash of mysterious suicides have the media in a frenzy. Seemingly unconnected teen girls are throwing themselves off the abandoned and soon to be demolished Fujou Building. Is the growing body count simply due to copycats? Or is there something more sinister at play? Shiki's investigation suggests the latter. Inbetween chats about the nature of flying vs. falling and the relative merits of Haagen-Dazs, she begins unraveling the supernatural answer to the question of the deadly building.

Overlooking View is not concerned with making sense. It is concerned with creating a vibe, and that it does well. There is foreboding in the air. The tension mounts as we try to put the jagged puzzle pieces together ever so slowly. I give props to its creators for getting the feel just right. It looks great, but not because the characters look terribly unique, though I am happy to see somebody in a modern anime who is over the age of 20. The visuals succeed because they capture the dingy atmosphere. You can almost feel the decay in the architecture of the buildings, which have extravagant detail in spite of (or perhaps because of) their disintegration. While not as accomplished as Mr. Oshii's films mentioned above, it's technically sharp.

But what to do with this plot! For those of you who don't know -- and until very recently, I was in the same boat -- this show had a loyal fan base from the very start. It's based on a series of light novels by the founders of the game company Type-Moon, which created the extremely popular Tsukihime and Fate/stay night. It's fans that made a film like this possible, as they have enough patience to get to the "good stuff," having read the books in advance. But for you and I, dear reader, this is a work to stumble through, not to understand. I don't think there's any way to "get" it, at least not with the little bit that's given to us in the movie's 50-minute running time. And I certainly wouldn't recommend watching it when you're even the least bit sleepy, as the pacing is deliberate enough to send you into slumberland.

What troubled me was that the one story thread I could wrap my feeble little brain around had a logical hole. If one girl throws herself off a skyscraper, it's a tragedy. If two do it, it's horrific and shocking. When the numbers start going higher, you stop mourning and you put some freakin' security around the building! It never appears that the police have the slightest interest in the case at all, that something might be going on besides young, carefree students deciding to off themselves from forty floors up. That makes no sense. I can hope that later installments might give some insight into that lack of concern. It is a strange situation, and nobody seems to be walking the streets around the complex either, so maybe there is something more deeply supernatural going on. I dunno. But when your central plot seems like something that could be fixed with a rent-a-cop or two, even, it's not as effective as it could be.

Still, I'm drawn to this world, primarily by the fact that I know more is coming and fans state this is by far the least of the films. I was intrigued by Shiki and her companions and the mysteries left to discover about them. The creepiness of the whole thing was very effective, exuding dread without being a straight-up horror picture in any manner. I also got the sense that Overlooking View will broadly bloom on a second viewing after watching the whole of the series. There are too many subtleties just out of sight for them not to have greater meaning once the saga is complete.

Recently, the series of seven films was released on Blu-Ray in a box set for $600 on both sides of the Pacific. If I had plopped down that kind of money cold, even after a discount, I would have felt after Overlooking View that I'd been had. It's not bad; it's just not worth anything near $85 on its own. Another caution: if the price tag doesn't scare you, be aware of the graphic violence. It's not in the same league as other anime gorefests at all, which while gross can become comical. However, the show realistically depicts what happens to a human body that hits concrete at high velocity. While you don't see the event in the show, you do see the bloody aftermath. In our era where there are crime procedurals on TV every hour of every day, maybe this isn't such a big deal, but it was more than you'd see on ABC in primetime, let me tell you.

The jury's still out. I'm not sold on how good The Garden of Sinners will turn out to be on the whole. I feel like I just watched a 50-minute trailer for the rest of the series. Am I disappointed? Yes, considering how many accolades this show has received from anime fandom. But it's certainly not bad, and the quality of the overall production gives me hope for the upcoming films.

The Garden Of Sinners Movie 1: Overlooking View -- graphic violence -- B