Pathfinder // 1998 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // June 10th, 2005
Exciting sci-fi and fantasy from the director of Audition and Ichi the Killer!
If you've ever wondered what a Disney Channel adaptation of a William Gibson novel would look like -- and who hasn't, really? -- check out Andromedia, a 1998 film by Japanese cult cinema maestro Takashi Miike (Audition, Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer). In Andromedia, Miike takes classic cyberpunk themes like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and high-tech megacorporate crime, and wraps them up in a lightweight teen romance starring Japanese pop stars, complete with a performance by J-pop boy band Da Pump. The resulting film is about as cheesy as you might expect, and doesn't even approach plausibility, but as a disposable teenybopper fantasy it's not entirely horrible -- especially for a film featuring a band called "Da Pump."
Pop idol Hiroko Shimabukuro stars as Mai, a teenaged girl with a close-knit group of friends (portrayed by members of Shimabukuro's pop band Speed) and a boyfriend, Yuu (Kenji Harada, Battle Royale II). When Mai is killed in a road accident, we learn that her computer scientist father has recorded Mai's memories and personality onto a computer chip. He brings the girl back to life, after a fashion, as a simulation who calls herself "Ai." (Get it? "Mai" equals "Ai" equals "A.I." The film makes sure to repeat this point a few times, in case anyone misses it.) Ai's activation brings her to the attention of an evil techno-magnate (cinematographer Christopher Doyle, in one of his deservedly rare forays into acting) who wants to use this fantastic technology to give himself cyber-immortality. The evil techno-magnate sends legions of thugs dressed in expensive suits to grab Ai, but Mai's father embeds the Ai program into a laptop, which finds its way into the hands of a heartbroken Yuu -- and the chase is on.
According to the production notes, Andromedia is supposed to be Miike's entry into mainstream, commercial filmmaking, but it's hard to distinguish the look and feel of this film from the low-budget B-movies Miike grinds out as regularly as Metamucil-enhanced bowel movements. It appears that most of the production money went into expensive CGI effects and elaborate props (like a bizarro Frankenstein computer adorned with miles of crazily tangled wires and duct pipes), leaving the rest of the film to look like a shot-on-video TV movie. Fans of Miike's trademark disregard for narrative coherence or logic will be completely at home with Andromedia's slapdash editing and gaping plot holes, not to mention an abrupt detour into MTV territory as Da Pump appears just long enough to drive a car off a cliff and then segue into a musical performance complete with pyrotechnic explosions. Even diehard Miike fans will be sorely tested, though, by Doyle's shorts-clad villain, who looks like a slightly more butch version of Richard Simmons.
In Miike's defense, it's entirely possible that he set out deliberately to create a kind of homage to bad '80s B-movies. Starting with Doyle's MTV-circa-1985 fashion sense and extending throughout the film's sets and costumes, up to and including Ai's Wargames-era synthesized voice, there's a weirdly retro vibe to Andromedia -- only the CGI keeps it from fitting right in with low-budget '80s flicks like Trancers or 1984's PC-in-love fantasy Electric Dreams. It's also possible that Miike is satirizing the cyberpunk genre, as payback to Gibson and other cyberpunk authors and filmmakers, for their relentless fetishizing of Japanese culture.
Or maybe it's just a crappy movie. If Andromedia is meant to be satire, the humor is too subtle to offset such wincingly awful scenes as [insert any one of a dozen scenes of Yuu mooning pathetically over Mai's virtual image] or the mawkish obviousness of the teenybopper tragic romance (after Mai's death, there's actually a shot of cherry blossoms falling onto a pool of blood). The sad thing about Andromedia is that Da Pump actually ends up being one of the best things about it -- their dancing and singing are pretty lousy, but they have a fairly engaging screen presence, and their brief comic-relief cameo made me wish I was watching them in a goofy comedy instead of this rambling trudge through cyberspace.
Still, Andromedia is basically watchable, provided you go in with low expectations and a high tolerance for teen melodrama. A late scene, with Yuu and his virtual girlfriend contemplating each other on a beach, even achieves a melancholy poetry. Moments like that reveal glimpses of the film Andromedia could have been -- a lighthearted, romantic take on relationships in the Information Age -- rather than the marginally diverting techno-thriller that it is.
Andromedia gets a fairly perfunctory DVD release, with an okay anamorphic widescreen picture that fares better during its CGI shots than the occasionally fuzzy, low-contrast live action footage. The transfer is fine, considering the subpar production values of the source material, but nothing special. Audio is also just okay -- the Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a trifle flat and center-heavy during dialogue scenes, but the effects and music are crisp and robust. Unfortunately, the scenes in which Doyle speaks (in English) are overdubbed by a harsh, robotic Japanese translation -- it's supposed to be some kind of instant-translation program in the film -- that makes it impossible to make out what he's saying. The mediocre (assuming the characters aren't meant to sound like characters out of an elementary school textbook) subtitles don't help at all. So, it would have been helpful if this DVD had offered an alternate audio track without that weird robotic voice. As it is, it's a glaring annoyance for English-speaking viewers of the film.
The DVD is pretty light on features. There's a brief text-based essay by Miike scholar Tom Mes (author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike) that offers some cursory insights into the film's inception and its significance to the Miike canon. Also included are cast and crew biographies, a theatrical trailer, and a gallery of stills.
I didn't find Andromedia's 109-minute running time as difficult to sit through as I anticipated; if you can make it through the first half hour or so, you might actually find yourself intermittently entertained. But only hardcore Miike completists -- and 13-year-old girls -- have much of a chance of really enjoying Andromedia. In a body of work not known for its consistency, Andromedia falls into the lowest tier of Miike's films.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Film Essay by Tom Mes
* Cast/Crew Biographies
* Still Gallery
* Pathfinder Trailers