Maybe it’s because he hasn’t directed a feature-length animation since 2008’s The Sky Crawlers, but Mamoru Oshii is one of the greatest anime directors of all time despite not being discussed much recently.
He will soon be making his return to both TV and Film animation though with the upcoming Vladlove and Chimera respectively. We hope that will reignite some interest in this classic director who’s very much on the level of a Hayao Miyazaki or a Satoshi Kon.
Here’s something of a primer.
Our Favorite Mamoru Oshii Movies
A 40+ year animation and film making veteran, Mamoru Oshii has developed a hell of a filmography. He does have one of the best collections of works, especially if you just focus on his animated titles. Genuinely you cannot go wrong with any of them, even Dallos.
However, between his anime films and his live-action works, he’s directed dozens of movies and tv series. We wanted to at least give you a taste with some of his best yet most accessible works, and maybe a forgotten gem or two.
Of course, The Original Ghost In The Shell Makes The Cut
Long before some actress named Scarlett Josomething caused an uproar by playing the definitely Not Asian ‘Major’ Kusanagi in the critically panned 2017 Hollywood film Ghost In The Shell, Mamoru Oshii once directed a movie by the same name which remains one of the beloved anime films of all time.
Poking at old wounds aside there’s a reason Ghost In The Shell got its ill-advised Hollywood remake and why people raised such a stink about it. Not just a hallmark of Japanese animation but one of the definitive cyberpunk works that’s gone on to influence so much that came after it, like The Matrix to say the very least, it’s every bit the film everyone’s ever said it was.
For the record, Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence is quite good too although an even dryer theatrical Sci-Fi experience.
Beautiful Dreamer, or That Time Oshii Turned Urusei Yatsura Into High Art
Mamoru Oshii cut his teeth bringing Lum-Chan to life in the early days of the Urusei Yatsura TV anime. The series is one of the most famous, with its green-haired beauty being one of those characters everybody in Japan knows. You’ll still see her on T-Shirts till this very day.
The original Rumiko Takahashi manga and the tv anime were great though were, for the most part, firmly light-hearted comedies but of the films Urusei Yatsura has under its belt, one is especially of note. Director Mamoru Oshii was given some extra creative freedom when bringing together the second movie Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. While it’s still firmly Urusei Yatsura at heart, it meanders through philosophical inquiry and plays with the viewer’s sense of reality through dreams.
These are themes Oshii would explore further and further with his subsequent films, and it’s neat to see them get their start in a franchise movie like this. Thankfully Discotek Media has this classic feature film out on Blu Ray now.
Don’t Sleep On Patlabor 2 Even If You’re Unfamiliar With The Series
Urusei Yatsura and Beautiful Dreamer wasn’t the only franchise work Oshii got heavily involved in. He also directed a great deal of Mobile Police Patlabor in the form of its original OVA series and first two films. A mech series that’s less about giant robot battles and more about the practical applications of how mechs could be used in daily life, Patlabor was often more lackadaisical than your Gundams and Macross series.
However when creating the second Patlabor movie, which flips the script by making secondary characters for the series its main focus, Oshii put out what many consider to be his best work. Truly a mature piece of cinema, Patlabor 2 has the story-telling and directorial chops of any Oscar winner.
We promise you don’t need to have any familiarity with the series to get a lot of this excellent, refined work.
With Avalon, Mamoru Oshii Made Something Completely Unexpected (and in Polish!)
Mamou Oshii has been known to delve into the world of live-action film over the course of his illustrious career and has spent the last decade exclusively working with the medium.
Avalon marked one of his earlier efforts though, from when he switched back and forth between animation and film. What makes Avalon distinct from other movies in Oshii’s filmography, and being the one non-anime film we wanted to include, is just how atypical it is.
Despite being directed by Oshii and written by his frequent collaborator Kazunori Ito who wrote two of the three movies above, the entire film’s in polish! Filmed in Poland and starring Polish actors, you wouldn’t know it was a Japanese made film until you saw the credits. Its premise of ‘people playing a banned virtual reality game whose sense of real and fake diminishes throughout the film’ is pretty neat too.
Mamoru Oshii’s Long-Awaited Return To Anime, Complete WIth Vampires
Mamoru Oshii hasn’t made a feature-length animation since 2008’s somber Skyscrawlers, though for accuracy’s sake we note he directed an animated short film Je t’aime in 2010. Still, it’s been a full 10 years since he’s animated much at all but the master of mood and tone is coming back with something pretty different. Returning to TV anime for the first time in decades, Oshii is the chief director of Vladlove which he’s described as something of a slapstick comedy about vampires.
The 12 episode series is set to premiere in the fall of 2020 and it comes with a visual style much more current era anime that we would have ever expected from this auter.
One thing Vladlove does share in common with its animated predecessors is, once again, the genius Kenji Kawai on the soundtrack. Oshii did comedy and cutesy way back in his Urusei Yatsura days, but since it’s been so long since he’s made that kind of work we’re intrigued with how his more mature take on the genre will shape up.
The Mamoru Oshii Kenji Kawai Connection
Every great director has a composer they trust most to add audible color and life to their films, even in anime. Hayao Miyazaki works pretty much exclusively with the multitalented Joe Hisaishi and Satoshi Kon’s films wouldn’t be the same without the interdimensional Susumu Hirasawa Tunes. Mamoru Oshii owes a debt to Kenji Kawaii.
Kenji Kawai is more of a Yoko Kanno type of soundtracker, in that he’s able to work in any sound and genre. His work on Patlabor 2 and The Red Spectacles could not be more different, but both more than do their park. Of course when speaking about Kawai’s soundtracking work, you have to admit he deserves the most recognition with his haunting work on Ghost In The Shell where he came up with the idea of fuzing traditional Bulgarian choirs with Japanese folk singing.