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Parasite Dolls (2002)
Directors: Kazuto Nakazawa, Naoyuki Yoshinaga

review by Amy Harlib

Among the myriad varieties and pleasures of the 2004 Asian-American International Film Festival, the science fiction anime feature Parasite Dolls proved a standout and, for fans of the genre, it is essential viewing. Making the rounds of the festival circuit (including a screening at the 2003 Big Apple Anime Festival), this production comes skilfully directed by Kazuto Nakazawa and Naoyuki Yoshinaga, with scripting by Chiaki Konaka and with Art Direction by Sato Masaru - all experienced in the field. Dazzling with a variety of hip, stylish, near-future, urban-techno-noir settings reminiscent of Blade Runner and Ghost In The Shell, Parasite Dolls, like these just-mentioned, classic inspirational opuses, deals intelligently with the endlessly fascinating themes of human-looking android creations developing minds and personalities and possibly souls of their own and the consequential, complex moral and ethical dilemmas that ensue.

Set in Tokyo in 2034 and sharing the same background social/political milieu and time period but otherwise no other direct connections with the popular series Bubblegum Crisis and AD Police, Parasite Dolls can be enjoyed completely independently. The tri-part narrative structure revolves around the products of the prosperous, powerful, giant Genom Corporation thriving from creator Dr Quincy's technologically sophisticated 'Boomers'. This term refers to simulacra gifted with AI and so advanced, they look more beautiful and possess more strength than the humans they so closely resemble. The AD police monitor the activities of Boomers through BRANCH, a specialised division whose members function undercover in plain clothes.

The first part, A Faint Voice, focuses on BRANCH agents Basil 'Buzz' Nikvest (Inoue Kazuhiko) and his Boomer partner Rod Kimball (Uchida Somei) investigating a mysterious drug associated with crimes committed by malfunctioning, 'mad' Boomers. While trying to discover the nature of the pharmaceutical, and then during the attempt to stop its distribution and malign effects, the protagonists make surprising and chilling discoveries.

The next segment, Dreams, concerns Boomer prostitutes whose numbers equal their human counterparts. When a vicious serial killer targets many of the AI 'working girls', female BRANCH agents Reiko Michaelson (Okamura Akemi) and Eliza 'Angel' Lynch (Inoue Kikuko) teaming with Buzz, take on the case. Clues indicate the next victim to be a particularly gorgeous and desirable call girl Boomer named Eva (Hyouto Mako), who possesses an uncanny talent to sense and to fulfil her clients' erotic dreams. It turns out that Eva has the unprecedented ability to dream also - of haunting, disturbing visions of a small red-clad girl-child apparently connected significantly to herself. The solution to the murderer's identity and Eva's fate proves intertwined in startling, bizarre and poignantly moving ways.

The final portion, Knights Of The Roundtable, deals with the disappearance of BRANCH's general manager Takahashi Koji (Ikeda Masaru), who, just before vanishing, had a serious falling out with political honcho Sonime (Kashino Yukimasa). Suspecting Sonime to be the culprit, Buzz and Reiko do some sleuthing that leads them to Takahashi, a discovery occurring simultaneously with the outbreak of terrorist bombings throughout Tokyo. The explosions get cleverly staged to pin the blame on Buzz who must turn fugitive to clear his name. In the process of doing so and of freeing Takahashi - Buzz, Reiko and their superior officer uncover a sinister, unexpected conspiracy.

Although Parasite Dolls offers visuals largely resembling those of anime classics Ghost In The Shell and Akira, the feature's style retains plenty of its own distinctive future-noir dazzle enhanced by the interesting plotting and the emphasis on engaging, well-written characters to a degree surpassing similar opuses. Yet another permutation of the android constructs with minds of their own theme, Parasite Dolls also distinguishes itself from the just-mentioned genre classics by the thoughtful questions its three stories raise about: human bigotry and intolerance counterbalanced by the potential to coexist peacefully with other creations, even those conceived to closely resemble their makers. Parasite Dolls shows further differences by ultimately emphasising a negative vision, sombrely tinged with a bleakness and cynicism implying that humanity may never evolve to transcend age-old prejudices and that people in the future would be better off relying on non-sentient entities.

Despite gloomy subtexts, Parasite Dolls proves well worth seeing for the pleasure of its detailed visuals; colourful characters; jazzy, rocking, perfectly suited score; and edge-of-seat thriller pacing. This makes for science fictional entertainment with substance amidst the ever-growing plethora of anime out there. With festival screenings mostly out of reach, one can enjoy getting hooked on Parasite Dolls on DVD available through ADV Films from October 2004.
Parasite Dolls

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