Masamune Shirow (pen name for revolutionary cyperpunk visionaryartist Ota Masanori) has wowed audiences around the world with his ultra-detailed, future design works and realistic military-inspired mecha in manga works like "Black Magic M-66", "Dominion", "Appleseed" and most notably "Ghost In The Shell". Many of Shirow's influential works have been adapted to both film and TV. If "Vexille" bears more than a passing resemblance to Shirow's cyperpunk world, then that is quite possibly intentional as both writerdirector Sori Fumihiko and co-writer Handa Haruka worked on the film adaptation of Shirow's long running and much heralded manga "Appleseed" in 2004.
At first glance "Vexille", an animated feature incorporating both traditional 2-D as well as cutting-edge 3-D animation, seems like an adaptation of one of Shirow's stories but is in fact an original work by Sori and Handa that seems as if to be a homage to Shirow's work as it has many of his trademark themes - the strong gutsy heroine, the omni present corporate entityzaibatsu, the fascination for futuristic military hardware and robotics, the clash between the human and machine cultures.
Originally released in Japan during the late summer of 2007, it was surprisingly overlooked by audiences in Japan. Perhaps it was cyberpunk anime overkill as the genre seemed to played to death in the last couple of years or maybe it had something to do with Sori and Handa's self-critical screenplay which focused on an alternate reality Japan, whose cybernetictechnological ambitions and industrial dominance causes the country to become a rogue government in the eyes of the world.
The story of "Vexille" seems to recall Japan's WWII Imperial aspirations, as Japan leads a technological revolution spearheaded by one of it's leading industrial conglomerates, Daiwa, and begins development of technologies relating to radical cloning, bio-engineering and humanmachine integration. This outrages the international community which sees these new technological applications as perverse. The United Nations orders Japan to stop all further development in these areas but Japan retaliates by sanctioning a policy of complete isolationism from the rest of the world and goes as far as erecting an electro-magnetic barrier around its borders which prevents any communications in and out of the country (reminiscent to the Tokugawa "Sakoku"- closed country period between 1633-1639 from which part of the title references). Ten years pass and American covert operational forces intercept communication that Japan's experimentations in cloning and cybernetics has reached a new level of sophistication that can transform humans into cyborgs. A task force code-named "SWORD" is dispatched to infiltrate Japan's zone barriers to investigate this threat.
"Vexille" borrows liberally from countless sci-fi films from the past several decades most notably "Blade Runner", "Escape From New York", "Matrix" and "Dune" as well as other Japanese anime films including "Ghost In The Shell" and of course "Appleseed".
Title character Vexille is voiced by the fetching Okinawan "half" (Eurasian) actress Kuroki Meisa, who made a notable movie debut in "Kamyu Nante ShiranaiWho Is Camus". She does very good work here as the spunky heroine with the weird (French?) name. She is the typical sci-fi heroine - strong, smart, beautiful and more than a match for any man. Surprisingly, even though the character of Vexille is supposed to be American, she looks eerily like Japanese "Azumi" actress Ueto Aya. Similarly, Daiwa villain and henchman Saito (voiced with menacing glee by seiyuu actor Otsuka Akio) looks a lot like actor Watanabe Ken.
I was somewhat bemused by the stark character design contrasts in the film. Outside of the lead characters of Vexille and Maria, almost all the supporting and background people seem photo-realistic in appearance, foregoing many of the Japanese anime conventions we normally see (over-expressive wide eyes, strangely colored hair, perfect complexion). I'm not sure why Sori and his design team went this route as it is strangely odd. I would have loved to have seen Vexille, Maria and Leon rendered in a more realistic fashion instead of in stylized anime perfection. I also found it quite perplexing that most of the "American" character looked Asian or mixed. I saw very few if any typically White Anglo-Saxon looking characters or non-Asians (African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, European). Perhaps this was intentional on the part of Sori (a statement against media preference for the blond, blue-eyed ideal) or maybe I'm reading too much into the film's racial commentaries of the future.
Outside of Yasuko Matsuyuki (Hula Girls, Another Heaven), who voices the sexy rebel leader Maria and seiyuu actor Toshiyuki Morikawa (Last Exile, Bleach, Inuyasha, Devil May Cry) who plays Daiwa Industries CEO, Kisaragi, the rest of the cast does serviceable but not particularly distinguishable voice work as supporting characters.
The CGIanime work by Oxybot's Takata Toshinori and Yosumi Hidetaka are absolutely stunning and breathtaking incorporating a unique blend of traditional 2-D anime style and photo realistic 3-D effects. The world of "Vexille" is absolutely mesmerizing and recalls similar CGI work done in "Appleseed" and some more recent Japanese TV anime like "Zoids" and "Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex". In some ways it trumps the motion-capture work of the recent "Beowulf". While sometimes coming off as the type of cinema CGI one would possibly see in such video games like "Halo", Oxybot's work here is truly eye-catching and spectacular but not groundbreaking in scope as Pixar's CGI work in its films like "Cars", "Ratatouille" or "The Incredibles".
With all its flash and fancy, "Vexille" is undone by its cold and emotionless story which goes through the standard motions of a sci-fi film but does not bring with it any human drama. People die but because they are cyborgclones, there is no emotional impact. A similar criticism could be said of other CGI heavy films such as Awazu Jun's "Negadon" and the most recent "Cloverfield" both of which also had superior CGI effects but surprisingly very little human elements.
Review by jmaruyama from the Internet Movie Database.