#5 in the “Watch Every DVD In Here” project—AVALON
Here’s one I’m really glad I finally got to. Mamoru Oshii’s “Avalon” (2001)—stark, haunting, gorgeous, fascinating, one of the best things I’ve ever seen about virtual reality game-playing worlds (and yeah, I watched Sword Art Online). A Polish/Japanese co-production (don’t see those every day), it stars the terse, intense Malgorzata Foremniak as Ash, a mercenary warrior in the black-market game Avalon, fighting her way toward the secret top level of the game while trying to unravel the mystery that tore her team apart. The plot uses the “who’s really running this world” mechanics that one expects of a story like this, the ending’s ambiguous, but what knocked me out was how great it looks. The game world is shot in rich, moody sepiatones with deep saturation and beautiful compositions, and Ash’s daily life is in such subdued, underlit color that it’s actually a shock when she arrives in an upper level with normal daylight hues. Perfect for a universe so built on warfare and intrigue. I’m a fan of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex but had never known Oshii had directed anything in live action before this - I hope there are more.