According to Mamoru Oshii, the future is sepia. And Polish.
That’s the look of Avalon, Oshii’s first live-action film (you know him best from his anime Ghost in the Shell). Shot in Poland, with Polish actors, Avalon evokes an Eastern Bloc future in which life seems rationed. Technology is archaic; LCD monitors never happened. An underground virtual reality game called Avalon is the only escape, and heroine Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is the best player — that is, until a mysterious newcomer puts her high scores to shame.
The setting is brilliantly realised, and the game segments are hardcore with what looks like the whole Polish army on maneuver, tanks and all. When soldiers are hit they fracture and fragment into two-dimensional polygonal shards. The characterisations are unfortunately similarly 2D — conversations are all deadly earnest, which is no mean feat when the standard dialogue is Ash wondering where she can find a 12th level bishop to join her party. Still, within its own logic it works well, and is given gravity by Kenji Kawai’s magnificent score featuring the Warsaw Philharmonic, who even get a cameo.
All up, it’s an intriguing fusion of European arthouse with Counter Strike and Arthurian legend via anime. The metaphysical conclusion is perhaps more “Huh?” than “Whoa!” but Oshii’s game is definitely worth playing.