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  Urban Square Stranger than fiction
Year: 1985
Director: Akira Nishimori
Stars: Kazuhiko Inoue, Eiko Yamada, Noburo Tanaka, Akiko Hiramatsu, Reiko Suzuki, Hiroshi Masuoka, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Kazumi Tanaka, Kei Wada, Makio Inoue, Shigeru Chiba, Shozo Izuka, Tetsuo Mizutori
Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller, AnimatedBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: One night frustrated writer Ryo Matsumoto (voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue) is at a bar drowning his sorrows over another rejected screenplay when he notices an attractive young woman named Yuki Tamura (Eiko Yamada). He follows Yuki outside only to lose sight of her and bump into a clumsy if polite man who hands back his script. To Ryo's horror this same man is brutally murdered right in front of his eyes. Pursued by the bleach blonde hit-man, Ryo narrowly escapes with his life. The next day the body is gone and none of the police believe Ryo's crazy story. On the plus side he runs into Yuki again who happens to be a student of Professor Ramujo (Kei Wada). Returning home from their first date, Ryo realizes there is a letter stuck in his screenplay addressed to Professor Ramujo. Whereupon a karate crazed thug (Shigeru Chiba) crashes through his window demanding he hand over the letter. Ryo can barely believe this is really happening but puts up a brave fight. At this point, hard-boiled cop Detective Mochizuki (Noburo Tanaka) appears on the scene. Together he and Ryo attempt to unravel a mystery involving an art theft connected to ruthless mob boss Gouda Geese (Shozo Izuka).

A fairly obscure anime unknown to all but die-hard genre obsessives, Urban Square is chiefly of interest as an early script from Japanese genre giant Kazunori Ito. He went on to pen the Patlabor franchise and Ghost in the Shell (1995) along with the live-action Gamera trilogy. Here he crafts a fun, lively pastiche of Hollywood thrillers. All moody shadows and neon lights with a sultry saxophone-led score (credited to a composer or band named Chicken Shack!) it is tongue-in-cheek take on the neo-noir detective story with a neat line in proto-meta humour. Opening with a scene in which a producer urges Ryo to write something closer to his real life experiences, the film has its self-aware hero constantly crack jokes about B-grade thrillers and the ridiculous nature of the action movie plot into which he falls. Underlining the jokey postmodern tone is funny scene where Ryo and Yumi go to the movies to watch a Friday the 13th (1980) parody where a Jason clone gets mauled by the shark from Jaws (1975)!

Released the same year as Martin Scorsese's After Hours and John Landis' Into the Night, Urban Square shares themes in common with the yuppie-in-peril comedy thrillers Hollywood was fixated with in the Eighties. Ryo and Yumi evoke the trendy young couples popular on Japanese soap operas at the time though there is a genuine charm to their romantic chemistry that is as quaint and endearing as the detective clichés. In a nice touch Yuki contributes more to the story besides a stock damsel in distress act. Indeed the anime stages a cracking car chase with the heroine at the wheel for once. Detective Mochizuki also makes for a cool Charles Bronson-esque maverick cop, at odds with his superior, sporting a mighty mustache and an arsenal of absurdly huge guns. Instead of Scorsese's pure black comedy, Ito opts for a Raymond Chandler-esque hardboiled tone. Clearly a fan of detective stories he pokes gentle fun, playing with clichés rather than subverting them. Nonetheless Ito leaves no narrative fat. Which, at a lean fifty-five minutes, leaves the joke in no danger of outstaying its welcome. Ito's concise, punchy writing translates into a pacy pulp adventure with stylish thrills. The plot does add up forming a neat little intricate mystery and director Akira Nishimori employs nifty stylistic devices to tell a compact story in a highly compelling way, progressing from a rooftop chase to a dockyard gun battle before, in the timeless tradition of Hollywood action-thrillers, the villain tries to make a getaway with the hero hanging onto his helicopter. Urban Square might not be a groundbreaking work of genius but there is a lot to be said for a taut, well crafted thriller.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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