Malice@Doll (2001)

Rating: C+

Dir: Keitaro Motonaga
Star: Yukie Yamada, Ryoka Shima, Duki Nakamura, Ria Natsuki

If David Cronenberg was to direct an anime film based on a story fragment by Phillip K. Dick…it probably still wouldn’t be as odd as this. The basic theme – the difference between artificial humans and the real thing – is a common one in Japanese animation (see also Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel, and a series worked on by Malice writer Chiaki Konaka, Serial Experiment Lain); the difference here is the setting, since there are no humans around. Instead, it looks like a deserted version of Fremont Street in Las Vegas, populated only by a few robotic hookers and the mechanism that supports them. When Malice has a strange encounter with a tentacled creature, she becomes flesh, causing first revulsion and hatred, then envy among her fellow androids. Fortunately, or perhaps not, Malice can now ‘infect’ them with her kiss, bringing them all the pain and pleasure of human existence. But their experiences are far less satisfactory…

The first third – it was originally a three-part series – is extremely uninspiring; Malice’s robotic monotone leaves the viewer cold to her plight, and since there are few other characters with whom she can interact, she just walks around, having stuff happen to her. When she turns human, things become more interesting, with wonderfully nightmarish imagery; the film mixes traditional cel animation with CGI, and the results are sometimes inspired. However, the ending sinks back into the kind of mumbled cop-out which I defy anyone to explain coherently, and it’s hard to see who it’s aimed at: the market for deep, philosophical tentacle-porn like this seems limited. Still, interviews with the creators suggest Czech Surrealists were an inspiration, and fans of ‘odd’ animation will certainly find it worth a look; just as Jan Svankmajer reinvented Alice, this does something similar for Pinocchio.