Cyber City Oedo 808

Japan Animated Movie Reviews: CYBER CITY OEDO 808 [Files 1-3]

CYBER CITY OEDO 808 [Files 1-3]

by Hemanth Kissoon, June 2007

"A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals," Dostoevsky.


In 1990 came a fantastic new cyber-punk anime created by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (a talent that was respected enough to contribute to The Animatrix). This is a review of the first three files (or episodes). It is unclear whether there were any follow-ups a real shame if there is not.

Beginning in the year 2808 at Maximum Security Orbital Penitentiary, three extremely dangerous criminals are serving lengthy (and I mean lengthy!) prison terms:
Sengoku-Syunsuke aka Sengoku murder; assault; breaking database law; world computer fraud; forgery of money, bonds and data; unlawful possession of cyber weapons; traffic violations; disturbing the peace; and endangering public welfare. Sentenced to 375 years. Possibility of parole 0.005%. 25 years old.
Gabimanu-Rikiya aka Gogul murder; assault; destruction of public and private property; possession of illegal weapons; breaking criminal and city bye-laws; and disturbing the peace. Sentenced to 310 years. Possibility of parole 0.013%. 28 years old.
Merill-Yanagawa aka Benten - murder; assault; forgery of money, bonds, data and identification; damage to public property; breaking aviation & space laws; embezzlement; and breaking criminal regulations. Sentenced to 295 years. Possibility of parole 0.008%. 23 years old.

It is interesting that database crime, computer fraud and identity theft were predicted by Cyber City Oedo 808.

All three men have one thing in common they are highly talented cyber criminals. Crime is soaring, sophisticated and unforgiving in Japan 800 years from now. Called before Cyber Oedo Police boss, Juzo Hasegawa, he gives the three an ultimatum, "For every A-class cyber criminal you apprehend the State has very generously agreed to knock a bit off your sentence. We can't say fairer than that. I think that's a pretty good deal for scum like you."

Thus the concisely brilliant premise is set-up send criminals to catch criminals. Solve crimes and they will eventually go free, disobey orders and the sentence goes up, and fail they will be killed each has an explosive collar around the neck that if triggered will be pretty messy (think The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger or Battle Royale with Takeshi Kitano).

The Japanese cityscape of the future is a huge metropolis, stunning and an ode to technology. There have been costs to the environment (there are virtually no green spaces and towers blot the skyline), and society seems to have not solved many of the concerns that we share today crime, justice and technology. This ain't no Disney cartoon this is dark and brooding, with copious amounts of swearing and spurts of strong violence; though the violence is not at the level of many anime, and there is no nudity. Cyber City Oedo 808 is entertainment for adults and has a nod towards themes of global concern through the microcosm of Japan.

Even though they work as a team, each of the three episodes has a focus on one member. The team is aided by Varsus, a police android that has R2-D2's usefulness and C3-PO's ability to state the obvious, a nice touch to show how far Japan has come.

All the episodes share a great look detailed, with grand production design and film noir lighting. This is a strong example of why Japanese animation is some of the best in the world. Cyber City Oedo 808 has a lot to please the sci-fi enthusiasts and fanboys: robots, vampires, cyborgs, psychics, A.I. and holograms; which all taps into Japan's reputation for technological advancement.

File One: Virtual Death is about Oedo's largest and most prestigious building. It has been hacked into and the 50,000 people [!] inside are in harm's way if the building is bombed. In addition, the building's computer is linked to the city's military mainframe and weapons. A suspect is Yoshikazu Amachi, one of the building's architects and whose specialist field is artificial cybergenic intelligence systems. Sengoku is given 23 hours 16 minutes by boss Hasegawa to get a result or his "head will be filing a divorce from [his] body" by way of the exploding collar.

File One deals with themes that are familiar with anyone interested in Japanese cartoons the relationship between humans and computers, and their individual and collective fallibility.

File Two: Psychic Trooper focuses on Gogul, who gets embroiled in an illegal military special forces plot. "Top Secret Eyes Only" Project Molcos is a new cyborg super-soldier (think Robocop and Universal Soldier) who has psychic armour that can manipulate objects/people merely by thought. Gogul has eight hours to destroy Molcos.

This episode is a particular interesting commentary on the nation's military. Modern Japan is the way it is arguably due to the military takeover at the end of the Heien period 800 years ago and the introduction of the Shogunate. Is it any coincidence that this is set 800 years in the future? The army is not portrayed in a kind light. Staff Officer Mashiba of the Imperial Japanese Army states that when there is lack of a decent war to fight, a man turns his attention to a solution for other problems that society faces here the burgeoning Oedo lawlessness.

He wants his new cyborgs to replace the Cyber Police. Consciously or not there are no women shown in the army, perhaps their presence would make a difference? Cyber City Oedo 808 appears to be anti-military, venturing into civilian life, as well as portraying elements of the organisation as sadistic and lacking morality. I wonder if this is a reference to historical militarism? The fact that this anime is causing these kind of questions to be asked shows it has at least some substance.

If File One is a thriller and File Two action then File Three: Blood Lust is a horror. There is a vampire serial killer stalking the city attacking scientists. Benten is in charge of the investigation which leads to a medical institute. This episode is akin to a police procedural where the most agile of the criminals-turned-Cyber-Cops has to hunt down leads to explain a mythical phenomenon like the undead.

The episode taps into the interest in the horror genre that a decade later can be seen in the world famous Japanese exports of The Ring, Dark Water, Audition and The Grudge. It also explores themes of immortality, health, and light and dark. There are some spectacular scenes such as a space elevator that starts in a building and rides through the clouds to a space station.

Cyber City Oedo 808 was released 17 years ago, yet still stands up as a gripping take on Japan's potential future.

Japanese Cinema Reviews by Hemanth Kissoon

Black Rain
Castle in the Sky
The Castle of Cagliostro
Grave of the Fireflies
My Neighbor Totoro
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Porco Rosso
Tales From Earthsea
Tokyo Godfathers
Throne of Blood

Books on Japanese Cinema