Expelled from Paradise (2014)
Prepare For An Extraordinary Journey To Explore The Secrets Of The World …
It’s rare that you see two reputable Japanese storytellers come together, Expelled from Paradise helmed by Seiji Mizushima, best known for directing anime gems such as Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007), and written by Gen Urobuchi, script writer of Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) and creator of the famed light novel series Fate/Zero. If the sheer thought of a big-screen collaboration between two prominent voices in the anime world wasn’t enough to raise a few eyebrows — well, it certainly piqued my interest — the fact that their ‘then-mysterious’ project was destined to be a fully-rendered 3D-CG movie would have surely done the trick, Expelled from Paradise aiming for a semi-classic hand-drawn look and feel, just produced and animated on a computer. Needless to say, considering that both Mizushima and Urobuchi are widely recognized for their insanely thought-provoking and emotionally charged stories — narratives bathed in sci-fi and fantasy — their joint cinematic venture was, to say the least, enough of a curious undertaking.
After watching the 104-minute Expelled from Paradise (subtitled Rakuen Tsuihō), one thing’s for certain; this film is, hands-down, the finest-looking computer generated Japanese movie to date, even if some of the character work comes off as clunky and ridged, overall movement not to the standard of conventional 2D cel-animation — which, really, has reached crowning point. This minor setback, however, can be easily pardoned, as the flick’s sensory-shattering mecha-on-mecha fight scenes stand as some of the wildest bits of animation I’ve seen in a long while, these shrewdly framed smackdowns complementing Urobuchi’s engaging and poignant writing.
Set sometime in the distant future (around 2400 A.D.), Earth — following an unexplained ‘Nano Hazard’ incident — reduced to a desolate wasteland, we discover that mankind (as we know it) have long since abandoned their physical bodies, as well as the corporeal realm, most of humanity now ‘data’ residing in a virtual universe called DEVA, a cyber society of digitized humans whose minds live in recreated shells, these free from sickness, hunger and other earthly necessities and desires. Problem is, this serene VR utopia (which exists in an über-computer space station orbiting planet Earth) has fallen victim to some shadowy unauthorized hacking, the DEVA overlords learning that an enigmatic entity from the outside world (a.k.a. Earth), known simply as Frontier Setter, had been trying to break into, and infiltrate its mainframe.
Enter System Security Third Officer Angela Balzak, a voluptuous blonde-haired, blue-eyed high-ranking DEVA agent who’s recruited to investigate the ongoing threat, Angela’s consciousness transferred into a prosthetic vessel (made-up from her own genetic code) before being sent to the dust-covered third rock in order to hunt down the cybercriminal and learn more about their identity and intentions, DEVA officials convinced that Frontier Setter was out to start a cyber war. Once reaching her destination, Angela — armed with a super-powered exoskeletal mobile-suit called Arhan — intercepts with her earth-bound contact, a pragmatic cowboy type ruffian named Dingo, who cuts her off from the cyber-verse so that she can no longer be traced, Dingo confident that the skilled hacker could track the location of any online action. Now, the tech-dependent Angela, forced to use her ‘animalistic’ skills and know-how, sets out to complete her mission, only to discover that the mystifying menace may not be what DEVA had originally perceived.
Sweet and touching, while showcasing some strikingly impressive visuals, Expelled from Paradise is a rather mature, hopeful and compelling entertainer, the film’s cerebral complexities never pushed to incomprehensible extremes. That’s one thing I admire about writer Gen Urobuchi, he’s all about big, boundary-pushing ideas, his themes and messages (no matter how complex) always easy to understand and placed at the forefront of the action. And Expelled from Paradise is no exception. While the plot is simplistic, and plays out in a fairly straightforward manner, Urobuchi’s story proves to be quite challenging (particularly for a genre film), the movie posing some weighty questions concerning the vastly growing advances in modern technology, chiefly the implications of these developments and how they may eventually lead to the stripping of our inherent humanity. See, Angela is baffled by Dingo’s ‘strange’ mannerisms, the guy, who fully rejects the digital world, wholly in touch with his human side — Dingo loves the taste of a well-prepped meal, and he’s totally into J-rock. But Angela, on the other hand, is different; she’s a human being with little to no humanity, the outwardly 16-year-old operative having a nihilistic worldview, Angela believing that nothing in life holds any value, or at least that’s what she’s been programmed to believe, her ideals and reasons for existing very much unclear.
Stemming for that are the film’s comments on machines — think The Wachowskis’ The Matrix trilogy — the self-aware A.I., Frontier Setter, having a much clearer understanding of what constitutes human nature than our of-the-flesh protagonist. Subtle religious undertones also course through the film’s DNA: DEVA, for one, can be seen as an alternative version of Hell (albeit paradisiacal), while the movie’s title, Expelled from Paradise, shares obvious parallels to Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Either way, there’s plenty to unpack here.
With much of the drama revolving around the unraveling of a mystery, Expelled from Paradise could have easily been drowned in heavy-handed exposition, the middle portion loaded with dialogue. Urobuchi, however, ensures that proceedings are never dry or tedious, the careful hand of director Mizushima further aiding this. For instance, a sequence that sees Angela scale a ravaged structure, then plant a surveillance camera, is enlivened by the bickering dynamic of our quarreling heroes, the duo butting heads via a two-way as they squabble over their dissimilar attitudes and opinions. It’s just one of many amusing character-centered scenes. Building off that, the story is very character driven, Angela given a convincing and comprehensive, well-realized arc. Despite its action-heavy trailers, mecha-laden marketing and dystopian-future setting, Expelled from Paradise is far from an all-out actioner, the narrative a personal story dealing with personal dilemma, the film not overly concerned with world-ending conflict.
As one would expect, when Expelled from Paradise switches to spectacle mode, it delivers in spades. Produced by the celebrated Toei Animation, the studio responsible for Dragon Ball Z (1989) and One Piece (1999), and popular PC game developer Nitroplus — this alliance a surprising one — the combat scenes explode with piercing three-dimensionality, the climactic quarrel a bona fide showstopper, the acrobatic robo-action moving from the confines of a demolished cityscape to the boundlessness of outer space. Likewise, the opening act also wows, Angela displaying her elasticity and martial arts mastery whilst perusing a potential system risk, then sparring inside of an artificially simulated space; heck, there’s even a sequence featuring a swarm of scorpion-type gnarlies, our techno angel blasting them to bits with her hard-wearing war-bot.
In terms of design, Expelled from Paradise more-or-less dazzles, the artwork melding modernistic hi-tech with Eastern/ European style elements, the visuals managing to capture that traditional anime look, mainly in the still frames and scenery-sweeping vistas; the talk-y segments, though, are a little stiff and unnatural — honestly, filmmakers should have stuck with 2D for the character stuff. The backgrounds, too, can be a smidgen bland.
Even so, inter-world detective Angela is a sight for sore eyes, and while Expelled from Paradise is far from a fan-service film, our heroine comes with those impossible body standards synonymous with the genre, Angela clad in a sexy, skin-tight, porcelain-textured bodysuit, the neon-green getup exposing her bouncy boobs and buns. There’s also a scene with in-you-face nudity (yes, nipples and all), which, to say the least, came as an unexpected surprise. Angela’s terrestrian partner, the resourceful Dingo, is equally as charming, both leads pretty emotive and expressive given the limited scope of CG models, which tend to struggle when conveying weight, stretch and squish. The score is excellent, too, Expelled from Paradise featuring a mix of moody electronica tunes, chilling ballads and light, stirring melodies, these blended nicely with the fiery rumblings and passive silences of the first-rate sound design.
Five years in the making, Expelled from Paradise, bar some questionable stylistic choices, is a relative triumph, the movie an immersive buddy flick with solid world-building, gripping action and admirable characters at its core, these brought to life by the wonderful writing of Gen Urobuchi. Without the pessimism of most apocalypse-focused epics, Seiji Mizushima’s Expelled from Paradise tells a warm and uplifting human story, the film packing a hearty punch! And, oh, those who prefer the English language track (competently handled by Bang Zoom! Entertainment) will no doubt notice that Angela is voiced by none other than Wendee Lee, who supplies the vocals for one of my all-time favorite anime characters, Haruhi Suzumiya.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner
Expelled from Paradise is released through Madman Entertainment Australia