Sunday, December 26, 2004

"We all owe it to the tank."

So anyway, back to Japanese cartoons...

Many years ago, sometime in the mid- to -late-80's, I was in the mood for some Japanese animation, so I rented something called "Technopolice." I wasn't expecting much out of it, but in those days, if you were an anime fan, you took what you could get (who knew that someday, you'd be able to go to Suncoast and be presented with an entire wall of anime?). I ended up being surprised by something that seemed audacious to me then, and still influences my writing today (not always a good thing).

The movie did not start promisingly. The animation was an average-to-poor example of the state of the art in the early 80's, and there didn't seem to be any story at all. A young man comes to the big city to join the police department. As he arrives, he stumbles into a bank robbery in progress, which he, of course, tries to stop. He's not doing too well when suddenly, the Technopolice arrive (the very group he's come to join). The concept of the Technopolice is to team humans with robot partners, brains combined with brawn. The Technopolice make short work of the robbers, who nevertheless get away.

This opening is followed by a series of vignettes of our hero training with his robot partner, along with his fellow Technopolice. This goes on for a while, and I start to get comfortable with the format of the film; it's going to be a series of cop missions interspersed with scenes of the hero training and getting to know his fellow cops, maybe a budding romance with the cute girl cop.

Then the next episode begins. A top-secret experimental tank is being transported by airplane over the city; inside the tank are the two bumbling bank robbers from the first scene, who are working for some mysterious boss. They start up the tank and blast their way out of the plane's cargo hold, plummeting to the ground. They then try to escape with the tank through the city. Technopolice to the rescue!

Once again, the Technopolice make short work of the robbers and bring the tank to a halt. At this point, I can tell the overall plot will involve the Technopolice learning clues to the mysterious boss's identity with each successive encounter until it is revealed in the dramatic conclusion.

And then the movie makes an unexpected turn. The tank suddenly starts up by itself and drives away. It has an AI system which allows it to operate unmanned in enemy territory. I think, "This is an interesting coda to the episode, but it'd better wrap up soon so they can go back to the main plot." Thing is, "Technopolice" is like "Psycho" in that, once the plot turns, it never goes back. Turns out, the tank diversion is the main plot. They chase that damn tank for like, 40 minutes or something. Just when you think they've got it subdued, the action cranks up higher than ever. The stakes keep increasing, and the heroes keep getting more desperate.

We do find out about the mysterious boss in the end, though. He's apparently a spy for a foreign power who wants the Robotank, or something (memories are a little vague on this). He's waiting in a submarine in the harbor for the tank to arrive (he's had the AI programmed to head for the bay as a back-up in case his henchmen fail to deliver). And just when I'm accepting the fact that the rest of the movie is going to be cops vs. tank, the movie makes a final reversal when the tank somehow decides that the sub in the bay is the real bad guy and starts shooting at it. The tank ends up sinking to the bottom of the bay, but not before it saves the lives of the cops who've been fighting it for most of the movie. At which point our hero utters the line at the top of this post and his female partner offers a little prayer of thanks to the tank for saving them.

See, the thing is, I'd taken writing classes where they'd discussed the importance of reversals, of setting up expectations and then turning things in a different direction, but I'd never seen an example that hit me in the face quite as much as this movie did, maybe just because I wasn't expecting much out of it. But it wasn't just that it threw a scene in a different direction; it took what promised to be a minor plot bump and pushed it, swelled it, escalated it until the diversion became the story. In my screenplay classes, we'd been taught to set up the main conflict of the story as early as possible; this movie threw that idea out the window, and at least for me at that moment, it worked tremendously (again, maybe just because my expectations were so low going in). I've wanted ever since to try something similar, to see if I could pull it off, but I've never quite had the balls.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your history help me a lot to find the name of the movie, thank a lot. I saw this movie when i was a kid and now i'm looking for it.