“For years, I didn’t understand the concept of writer’s block. I was like, “what’s that?”, you know? And then I realized a few weeks ago, it was like, “Oh! That’s every day!”
(Co-writer of The Dark Knight Trilogy & Creator Of Memento)
Pretty amusing to ever think that scribe, Kazunori Ito has ever experienced that oft-blamed phenomenon, but apparently it (along with a great love of 1980s Hollywood) was enough fuel for this rare, and infectious one-shot OVA from the very early days of EMOTION – IE, Bandai Visual that places the writer amidst a whole mess of trouble. Ryo Matsumoto is a hapless screenwriter, who has been unable to get traction for his latest action opus, when he is witness to a murder on the street, and somehow finds himself in possession of some sensitive documents. And just like that, it’s a writer’s 1980s action fantasy wet dream as Ryo finds himself not only pursued by dangerous thugs who look bizarrely like a more Bruce Lee-like Kenshiro, but befriends a classic “cop-on-the edge”, and possibly finds enough time for love? Urban Square – Kohaku No Tsuigeki (AKA – In Pursuit Of Amber)is the kind of OVA that in its day would have made a fun addition to my localized collection in the day, but was likely considered not “anime” enough to sell here.
But personally speaking, there are enough things happening here that only anime could deliver.
So when we begin the film, Ryo is quickly established as a very young writer who seems to be hurting for a script sale. It’s apparently not going very well, which leads to him out in the rainy streets, where fate intervenes, forcing Ryo, and everyone else around him to live out a reality that is far more exciting than fiction. This is made even more complicated by the two-time chance meeting between Ryo and Yuki, a local art student with indirect connections to the envelope that has come into their possession. With both their lives instantly in danger, a burgeoning relationship might have to wait, as noone can be trusted. Thankfully, they find an unlikely ally in tough cop, Mochizuki. A grizzled detective with a seeming obsession with bringing down Goda Geese, a long untouchable criminal figure with an eye for art fraud. Classic “noir” tropes abound, Urban Square is less a parody of the more hard-boiled action genre of film that was before matters went full Schwarzenegger in the ensuing years.
Looking back at it now, 1986 seems like a banner year for anime in regards to their reverence for all things “American Action”. Where California Crisis established a grand love of all things Spielberg, Urban Square seems happy with being a fun little ode to the ever-reliable 80s cop thriller. From the cold blues of the city at night, to Akemi Takada’s classy character designs, the 55-minute OVA screams pre-Lethal Weapon police pot-boiler, complete with often weird jazz score. Most egregiously, the aforementioned grizzled detective, Mochizuki, is a dead ringer for a Sharkey’s Machine-era Burt Reynolds! Heck, while were on that, tow headed assassin, Henmi is a bit of a Moke clone himself. Hair breadth escapes, coincidences, and just plain heaven’s luck play a major part of the film’s disarming aura.
But a lot of it wouldn’t be as much fun, if it didn’t have itself a likeable guide through this odyssey of familiar. This is where Ryo fits in more than fine enough as a guy who has seen all of this done on screen, and can’t believe that the real deal is in no way any more imaginative. The closest things to ability he has on his side are his movie cliche knowledge, and pure dopey spunk, which becomes a fuel for many surprises throughout. Like many writers, he’d sooner not write about his own life. But when the reality is this good, and with friends caught up in everything, perhaps life can surpass art just this once. It doesn’t hurt that the new lady in his life is ideal in more ways than one. Yuki becomes that additional spark that makes this non-action hero into something so many outside of the original John McClane fail to be, tangible and likeable.
A few years later, John McTiernan’s The Last Action Hero attempted to subvert what the action genre had become over the years, to often middling to lesser results. Urban Square excels by strictly avoiding such cynicism, and playing matters as light and reverent. What could so easily be a simple parody, becomes an appropriately charming little piece of bubblegum noir. Director Akira Nishimori and Animation Head, Hideyuki Motohashi are clearly having a ball taking on the kinetics of western action, creating a surprisingly flowing visual narrative of hand-to-hand, gunfights, and vehicle chases one must see to appreciate. The tired, almost disdain-coated feel of Last Action Hero, is a vibe that is completely absent in Urban Square, where all we have, is a big, charming ode to the salad years of an american cinematic pastime.
Inspiration does indeed sprout from the strangest places..
This is a title that has never experienced an American release, and has remained long out of print in Japan. But can be found by way of many of the old channels. Happy seeking!