Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

The third feature-film installment in the popular Patlabor series, which includes mangas, direct-to-video movies (called OVA — "original video animation" — in Japan) and a TV series, this futuristic science fiction tale departs from earlier entries by de-emphasizing action sequences built around battling robots. Based on the manga series Wasted 13 (WXIII), it's set in Tokyo sometime in the near future. A special police unit, the "Patlabor," are investigating several incidents involving the destruction of Labors — high-tech robots designed for heavy or dangerous jobs — and the deaths of their human operators. Senior Detective Takeshi Kasumi (voice of Katsuhiko Watabiki) and his younger partner, Shinochiro Hata (Hiroaki Hirata), suspect these incidents might have something to do with the crash of an American cargo plane in Tokyo Bay some weeks earlier, but can't figure out the connection. Meanwhile, Shinochiro gives a lift to a young teacher, Saeko Misaki (Atsuko Tanaka), and later takes her out to the theater. Saeko seems weighed down by some deep sadness, and Shinochiro learns that not only is she a widow, but shortly after her husband's death in a car accident, she also lost her young daughter to cancer. Shinochiro and Takeshi realize their investigation is on the right track after responding to an emergency call at a construction site, where they encounter a huge, mutated creature (which looks like a cross between H.R. Giger's alien and a crawfish) and barely escape with their lives. They manage to retrieve a bit of the monster's flesh, and Shinochiro is shocked see Saeko at Toto Bio-Medical Lab, where the tissue is being analyzed. She confesses that teaching is just a sideline — her father was Toto's late co-founder, Professor Nishiwaki, and she's a scientist specializing in genetic research. Even as Shinochiro and Takeshi's boss warns them to not to make waves, the detectives begin unraveling the skein of connections that link Toto, American military contractors and the beast that's still at large in the waters of the bay. Though essentially a monster-on-the-loose story, this melancholy science-fiction thriller is unusually character oriented, devoting substantial story time to the relationships between impatient Shinochiro and his older partner, and Shinochiro and the mournful Saeko, whose overwhelming grief cloudes her reason. The backgrounds are handsome and moody, and the character animation is less distractingly cartoonish than that of films like the otherwise breathtaking METROPOLIS (2001). (In Japanese, with English subtitles.)