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When surveys are done asking people which neighborhood of Tokyo they’d like to live in, Kichijoji often tops the list. It’s not hard to see why, as it’s filled with fashionable cafes, restaurants, and bars (including one with an airsoft firing range), and nearby Inokashira Park is one of the capital’s best cherry blossom viewing spots.

Safety is also an important concern in choosing a place to live, and at least for a day, Kichijoji had this in spades, as the Ingram, the giant robot used in the Patlabor science-fiction films, showed up last weekend.

Even as the Ingram was standing tall though, the films’ director, Mamoru Oshii was tearing down the dreams if aspiring mecha pilots everywhere by firmly stating his belief that we’ll never see giant bipedal robots in any practical, real-life application.

Patlabor began way back in 1988 as a comic set in the near-future where the police battle crime using giant robots. It later expanded into TV, direct-to-video, and theatrical animation, as well as video games, making the franchise a pioneer of the kind of multi-media proliferation that’s become common for Japanese digital fiction in the years since.

The live-action adaptation of Patlabor has been a long time coming though, as the most recent previous installment was 2002’s Patlabor WXIII, the third animated movie in the series. After more than a decade of waiting, though, fans’ patience was finally rewarded this month with the first of a planned series of live-action films collectively titled The Next Generation: Patlabor.

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To celebrate the start of the newest Patlabor chapter, the film’s producers decided to stage a public display of their project’s most impressive prop. Like their animated predecessors, the protagonists of the live-action Patlabor pilot the AV-98 Ingram (or just plain old “Ingram” to its friends). Rather than render the robot in CG, the crew actually built a full-scale, eight-meter (26-foot, 3-inch) recreation of the machine.

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Before its visit to Kichijoji, fans had a chance to see the Ingram standing by Tokyo Bay and lying down at the Anime Japan trade show. Impressive as those showing were, seeing the robot standing in an urban setting really helps hammer home just how big the thing is.

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Truth be told, the producers weren’t originally planning to build a complete Ingram, but the mockup was a condition set forth by director Mamoru Oshii for his involvement in The Next Generation. “They asked, ‘Do we have to make a full-size model?’ and I told them, ‘You do if you want me to direct,’” recalls Oshii, who served as director for every piece of Patlabor animation except Patlabor WXIII, largely considered the black sheep of the franchise.

Extensive use of practical effects wasn’t the only thing demanded by Oshii, whose directorial credits also include international hit Ghost in the Shell and The Sky Crawlers. He also insisted on setting the new films closer to the current day than the decade or so into the future of the original Patlabor, as well as stipulating that a new set of characters replace the existing cast.

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So if Oshii fought so hard for the full-size Ingram, he must really love the way the thing looks, right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, he’s fully satisfied with the impressive scale of the model, and makes no complaints about the work done by the prop designers. Rather, his gripe is that he doesn’t like the design of the Ingram itself, despite being the most recognizable symbol from the most enduring hit of his lengthy career.

The live-action robot sticks close to the original mecha design by Yutaka Izubuchi from the 1980s, but in regards to the Ingram, Oshii states, “I’ve never liked it, so I wanted to redesign the whole thing, but we figured that keeping the old design would make preexisting fans happy….but I can’t see what’s good about it.”

▼ That’s OK, Ingram. We still think you’re cool!

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Oshii even goes so far as to say that from the beginning he realized the absurdity of machines like the Ingram. “I was always working with the subtle theme that practical use of bipedal giant robots is impossible,” he says of his work on the Patlabor franchise.

So how does Oshii reconcile this with the numerous times the animated Ingram has been shown engaging in feats of action-packed heroism, such as the thrilling robot vs. robot hand-to-hand combat climax of the first Patlabor anime movie? “Those were components I didn’t the helm of….But from the very start, I felt that giant robots are pointless. They’d be too difficult to deploy to a crime scene, and the giant revolvers they carry wouldn’t be useful there either.”

▼ In Oshii’s opinion, there’s really no need for the Ingram to bother getting up.

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As a matter of fact, Oshii challenges the notion of piloting a robot for any application. “Robots should be unmanned. If they need a pilot, what’s the point?” he asks with a laugh, before adding, “They don’t really need a face or legs.”

In retrospect, these comments are in line with things seen in the second Patlabor anime movie, for which coworkers said Oshii asserted more control over the on-screen content than he had in the past. The film is devoid of robot action scenes, save for one late fight between two Ingrams and a pair of tank-like mecha which are, you guessed it, unmanned. The film even acknowledges the Tokyo area’s notorious traffic congestion, and Oshii’s criticisms about using bipedal robots to police it, with futuristic patrol cars designed to raise up on wheels that allow it to straddle lanes of parked cars to move quickly through traffic jams.

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The live-action version is really a return to the starting point of Patlabor,” says Oshii. “We’re telling a story starting from the premise of, ‘Who would go to all the trouble of building a giant robot like this when such a thing is useless’?”

Make no mistake, though. Despite his harshly pragmatic words, Oshii isn’t trying to mock the numerous fans of Patlabor’s sci-fi technology. “Actually, I like robots, too!” he says with a laugh. “The idea of a giant robot, walking along with its weapon in hand, is something all men like.”

Silly daydream or not, mark us down as happy the life-size Ingram exists.

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Sources: Hachima Kiko, Jin, Weekly Playboy News
Top image: Twitter
Insert images: Twitter (2, 3, 4, 5, 6), Mahq, Twitter (8)