Assault Girls (Asaruto gâruzu) - Only for those who like gaming, women kicking ass, and/or big guns
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.
I didn't even mean to go to Vulcan, our local video store. Then we saw a poster for this movie on their front door. Netflix had never uttered even a peep about this one! So much for the schmancy recommendation engine. Local business 1, online powerhouse 0.
It took us several days of waiting and calling, but we finally got our hands on Assault Girls. I blew off all my plans for productivity and devoted the evening to it. That turned out to be an excellent decision.
Assault Girls follows four players of an immersive multiplayer online game set in a bleak desert, where players test their skills against "natural" elements (read: giant killer worm-monsters). Rinko Kikuchi plays Lucifer. She's a magician that transforms into a bird, and she shoots lightning. Meisa Kuroki plays Gray, the pilot and hand-to-hand combat expert. Hinako Saeki plays Colonel, who would rather kick ass than talk. Yoshikazu Fujiki plays Jager, the lone male player we see. He's a sharpshooter with an extremely large gun.
All four are on the same level of the game, stalking a specific giant worm-monster, and they have to kill it to get to the next level. The film traces their individual attempts to do the deed, and then the decision making for each character after they are counseled by the game itself that alone, none of them will succeed. It's a mix of action scenes, quiet reflective scenes, and interpersonal negotiation between players who are all trying to retain the advantage for themselves.
Some high points:
First, THE CLOTHES. All three of the women look great. They're actually dressed, first of all, instead of wearing chain-mail bikinis or underwear or cut-up handkerchiefs strategically glued to their body or whatever horrible thing the entertainment industry will come up with next for women who are supposed to be warriors. Each player has a color, each has a look, and all three are a mix of practical and fantastical - as one would expect when people are allowed to design their outfits in a virtual world where they can use their imaginations but their avatars still have to do stuff.
Second, the fight between Gray and Jager. She challenges him, they go several rounds, and I fell right in love with her. So cool! The fight structure is also hi-larious for anyone who plays (or has watched) fighting games. That includes yours truly, who has seen more Virtua Fighter matches than should be allowed by law for someone who does not play video games herself.
Third, the film takes all four players and their goals extremely seriously. They are in it to win, no doubts, and they are all shown as exceedingly competent. (And cagey.) I really appreciated seeing the women so ambitious and focused on their accomplishments as serious gamers. They also have their own personalities, amazing! Gray and Jager get the most time for theirs to come through, but Lucifer is even more intriguing, honestly, and the trash talking between Gray and Colonel is not to be missed.
Four stars, my friends, four stars!
Here is a trailer for Assault Girls on YouTube. Otherwise, just rent it already! Turns out Netflix has it (...or as I have re-discovered, there are still local video stores!) It's a short film, at 65 minutes, so it's perfect for a night when you don't want to stay up too late.
A couple of handy tips: If you don't speak Japanese, turn on the subtitles. The actors start out speaking in English, but they go back and forth during the film. Gray and Colonel's spoken English sounds very forced. At first I couldn't tell why the filmmakers didn't have their dialogue in Japanese. As more was revealed about the game, though, it made more sense. (I'm actually now wondering if they speak fluent English but were hamming it up, or speak no English but learned all the dialogue phonetically. Either seems perfectly plausible.)