In 1999, a man jumps off the top of the Ark, a support factory for the Babylon Project that is reclaiming land from Tokyo Bay. Elsewhere, several JSDF military Helldiver labors parachute into a forest and begin searching for the runaway X-10 labor. Several helicopters fire missiles at the X-10, and it counters with machine gun fire. Ground troops surround the X-10 and open fire on it with machine guns and bazookas. The X-10 gets caught in a wire trap and finally goes down in a hail of gunfire from the Helldivers. The ground troops then open the X-10’s cockpit and find that it was unmanned. A helicopter pilot gives an aerial tour of the Babylon Project and notes that 45,000 hectares of new land will be available within 10 years. He explains that construction is moving very quickly thanks to the use of labors, adding that 45 percent of Japan’s labors are working just on the Babylon Project. The pilot then comments that he never expected to see labor crimes to his passengers: Tokyo PD officers Asuma Shinohara and Noa Izumi. The pilot then points out the Ark, a factory that provides maintenance for all the labors working on the Babylon Project. Inside the Ark, SV2 Division 1 Captain Shinobu Nagumo performs tests on the new prototype patrol labor Zero when Asuma and Noa show up. Noa isn’t excited about the Zero, and Shinobu decides to wrap up testing for the day. Shinobu asks them if they want to pilot the Zero and notes that Noa doesn’t seem to like it. Asuma tells Noa that she shouldn’t have made that stupid comment, and she says that the Zero looks sort of evil. Asuma then comments that the Zero is the first labor specifically designed to run the HOS, or Hyper Operating System. Noa doesn’t know what the HOS is, so Asuma explains that it’s a new OS developed by his father’s company that increases labor efficiency by 30 percent. He adds that many labors have been upgraded to the HOS, and a call comes in that their speedboat has arrived to pick them up. As they ride the elevator, Asuma asks Shinobu why the Zero is at the Ark for testing. Shinobu mentions that three Zeroes were sent to the NYPD for the creation of its labor force under the command of their former comrade, Kanuka Clancy. SV2 mechanic Shigeo “Shige” Chiba went to New York as an advisor and called to ask SV2 to thoroughly examine their Zero unit. Because Shinohara has a factory at the Ark and it’s close to the SV2 station house, that makes it easier to keep things secret. Asuma asks if Shinobu found any problems, and she tells him that she didn’t, but that she couldn’t ignore a request from Shige. Back at the station house, Chief Fukushima informs Shinobu and Division 2 Captain Kiichi Goto about extended retraining for the Zero. Shinobu objects and wants to go up the chain of command, so Fukushima brings up the incident with the X-10. Shinobu asks what that has to do with them, so Fukushima explains that like the Zero, the X-10 was manufactured by Shinohara and running the HOS. It was also unmanned, and Fukushima says the whole situation could become a political nightmare. Goto then breaks the news to Asuma, Noa, Isao Ota, Hiromi Yamazaki and Mikiyasu Shinshi that they’ll be working overtime while Division 1 retrains. Shinshi complains about only seeing his wife Tamiko three times in the last month, and Ota tells him he shouldn’t have gotten married. A call then comes in about a labor crime in Shitaya’s Taitoh Ward.
Head mechanic Seitaroh Sakaki barks orders to the mechanics to prepare the Ingrams for deployment. In Shitaya, people run away as a Tyrant 2000 smashes through a neighborhood. Goto gives orders for Asuma to set up ahead of the labor while Ota chases it from behind. As they move into position, Asuma cautions Noa that the Tyrant 2000 is slow, but packs a lot of power. The Tyrant 2000 pilot calls out for help because the labor is moving on its own. Ota attacks the Tyrant 2000 from behind, but it continues to smash through the neighborhood. Noa rips out the cockpit block, and Asuma tells Ota to use his baton to take out the Tyrant’s RAM unit. The Tyrant then comes back to life and knocks Ota into the river. Ota then pulls out his gun and fires multiple shots, hitting the Tyrant’s coolant tank, causing the river and Unit 2 to freeze up. Back at the station house, Shinobu finds the situation hard to believe, and Goto asks Asuma if he just imagined it. Asuma says that the MO is the same as it has been recently, that the labor went out of control on its own. Asuma thinks it’s strange because this didn’t happen before two months ago, but this month they’ve had 22 incidents. Asuma asks how to write this in his report, and Goto notes that all labor manufacturers put out a joint statement saying that labors going berserk on their own isn’t possible, so it’s all user error. Asuma then asks Noa to pull up all the dispatch records and incident reports from the last month and asks Sakaki to use the computer room. Goto then gets a call from Inspector Takahiro Matsui. Matsui and his partner Kataoka take a boat ride along the river to an old wooden apartment building and search one of the rooms. Later, Noa prepares to go to bed and finds Asuma still working at the computer. The next morning, Noa and Hiromi begin harvesting the tomatoes in the garden. She wonders where Asuma is, and Hiromi explains that he’s meeting with Goto about something. Asuma tells Goto, Sakaki and Shinobu that he examined all recent labor incidents, cross referenced against their manufacturers and maintenance records and pilot backgrounds. The only commonality he found was that all the labors were running the HOS, and that the incidents started two months ago when the HOS was released. Asuma concludes that there’s a fatal flaw in the HOS that should be reported, and that Shinohara should be forced to release the source code. Goto comments that something like that could cripple the company, and such a fatal flaw would’ve been found in debugging. He then asks what happens if the labors aren’t running wild because of a flaw, but rather something deliberately programmed into the HOS. Goto then shows Shinobu the report Matsui wrote about Eiichi Hoba, the Shinohara programmer who created the HOS. Shinobu reads through the report, which notes that there’s no background information available at all about Hoba. Asuma thinks they should bring in Hoba for questioning, but Goto tells him that Hoba committed suicide five days ago by jumping off the Ark. Goto wishes they could’ve gotten to Hoba sooner, but for now he’ll have Matsui continue to investigate. Asuma realizes that he did all that work for nothing because Goto already suspected the HOS. Goto asks Asuma to keep it all secret because the Ingrams were also upgraded to the HOS, so they might also be at risk of running berserk. Sakaki decides to visit Shinohara’s Hachioji factory, and Asuma asks to come along. After they leave, Shinobu tells Goto that there could be trouble for Asuma since he and his father are always in conflict.
Asuma and Sakaki go to the Hachioji factory and meet with its supervisor, Jitsuyama. Jitsuyama laments that he can’t keep up with all the technological advancements in labors, and Sakaki comments that he feels the same way too. Sakaki asks Jitsuyama as one engineer to another if the HOS is safe, and Jitsuyama answers that it absolutely is. Asuma looks at the factory’s computer files and finds a copy of the HOS master disk. The program asks for a password, and Asuma enters E. Hoba, realizing that it sounds like Jehovah. The program then shows him a Biblical quote about Babel and begins printing out page after page of the word BABEL. Every computer screen in the room then flashes red and repeats the word BABEL. The incident spreads to all of the factory’s computers, so Asuma makes a quick getaway. As they drive back, Asuma tells Sakaki that if the HOS master disk can do that, then the people at Shinohara haven’t cracked its encryption yet. That mean that 8,000 labors are using a suspicious OS and no one knows what’s inside it. The next day, Matsui and Kataoka continue working the streets as they investigate Hoba. After searching through old neighborhoods and junkyards, they find an old apartment of Hoba’s with a view of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. Kataoka doesn’t understand why Hoba would live in rathole apartments when he made good money, especially 26 of them in two years. Matsui explains that it’s a good way to cover your tracks because these old buildings get torn down for redevelopment. Kataoka wonders why Hoba would erase all traces of his existence digitally, except for his address changes, and Matsui thinks that maybe Hoba wanted them to find something. After they leave, a worker begins demolishing the apartment building. Kataoka asks if they should be investigating this and what the deal with Goto is, so Matsui tells him that Goto has a reputation at headquarters as “Goto the Razor.” Kataoka asks why Goto got exiled to SV2 if he’s so sharp, and Matsui answers that Goto was too sharp. Asuma shows Goto a map with all the recent labor incidents, and they’re concentrated in three areas: the riverside redevelopment area, Shinjuku and Ariake harbor city. Goto notes that those areas have lots of labors to begin with, but Asuma shows him that the incidents are happening only there, compared to the spread of all labors around Tokyo. Goto comments that something in that area must be a trigger, but Asuma can’t figure out what it is. He wishes that Shige was around to help, and Goto tells him to take a break. Asuma goes outside, and when Noa offers him a tomato, he realizes that she was eavesdropping on him earlier when he found a tomato outside Goto’s office. He drags her along on a motorcycle ride away from the station house over her objections. They stop in at a restaurant and order a pizza, and Noa comments that they stand out in their uniforms. Asuma asks Noa how Alphonse has been performing lately, and she says that Unit 1 is fine. She begins to cry and says that Alphonse won’t go berserk. She asks what’ll happen, and Asuma doesn’t know since Hoba is dead. Noa suggests getting rid of the HOS, but Asuma points out that only the manufacturer can reinstall the HOS, and the top brass would never approve that without an explanation. Noa doesn’t want Alphonse to go berserk and get destroyed, and Asuma asks her to hold out until he can find out more. Noa looks outside and sees a dog that resembles her old dog, the first Alphonse. Asuma wonders why the dog is barking, and Noa points out that dogs can hear things people can’t, like a howling wind somewhere. Asuma then thinks about sounds that people can’t hear and takes off on the motorcycle, leaving Noa behind.
After being unable to reach his father, Asuma drives over to Jitsuyama’s house. Jitsuyama offers to make some coffee, but Asuma says he just wants to know what sound frequency is making the labors go berserk. Asuma mentions the Sumitomo Building in Shinjuku and the twin high rises at Riverside Parktown 21, noting that the two large skyscrapers act like giant whistles, along with the harp bridge at Ariake that connects Daiba and Shibaura acting like a giant wind harp. They create low frequency sounds that the human ear can’t pick up, but a labor’s sensor can. Asuma comments that it was brilliant for Hoba to make sound the trigger, and that Hoba must’ve chosen Shinohara because they were a latecomer in labor manufacturing, making it more likely that they’d jump on the HOS. Jitsuyama says that information could finish the company, and Asuma says that if he didn’t figure it out, someone else would eventually. The next morning, Asuma returns to the station house and gets suspended for two weeks by Fukushima for going AWOL and other infractions. Asuma asks what will happen to Shinohara, and Fukushima tells him that the company admitted to the HOS flaw, which led to an emergency cabinet meeting and a proposal to downgrade all labors back to their previous OS. Asuma yells at Fukushima that everything is being covered up, and Fukushima shouts back that the police aren’t around to settle family squabbles. Later, Goto tells Asuma that the government is overlooking Shinohara’s guilt because they don’t want the public to be suspicious of labors because labors are so integral to the Babylon Project. Goto congratulates Asuma on his work in putting all the facts together. Asuma wonders how Fukushima knew about him breaking bike safety rules, and Goto explains that he forced Noa to talk and then ratted Asuma out to Fukushima. Goto points out that Asuma was exhausted, but now he can continue his investigation. Goto says that the people at Shinohara don’t know what’s going on, and that if a simple OS reinstall could solve things, Hoba wouldn’t have killed himself. Sakaki comes up the roof and tells them that Shige is back from New York, so Asuma rushes downstairs to see him. Noa and Asuma ask Shige to reinstall the old OS on the Ingrams, and Shige says that he never installed it. Asuma points out that the HOS upgrade was ordered by headquarters, but Shige explains that he simply faked the activation display and sent the disks back. Shige says he was suspicious of the HOS and asks why nobody noticed anything, given that he told Goto. Elsewhere, Matsui and Kataoka continue their investigation into Hoba and visit another one of his rundown past residences, filled with dust and birdcages. Inside Hoba’s room, they find a quote from Psalms written on the wall in English. Matsui then meets with Goto to report on his findings, and Goto is impressed that Matsui was able to find Hoba’s childhood home. Matsui says that this is the end of the line and comments how the area has stagnated since the real estate bubble of the 1980s. He says he could feel like he was going back into the past by visiting rundown areas, and Goto comments that someday all those buildings will be replaced by something new. He wonders if that’s what Hoba wanted them to see and thanks Matsui for his help. He asks Matsui for his opinion on Hoba, and Matsui states that Hoba is definitely the culprit, but there’s nothing more he can do since Hoba is dead. Goto asks Shinobu if he’s reading too much into things, and she says she’s just glad they found the problem before using the Zeroes. Goto mentions that he asked Kanuka to investigate Hoba’s background at MIT, and she learned that his nickname there was Jehovah. Goto thinks that he’s starting to see how Hoba operated, looking up at skyscrapers and comparing it to how God scrambled people’s language when they built the Tower of Babel. Shinobu wonders if that’s a coincidence, but Goto doesn’t think that Hoba’s suicide at the Ark was a coincidence since everything goes back to the Bible. He says that Hoba went out of his way to leave behind these Biblical messages, and he adds that all of Hoba’s 26 residences were in the three areas of labor incidents. Goto says that Hoba had absolute confidence in his plan, otherwise he wouldn’t have committed suicide.
The next day, Asuma wakes up at Shige’s apartment, where Shige is working on a simulation of labor rampages caused by a frequency of 10.21 Hz. Asuma wonders what they’re missing, and Shige wishes they could crack the encryption on the HOS. Asuma asks if it’s a Trojan horse, and Shige comments that the OS reinstall could make the problem even worse. Noa comes over to visit with a care package and asks how things are going. A glass display case vibrates from the noise created by a tea kettle, which gives Asuma an idea. He runs to the computer and tells Shige that it was pointless to run a simulation about the buildings and bridge as separate sources because they have a resonant frequency that amplifies vibrations. Shige says that the sources aren’t strong enough to trigger something widespread, and that an open space would be better. He then pulls up a schematic for the Ark, which has an open level design. Asuma creates a wind tunnel simulation with the help of SV2’s computer, and the map shows labors going berserk all over Tokyo with a wind speed of 40 meters per second. Shige dismisses that because you only get wind speeds that high during a typhoon, but then he looks at a newspaper in shock and turns on the TV. A news report indicates that a typhoon is heading for Japan and will arrive in two days, producing wind speeds as high as 40 meters per second. Goto makes a report on Asuma’s findings to his superiors, but they dismiss it out of hand. Goto counters that the typhoon will cause vibrations that will set off 8,000 labors around the city, creating untold damage. Goto asks who will take responsibility for the disaster if something happens, and one man points out that the labors have all been downgraded to their old OSes. Goto counters that there could be some hidden virus in the HOS, infecting labors even if they later got a reinstall. The brass decide to order all labors be deactivated during the typhoon, and Goto mentions the incident with the X-10. Goto asks if anyone would be blamed for something that happens during a typhoon, and the superior tells him it would just be an act of God. Later, Asuma asks Goto what that was all about, and Goto says things can’t be helped if they’re an act of God. If they can prove Hoba’s crime afterward it’s ok, and if not they can blame the typhoon. Goto tells Asuma that he’s got to go for a while and that he should follow Shinobu’s orders. Sakaki orders his mechanics to waterproof the Ingrams, and Ota bursts with glee at having received permission to use the shotgun. Asuma and Shinshi examine the schematics of the Ark and realize that they’ll have to secure the central control room to initiate a purge of all levels. Outside, Hiromi practices firing a sniper rifle that blows up a car. Goto calls Shinobu and tells her he’s flying to Narita because he pestered the military into helping him. Elsewhere, Kanuka arrives at the airport on a flight from New York. As heavy rain begins to pour, the mechanics inflate pontoons for the labor carriers to lower them into the bay. Shinobu asks Goto if he should call back his team, but he tells her they have no choice. If they don’t act, Tokyo could be ruined, but if they do, the Babylon Project will be crippled. Goto then leaves to buy some time with harbor security and asks Shinobu to arrange for the rescue.
The labor carriers approach the evacuated Ark and dock at its base. Noa and Ota enter the Ark in their Ingrams, surrounded by deactivated labors. Asuma cautions everyone to avoid the Caldia guard robots if possible, and they begin their charge. Caldia robots begin to swarm on them, so Ota and the others open fire and destroy a few. More appear from the rear, but they all manage to reach the elevator in time and escape. Everyone reloads their ammo while riding the elevator, and on the next floor they find a swarm of Caldias. After reaching their destination, Asuma and Shinshi bust into the central control room and activate its computers. Asuma deactivates the security system, and Shinshi finds that somebody is in the auxiliary control room at the top of the platform – Hoba. Asuma figures it’s a trap, and Shinshi tells him someone will have to go up there to take control. Asuma tells Noa that someone might be at the top of the Ark, so he wants her to take care of it. Because of the typhoon’s approach, Asuma tells Noa that he’ll be purging levels behind her as she goes up. Shinobu is informed by Shige that MIT finally cracked the HOS and found a virus that infects a labor’s backup memory, and it will rename itself and infect anything it can access. Any computer that has come in contact with the HOS is infected. Sakaki wishes they could’ve learned this sooner to get more reinforcements, but Shige says this at least proves Goto’s theory. Shinobu thinks about what Shige said and asks about the computer on the Ark that they’re using to purge its levels. Noa runs through the Ark as levels are purged behind her, and she manages to reach the elevator shaft. Asuma asks for a weather report, and Shinshi tells him that the wind is up to 36 meters per second. More sections of the Ark are purged, but the deactivated labors start booting up. Asuma doesn’t understand what happened, and Shinshi guesses that either their simulation wasn’t precise enough, or the purging created extra wind eddies. Ota and Hiromi open fire on the berserk labors, while Kanuka goes off in search of a weapon. Kanuka gets into the Zero’s cockpit and tells Asuma it should be ok because she’s using a quarantined system, but Asuma worries it might still be infected. Berserk labors start attacking Noa, but she reaches an elevator and begins reloading her ammo by hand. She finally reaches the top of the Ark and heads over to the auxiliary control room on foot. Inside, she finds the room filled from top to bottom with birds that got in through a broken window. Shinshi reports that the wind is up to 40 meters per second, and the Ark’s computer becomes infected.
Hiromi calls Asuma to report that more labors are coming, so they have to purge the remaining sections. Asuma recalls there being a central access point to blow the levels, and Shinshi finds that it’s in the central shaft, underneath the auxiliary control room. Outnumbered, Ota fights the berserk labors alone until Kanuka arrives in the Zero. She takes out the berserk labors, but then the Zero becomes infected. Noa gets into position and ignites the final purge for the remaining levels. The berserk Zero rips off Unit 2’s head and smashes it into the central control room. Noa manages to get back to Unit 1 and jump onto the central shaft before the floor purges beneath her. The remaining levels are purged, and the central shaft tips over and falls into the ocean. Noa wakes up after being knocked out and jumps onto the fallen shaft from the point where she was stuck. She calls out for Asuma and the others, but the Zero emerges from the rubble behind her. The Zero attacks and knocks off Unit 1’s left shoulder, and Noa pulls her gun. Asuma tells her not to shoot because Kanuka is stuck inside. As the sun rises, Kanuka wakes up tells Noa to escape. She says she already removed the disk and restarted the system, but the virus got into the SRAM and is rebuilding the HOS. Noa asks where the SRAM is located, and Kanuka tells her it’s on the back of the neck, like the Ingram. Noa then rushes in and allows the Zero to stab Unit 1 with its hand. She then purges the cockpit hatch and tries to jump onto the Zero, but the Zero knocks her away. Noa gets up and wraps her towing cable around the Zero as both of them fall off the side of the platform. With the two labors suspended in midair, Noa crawls onto the Zero and opens the access point to the SRAM. She then shoots it several times with her shotgun, which finally disables the Zero. Goto, Shinobu and Shige approach the Ark with several rescue helicopters.
This movie served as my introduction to the Patlabor franchise way back in 1998, and it holds up just as well even after all these years. It is by no means an action-packed story, but rather a techno-thriller on par with the cyberpunk stories of the day. These days, the idea of a computer program putting Trojan horses and viruses into a program are pretty mundane, but back in 1989 it was very forward-looking. It also has one of the most original concepts I’ve ever seen in a movie, with the antagonist committing suicide in the opening scene because he’s so sure that his plan is flawless and unstoppable. This leaves SV2 (and Matsui) chasing after the shadow of a dead man, with no idea of whether they’re even on the right trail. For an anime, I’m surprised that so much of the story hinges on Judeo-Christian elements from the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does give the movie a bit more a Western feel despite being very obviously Japanese. Once again, Asuma goes through a bunch of trouble trying to figure things out, only to learn that Goto already suspected the same from the outset. Since this is in the continuity of the original OVA series, everyone from there shows up, including supporting appearances by Matsui and Kanuka, although Kanuka appears very late in the story and doesn’t get to do much. While there isn’t much action in the movie, what we do have is very well done. For once, Ota gets to shine and use the shotgun to cause serious damage without screwing up. From the first moment the Zero appeared, it was obvious that it would be an enemy, given how obviously evil it looks (as Noa pointed out). As a movie from the 1980s, Patlabor really shines with the vivid animation from that era, especially in the fight between Alphonse and the Zero. The soundtrack by Kenji Kawai also nicely complements the animation, especially in those slow, moody scenes where Matsui and Kataoka are searching through old neighborhoods on Hoba’s trail. It’s definitely emblematic of Mamoru Oshii’s directorial style. Overall, whether you’re a Patlabor fan or not, this is a movie that has to be seen.