Urban Square: Kohaku no Tsuigeki (Urban Square: In Pursuit of Amber), directed by Akira Nishimori. 56 minutes. November 28, 1986.
Urban Square was almost immediately forgotten because it was such a short feature – under an hour – and because it had such a mundane plot, poorly done. It violated one of the cardinal rules of commercial animation: don’t bother making an animated movie that you can make just as well in live-action. It was produced for Bandai Visual by Network Film, a studio that was briefly active in the late 1980s and 1990s, usually as an anime subcontractor.
Urban Square was a TV-quality crime drama with a jazzy blues soundtrack (music by “Chicken Shack”) and a screenplay by Kazunori Ito, who would later write the screenplays for Ghost in the Shell and the Patlabor movie. He must have written Urban Square before he got more experienced. It’s full of unbelievable incidents such as the killer shooting multiple blasts of an automatic gun at the hero in a Tokyo (or other big city) street with no witnesses and presumably no bullet marks since the police don’t believe him, and the tried-&-true gun battles where the villains shoot hundreds of bullets that all miss, and the good guys shoot just one or two that are hits.
Ryō Matsumoto is a young screenplay writer who can’t sell his scripts. “You should write about your own life,” he’s told. “Why don’t you try writing about your own experiences?” After drinking alone at a bar where he sees a beautiful woman, Ryō is sulking alone at night when a fleeing man runs into him. The man only gets a little farther before he’s killed by an assassin with an automatic gun. The assassin tries to shoot Ryō as an inconvenient witness. After a four-minute chase through streets and across rooftops, Ryō meets two policemen, and the killer disappears.
Nobody believes Ryō. The next day he sees the woman from the bar again, Yuki Tamura, and picks her up. While having lunch together, they find an envelope at their restaurant table addressed to Professor Ramujo of Jonan University, an antiquarian who she just happens to be a student of. After some idle talk about coincidences, and her saying she’ll deliver it, they forget it. They have a romantic dinner and go to a movie.
Ryō gets home that evening to find his apartment ransacked, and the thief, a martial-artist body-builder, waiting for him. The thief demands that Ryō give him the “something from Hasabe”; Ryō doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ryō puts up a spirited defense, but he can’t defeat a trained martial artist. Just as the thief is about to pulverize him, the thief is killed by Detective Mochizuki who has followed Ryō from the police station.
Yuki delivers the envelope to Prof. Ramujo, who is very disturbed by it. He asks Yuki to keep it for him without telling her what’s in it. A night watchman finds a severed hand.
Detective Mochizuki asks Ryō to look at some photographs for the man who tried to kill him. Ryō finds him immediately. Mochizuki identifies him as Henmi, a killer working for Geese Goda (or Gouda), a notorious crooked antiques broker who has anyone who is inconvenient to him killed. The murdered man was art critic Hiroshi Hasabe, also a student of Prof. Ramujo, who found something to incriminate Goda and put it in the envelope to Prof. Ramujo. [Note: the subtitles alternate back & forth between Prof. Ramujo and Prof. Naratomo. I have standardized upon Ramujo.] Hasabe must have slipped the envelope to Ryō when he ran into him, and Goda’s men are after it. Ryō realizes that Yuki’s having the enveope will make her a target for the killers, and he & Mochizuki’s assistant Shinohara run to her apartment to warn her. She’s out of town; Yuki’s landlady tells them where she has gone.
Mochizuki questions Prof. Ramujo about Hasabe and the envelope. Ramujo claims to know nothing, but when Mochizuki leaves, it turns out that Goda and Henmi are forcing him to play dumb. They make Ramujo tell them that Yuki has the envelope. Meanwhile Ryō and Yuki have a long romantic interlude at wherever Yuki has gone on vacation.
Mochizuki sees Goda and Henmi leave Ramujo’s home, goes back to investigate, and finds the Professor dead. Mochizuki goes after the killers, resulting in a gun battle between Mochizuki and Henmi and Mochizuki’s car being blown up. The killers go to Yuki’s apartment which Shinohara is guarding, shoot him, and wait for her and Ryō to return. Shinohara, wounded, warns them and they try to escape but are captured.
Shinohara’s body is taken to a hospital. Mochizuki’s superior says there have been too many dead bodies so far, and he wants Mochizuki off he case.
Goda and his men, including Henmi, are holding Ryō and Yuki at the waterfront. Goda says that now that they have the envelope, he might as well tell Ryō & Yuki what the secret is before he kills them. Note that Ryō practically tells Goda to shut up, and Goda still insists on telling them the reason. The envelope contains a fake Letter of Authentication for the “Flames of Sekijou”, a painting (or sculpture?) that was stolen from an art museum the previous year. With the phony Authentication, Goda can sell a counterfeit “Flames of Sekijou” to an unscrupulous art collector. Prof. Ramujo had been producing fake Letters of Authentication for Goda. “Well, now that I’ve told you, it’s time to kill you.”
The last half-hour of Urban Square is Ryō creating an incredibly lame diversion for Yuki to escape, which seems to consist of his getting beaten to a pulp while Yuki roars off in a daredevil car chase to Mochizuki. He goes to the waterfront hideout by himself, and easily rescues Ryō who instantly recovers enough to help Mochizuki kill Goda’s other stooges. The climax has Ryō fighting Goda in a helicopter in mid-air. In what I thought was about the only nice touch in the OAV, Henmi comes back to life and is about to kill both Ryō and Mochizuki, when he is killed by – guess who?
In a surprise coda, it’s revealed that the whole adventure has been Ryō’s latest screenplay, which is still rejected. Yuki is really his girlfriend at the movie studio.
Gee, I wonder why Ryō’s screenplay was rejected? What was that severed hand all about? Why did Goda go personally with Henmi to kill Ramujo? Why did Goda & Henmi believe that they could disguise Ramujo’s murder as a suicide? Why do Goda & Henmi pass up every opportunity to kill Ryō & Yuki, giving them every chance to escape? Why does the police force keep a detective as trigger-happy as Mochizuki? Is Mochizuki always so ready to draft a civilian as his partner? Above all, what is that subtitle of “In Pursuit of Amber” or “Chasing Amber” all about, since the “Flames of Sekijou” seems to be a relatively modern painting or sculpture rather than something of ancient amber?
Would a live-action TV crime drama script this lame ever sell?
Next week: “Forgotten” OAVs #16