‘Avalon’ – a virtual odyssey on Paramount+

Life is a video game in Mamoru Oshii’s cyber-thriller Avalon (Japan/Poland, 2001), a curious and fascinating collaboration of Japanese direction and design and Polish actors, artisans, and locations, applied to a premise that resembles The Matrix by way of Dungeons and Dragons (the game, not the movie).

Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is a reclusive solo player with a notorious reputation for ruthlessness in a virtual reality warrior game played for fame and fortune in a gray, gloomy, economically collapsed future.

There’s distinctly Eastern European tinge to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere and the mythical foundation is British and Norse—the name of the game refers to the legendary resting place of King Arthur as well as the elusive secret at the center of the game. Oshii presents the depressed “present” of the physical reality in black and white, with muted colors popping out of computer screens, organic foods, and other rare elements of the gray landscape.

Pointedly abstract and elusive, it is, like many of the films of Mamoru Oshii, a writer and director best known for his landmark animated feature Ghost in the Shell (1995), richly visualized, gorgeously textured, and wound around issues of dream, reality, and the levels of consciousness. Will the truth set you free, or merely leave you another mindless casualty of the game?

Rated R, in Polish with English subtitles

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Avalon [DVD]

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The DVD features a documentary on the special effects and an interview with director Mamoru Oshii, both with subtitles.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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