The Red Spectacles

Directed & Written by Mamoru Oshii

February 7, 1987

The Red Spectacles (紅い眼鏡 Akai Megane) is a 1987 Japanese film directed by Mamoru Oshii, co-written with Kazunori Ito, and starring Shigeru Chiba and Mako Hyodo. This is the first film of the Kerberos saga.


It is the end of the 20th century. The Metropolitan Police have begun to lose control of the city; crime runs rampant and people are no longer safe. The solution: the establishment of the Anti Vicious Crime Heavily Armored Mobile Special Investigations Unit. Created by men and women of high intellect and physical strength who had a particularly strong, even fanatical sense of justice, they were nicknamed "Kerberos", and armed with special "reinforcement gear" body armor and heavy weaponry. But what started as a noble and courageous effort to stop the onslaught of crime soon spiraled out of control. Their overzealous actions and fanatical hatred of evil soon led to less-than policeman-like behavior. Public criticism grew as their investigational tactics grew more aggressive, crueler, and more corrupt. The turning point occurred when a Kerberos member, during a routine investigation, beat a misdemeanor offender to death. This was the catalyst, the justification to shut the group down forever and dissolve it completely. However, there were those in the Kerberos group that refused to disarm. Three of the elite rebelled against the system, and fought their way through the city. The other two become wounded, and were unable to escape capture. Only one—senior detective Koichi Todome—managed to escape, and he promises the others that he will return for them. Several years later, Koichi, a fugitive from the government, returns home for reasons that seem unclear. The city has decayed at an exponential rate and is completely unlike the place he left behind. Everything is surreal and strange, blurred and nondescript. He wanders, trying to find some semblance of his past, trying to find his comrades left behind. But the city itself seems to resist him, and there are those who realize the threat Koichi imposes, that his return is more dangerous than anyone could realize.


Several of the cast members are voice actors and appeared in Urusei Yatsura, which Oshii worked on as chief director and head writer. The Red Spectacles is probably Oshii's most literate feature work. Not only, dialogue and narrative parts are prominent over drama but the film contains a variety of philosophical concepts such as Free will and Determinism, mentioned through fables, like "The Magnet and the Iron Sands" and "The Ogre Saved by the Fisherman", or through classic poet-authors quotes, Shakespeare and Pushkin. The characters refers to European medieval tales and Greek mythology, such as oral versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the three-headed watchdog of Hell Cerberus.


On February 25, 2003, the DVD edition was made available in Japan as part of the Mamoru Oshii Cinema Trilogy anthology box set, which contained four DVDs and one soundtrack CD. On November 4 of the same year, a subtitled version of Akai megane was released in North America as both a single DVD and also as part of a US release of the box set. The US version of the trilogy box set has different box artwork and lacks the "Revisited Scene & Production" DVD of the Japanese version. The American The Red Spectacles DVD edition was reprinted in 2004, and since then is only available in the box set which was printed three times as of 2006 and remains the only edition released outside Japan.

What Critics Had To Say

"The result is a mad and weird experiment unlike anything you've ever seen, a perfect mix of Oshii's conflicting sides and a film that still feels just as unique as the day it was released."

"Fans of Oshii will have a field day with The Red Spectacles. Not only can you recognize Oshii's early live-action heroes (there a little Stalker and Alphaville in here), there are also a couple of fun references to Oshii's own work."

"Visually The Red Spectacles is a real beauty.

"The Red Spectacles is a peculiar mix of unannounced slapstick, surreal comedy and meditative arthouse. Add plenty of Oshii fanservice, superb visuals and a strong soundtrack and you have one of the most unique live actions projects of the 80s."