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The Fine Print
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Directed and Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Essentially a replay of the famed kung-fu simulation battle between Neo and Morpheus from the first Matrix film, "Program" also incorporates the theme of temptation, the sort that led Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) to want to stay in a virtual world denying the grim reality of "The Second Renaissance." This time, we have a new female protagonist named Cis, a Zion soldier, who squares off against a hulking shogun-like figure in a stylized ancient Japanese setting. There is a great deal of dialogue, meant to involve us emotionally in the action, but it only serves to distract from Kawajiri's battle scenes, which are (unsurprisingly), excellent. The most satisfying sequences in "Program" are marked by a Zen-like silence, such as the moment mid-way where Kawajiri's animation expertly simulates "bullet-time." While the premise and story dynamics are essentially hand-me-downs from the live-action Matrix films, the period environment and samurai swords work to supply the requisite "Japanese-ness" to The Animatrix project. The popular Ninja Scroll is clearly invoked, but the computer world setting forces Kawajiri to leave out the organic quality that marks his very best work. When the enemies die here, they turn into the green numbers and letters of the "Matrix code." While visually impressive, viscerally satisfying it isn't. A single talking hand or transforming spider-woman (ˆ la Vampire Hunter D or Wicked City) would have helped to add some much needed texture to an essentially un-engaging work that is both too verbal to be sensual and too austere to excite.