About twenty minutes into this movie, it hit me that the director's habit of suddenly stopping action - and even conversation - to set the scene for a couple minutes, without advancing the plot ... Exactly like "Ghost in the Shell." A quick check showed I was right, both movies were directed by Mamoru Oshii: this one was six years previous to "Ghost."
The movie was made in 1989, but is set in 1999, and pictures a future Tokyo being built up by "Labors," giant robots. The police use Labors for Patrol, thus the title "Patlabor." The movie starts with a weird vignette that I'd forgotten by the time I got to the end of the movie because it made so little sense. In hindsight, it's explained - but not necessary. And then we have several minutes of labor and patlabor action mixed with the credits. Then there's a lot of exposition about construction going on in the city, and exposition about the police force we're watching. Then a bit more action, and then over an hour of nothing but talk. Not that I minded - it had some interesting things to say about labors and their potential problems. It just felt like false advertising starting with a lot of action when the movie is mostly talk. And then finally, the movie closes out with a ten minute action set piece - and not even a spoken conclusion, just ... done.
The budget was obviously pretty low: a lot of scenes show the back of people's head when they're talking, or nothing moving, stuff like that. It's not the best animation (although I've seen plenty worse).
Despite which, I kind of enjoyed Oshii's philosophizing and pointing out problems with technology (exactly what he did in "Ghost" as well, although with a bigger budget and a better constructed movie).