Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer
Reviewed by Daniel Huddleston:
What would you say if I told you about a movie that was all prologue? That is to say, we get 90 minutes of preliminaries leading up to the opening title, and then it's over.
Urusei Yatsura 2, the second movie inspired by the long-running manga series by Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku), is a film that's quirky in a lot of ways, including the one mentioned above. I'll tell you at the outset that some immersion in the series is highly recommended before watching this. There's a veritable army of characters we're already supposed to know, each with his own little quirks and obsessions. I rented it based solely on the reputation of writer/director Mamoru Oshii (Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell), even though I was cynically expecting a studio-controlled hack job from early in his career. What I discovered was a funny, serious film about comedy, and one of my all-time favorite anime movies.
It's the night before Tomobiki High's annual School Festival. Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, and the others are working 'round the clock to get their shops, booths, and costumes prepared. The only problem is that it seems like the night's been going on forever, and one of the teachers, Onsen-Mark, begins to suspect that that might actually be the case.
Utterly exhausted, Onsen-Mark confides his odd theory to Sakura, Tomobiki's nurse/priestess/exorcist, recalling an old story of a man who rode a turtle to the Dragon Palace, where a single day can last centuries. "What if the whole village was riding the turtle?" he wonders, "Would anybody have ever noticed?" Sakura is skeptical at first, but soon bizarre incidents begin to unfold-- students are unable to find their way home, faceless dancers roam the streets, and shouldn't Tomobiki High have only 3 stories? A creepy atmosphere begins to build, and when morning finally breaks, the whole city is empty and crumbling to dust around them. Only Ataru and his friends remain unaffected. For them, life goes on as usual -- yelling at each other, mooching food, and partying.
It's as if Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, & Co. are trapped in a strange, recurring dream, repeating the same day, the same relationships, and the same situations again and again. And if this particular brand of repetitiveness sounds a lot like normal life on your favorite sitcom, you'll see what an immensely clever conceit Oshii has built into his film. After all, isn't a sitcom just another person's recurring daydream which we've been privileged to share? In the best situation comedies, there is a sense that the characters live together in a world that's in some ways happier than our own (even when the comedy depends on the characters being miserable much of the time). Through endless reruns, they continue to laugh, love, and cry forever, oblivious to the aging world around them. The danger that the characters in UY2 face is the threat of waking up from that dream. They never realize it, though, which is part of the charm of the film.
The animation is exceptional-- far better than a lot of anime produced today. At the beginning of the film, the scenes of the school festival have an incredible amount of detail in them-- one is tempted to keep rewinding to identify all the costumes the students are wearing. Character animation is excellent throughout, and the backgrounds are nicely detailed as well. With Oshii's sure-handed direction and an eerie, befitting musical score, UY2 becomes possibly one of the best-made anime movies of the 1980's. The subtitles go by quickly and are sometimes difficult to read, but the Japanese voice acting is superb.
Parent's Guide Rating:
yellow (parental guidance advised)
Content-wise, there is some cursing (D*MN, B*****D, etc.), some cartoony violence (Ataru gets beaten up by his friends, zapped by Lum's lightning bolts, etc.) and I doubt that you'd want your children emulating any of the characters. Ataru is an unrepentant, perpetually- frustrated lecher, Shinobu has a violent temper, Megane has a disturbing fascination with Nazi Germany, and Lum is...well, Lum. Conversations contain some adult themes, and there is some brief nudity near the end, part of an otherwise brilliant sequence in which Ataru wakes from one dream into another again and again (Ataru's fondest dream involves a harem of scantily-clad ladies; there also a brief shot of Lum topless (albeit from a distance). I wouldn't feel right about showing it to children, but if you're a normal adult who isn't turned on by cartoons, this is an unusal, often wonderful film.
UY2 was Oshii's farewell to Urusei Yatsura. A genuine artist who had the job of directing an extremely silly TV sitcom, he ended his tenure on the show with a work of intelligence, humor, and warmth.
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