The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, the Movies, part 2e: Beautiful Dreamer, part 5

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Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer

Previously: After the characters discovered that their city was on a disc on the back of a giant turtle, their situation became a sort of post-apocalyptic paradise.  Most of the buildings crumbled, but they remained in the Moroboshi house, raiding supplies from a nearby convenience story and spending their days playing in the ruins.  Shinobu disappeared, and then Ryuunosuke, and Mendou determined that they had joined the others supporting the city.  Sakura summoned Ataru to the clock tower, and she and Mendou laid out what they’d determined: the whole situation was engineered to fulfill Lum’s wish.  They sprung a trap to capture “Ataru,” who revealed himself to be Mujaki, the dream demon.

Summary: If you don’t remember him, Mujaki appeared in episode 21, wearing a less tasteful suit:

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Sakura runs down his history of cruelty, inspiring the evil of Hitler, Nero, Judas, Brutus, and tempting the Buddha and Adam and Eve (as written in her manual of spirits).  He admits that he’s been around a long time and given dreams to some of those people,  but their dreams just reflect their desires, so evil dreams are the result of evil people.  He tries to find good dreams, but they always go bad, and “that creature” comes along to eat them.  On the verge of giving it all up, he ran into Lum at an aquarium.  Sensing something unusual about her, he poured out his troubles, and offered to give her his last dream, a dreamworld that would remain forever pure and not turn into a nightmare.

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The story inverts the trap, capturing Sakura and Mendou in the dream of an aquarium.  Mujaki congratulates Sakura on her skill, but she can’t outwit his centuries of dream experience.  He walks past the dreams he’s given the others–Ryuunosuke in a sea of sailor suits, Shinobu at her wedding to Mendou (getting ready to throw a table–apparently even her dreams she can’t win), Onsen-Mark married to Sakura, Cherry in a room full of food–while congratulating himself and planning to take Ataru’s place in the dream.

Stepping back into the school, he comes face-to-face with Ataru (who threw himself at Mujaki during the story, missed, and landed in the lake).  Ataru offers to make a deal, backed up with an exorcism wand, and soon we see him in his go-to fantasy.

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(The circle of girls in the first picture includes Kurama and Benten, and the girl in the upper right of the second picture is Kyoko from Maison Ikkoku.  Various girls from other episodes make cameos, such as Wendy from Peter Pan and the white-furred catgirl.)

Mujaki turns to leave, but Ataru calls out to ask where Lum is.  Mujaki can’t believe it, since Ataru is always running away from her, so Ataru spells it out in simple terms: he loves Lum as much as the other girls, but she gets angry when she sees him with them, so he runs away.  A dream without her isn’t perfect, and he’ll destroy the dream rather than stay without her.  Mujaki literally blows his top, sending out a burst of streamers and a little trumpet that hits Ataru.  He begs Ataru not to blow it, since it will summon the Baku, but Ataru has a very perceptive response:

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He blows the horn, and across town, Ten’s little flying pig wakes up, its eyes glowing.  It launches into the sky, growing as it goes, and glides across the city on its wing-like ears.  Opening its mouth wide, it sucks up the infrastructure of the dream, leaving a graph paper-like matrix behind.

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Mujaki bawls out Ataru, bemoaning that his dreams are always destroyed and why can’t he have one of his own for once?  The beam sucks up the water around the school, then the school itself, taking Ataru and Mujaki with it.  While Ataru struggles to protect himself with the rubble, Cherry floats by, counseling him that reality is an illusion and to end it, all he needs to do is wake up.  Ataru takes an abrupt jump in the opposite direction when he’s hit upside the head by a stick…

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…and then he woke up.

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Ataru fell asleep while he and Mendou were going to get snacks, and the rest of it was all a dream.  He muses on how realistic the dream felt, and Mendou notes that dreams always feel that way when you’re in them, and for all they know they could be in a dream right then.  Ataru scoffs, but the driver turns and reveals himself as Mujaki, unwilling to let Ataru get away.  Ataru takes the direct approach, distracting Mujaki and then headbutting him (and revealing Mendou to be a South Park Canadian).

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The car crashes, Ataru goes flying and hits a wrecking ball…

…and then he woke up.

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It’s the final day of the race, where he has to grab Lum’s horns if he wants to save the Earth and marry Shinobu.  He pulls Lum’s bikini top out of his shorts to lure her in, and is about to grab her horns when he remembers that the whole mess started there in the first place.  He lets her slip past him, and time runs out, losing the contest.  A crowd of familiar-looking characters (including a Dappya alien) kicks him unconscious…

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…This time he comes to as Frankenstein’s Monster.

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The townsfolk despise him, and Mujaki, dressed as a hunter, tries to drive him away from the little girl.  Ataru, fed up, gets up and rips off his Frankenstein hair.  He and Mujaki charge toward each other, striking as they pass like two samurai, and they both fall to the ground…

..coming to in an Alien-like sleep tube, in a room filled with electronics.

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A tape from his parents explains that they’ll probably be dead when he hears that message, but no science could save him and Lum from their mysterious sleeping disease, so they were frozen in the hope that future medicine could save them (oh, and they took out a 500-year loan in his name to pay for it).  Ataru sees that one of the two conduits is damaged and there was an emergency alert 400 years ago.  He looks into Lum’s tube, freaks out, and runs through the wall.

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…and into Mujaki, who’s hastily throwing the dream together.  He smacks Ataru upside his fool head with his mallet, Ataru face-plants…

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…and they find themselves in a landscape of rotating double helices of spheres.  Mujaki tells Ataru that he’s probably glad that one was a dream, but fortunately a dream can be redone over and over again.  Since dreams feel the same as reality, wouldn’t it be better to live in a good dream?  He’ll be waiting upstairs for Ataru when he’s ready.

A voice asks Ataru if he’s really ready to leave: it’s the little girl in the sundress, sitting behind him.  He says that he wanted to be free of a girl, because he wanted to keep loving her, but she wouldn’t understand.  She says she can tell him the way out: he has to jump, and call out the name of the one he really wants to see.  If he can’t say it, he doesn’t really want to leave.  He turns toward her, saying that there are a lot of girls he wants to see, and she asks him to promise something:

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Ataru plummets off the sphere and into freefall above Tomobiki.  He begins shouting names:

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He falls through the roof of the high school and lands in classroom 2-4, where the festival committee is sound asleep, including himself.  He kicks himself, and the real him falls to the floor, wakes up, and turns to look at the sleeping Lum…

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…and the school clock strikes seven.

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Lum wakes up and tells him about the dream she had (and you were there, and…) but he shushes her, saying that it was only a dream.  He leans over to kiss her, but turns to see the entire rest of the class glaring at him.  She asks him to continue, but he insists he can’t do anything that embarrassing in front of the others.  She says that he’d do it if he loved her, he asks when he ever said he loved her…and outside, a blast of lighting erupts out a window near some workers, who remark that they’re at it again.

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Mujaki pulls off his helmet to reveal the pig/Baku beneath, and turns to go as we pan down to the sign he’s been constructing: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer.

Fin.

Thoughts: And that, folks, is the famous Beautiful Dreamer, one of the greatest anime movies ever made and the artistic high point of Urusei Yatsura.  What more is there to say?

Well, a lot, really.  BD is the apex of Mamoru Oshii’s run, and of his favorite UY themes.  After Only You, he chose to do this movie his way instead of for the fans, with mixed results.  Rumiko Takahashi wasn’t happy with it because of how far it departed from the original, and fans criticized Oshii, which led to him leaving for another studio. (More on this later.)

It’s clear that BD is the work of a director who’s overseeing the entire production, as it’s constructed with significant themes and images running throughout.  The mysteries build slowly through each act, changing up the status quo for the next act, as the layers of reality are pierced one by one until the truth is reached.  There are a wealth of clues that the first-time viewer won’t recognize the significance of, but it still plays fair with the viewer, not using “it was all a dream” to cheat.  For the first half of the film, the mood of mystery and unreality grows, constricting the characters’ world and leaving the viewer uncertain as to what’s real and what isn’t.

There had been episodes that touched on these themes in the TV series, but they were constrained by their length and the medium (immersion can go a lot deeper in a movie theater than in one’s living room, with a commercial in the middle) and the desire to stay within sight of the manga.  A story of this sort wouldn’t really have worked the same way in any other medium. (The down side to this is that the next couple of movies also try to do what BD does, but not as well.)

On the flip side, there’s the eternal balance of quality of adaptation versus quality of product.  The two ideally shouldn’t conflict, but any adaptation of medium is going to involve changes (a twelve-page manga chapter is not going to make a good movie in and of itself), and when one creator is telling a story of a different type than the original creator did, the gap will widen still further.  Urusei Yatsura the manga is, at its heart, a light-hearted comedy with a romantic overlay.  When it’s used as the medium to meditate on the nature of dreams and reality, even though it’s true to its characters, it’s still going to become a different animal.

I’ve heard others observe that they saw BD first and couldn’t get into the TV series because it’s so different.  That’s fair; BD is a heady meal of ideas that couldn’t be sustained in a weekly TV series even if you tried to.  Likewise, Takahashi and the fans at the time weren’t wrong to be disappointed in what they got, because as good as BD is it isn’t much like the manga.  It’s all a matter of expectations.  Ultimately, I think both viewpoints can be accommodated.  Beautiful Dreamer is an amazing film taken on its own terms, and the epitome of Mamoru Oshii’s vision.  Seen as an adaptation of the manga, it’s using elements that originated there but taking them in a very different direction, and if you’re looking for something that feels like the original there isn’t a lot of it here (there are some funny moments but they don’t predominate).

Next: At long last, back to the TV series!

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6 thoughts on “The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, the Movies, part 2e: Beautiful Dreamer, part 5

  1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The best way to watch this movie is alone, at night, while heavily sleep-deprived. *Then* you start questioning if you dreamed the movie, or are dreaming now while you think about it…

  2. I like your analysis, and I especially like the fact that you acknowledge that the difference in tone from the manga is a thing. I used to get frustrated by reviews of this movie because they would just gush about how well-constructed and well-told it is–and it is both those things, don’t get me wrong!–without considering the other side of the coin.

    I never noticed that Kyoko made a cameo in this movie, by the way! Good catch. I can only dream of what she’d do to Ataru if she actually met him…

  3. In a way, I’d really like to see more anime movies like this one. It goes for a different atmosphere and style than the manga itself, but it focuses on the actual cast during most of the run time, and how they deal with the new situation they’re thrown in.

    I thought this was much preferable to the usual movies that introduce a new guest character that takes center stage and focus from the series’ actual cast. It was surprising to me to learn that this movie was considered controversial in Japan due to this approach, although after reading your review I guess I can see why some considered themselves betrayed by it.

  4. I really enjoyed the slight differences from the traditional comedy that UY is. The themes of the movie are something Takhashi would never write, but I think it was still a successful movie. Unlike most reviews that just keep going about how great it is, thank you for pointing out the differences.

    Also I don’t know if it was an Easter egg, but if you watch the credits someone called ‘Yuusaku Godai’ is listed as an assistant animator. Or maybe that was an actual person!

  5. Now that you’re back, I feel it behooves me to add one final thought about this movie. The bar it set for the relationship dynamic between Lum and Ataru. Regardless of the creator’s overall intent (I’ll call her RT going forward), most every viewer latched onto them as a couple and wanted to see them gain closure. In that first 11 minutes of the movie, we gain the clearest insight into what Lum really wants, she wants her Happy Ending. A life with Ataru and his family and friends, but it’s one where they’re together. The one thing that still bothers me all these years later is this is still a massive point of contention with fans of this series and others done by RT. She creates relationships that do not achieve that point, all save for the main relationship in Maison.

    My girlfriend, a US Marine mind you, watched Inuyasha from beginning to end. At the end, she cried like a little kid and I had no idea of that series and what it was about. So I asked her what was wrong and she said it was the end of the show. I pushed a little more because there has to be something very emotional for her to get like that and she said ‘I don’t know how the relationship ended’. Again, not knowing about the show I looked it up and saw it was done by RT and I saw the similar push without the goal being met. Apparently this was done more or less in Ranma 1/2 too.

    Lum was an alien in most every respect; she flies, has horns, fangs, shoots lightning and has an incredible array of gadgets at her disposal. But her emotions make her more human than any other female in the series. The fact that she was irrevocably in love with Ataru despite all his faults (he has a lot of good points, don’t get me wrong) is proof of it. There are the breadcrumbs laid out through the later movies and a specific OVA that suggest she gets what she wants, but the bar was set to an impossible high. It’s poignant, beautiful and bittersweet, and I know from the Tomobiki-cho website what the ‘intent’ was with the end, but people are still very angry about this 30 years later because Lum’s Dream is left ‘unfulfilled’.

    Just my ¥2 on that. 🙂

  6. That’s an excellent point; I’ll put in a SPOILER ALERT so I can discuss the endings of various series, although I don’t get into much detail.

    To a certain extent this phenomenon vis-a-vis UY is partially due to the unusual circumstances of the UY anime. It was created at a time when fidelity to the original wasn’t as big a concern, and once it switched to full-length episodes the manga chapters required padding to be long enough, so the anime was bound to come up with some original material to begin with. When it coincides with a director who’s a genius and has a strong vision whose goal is very different from Takahashi’s, then it was inevitable that the new material would go in a different direction. Takahashi’s characters did grow (partially just because she expanded their repertoire from having one notable character trait each), but it would have been both a creative compromise and kind of a jump to borrow the anime’s character development, so she wasn’t going to be the one providing a cap to the anime’s storylines.

    I’m inclined to give Takahashi at least a partial pass on the conclusions of UY and Ranma due to the nature of the two series, which are essentially sitcoms whose humor engine is fueled by the tensions of mutually incompatible desires. Having two characters get together romantically has been the death-knell for many a sitcom, and so both series were instead working toward the point where the characters were willing to overcome their resistance to commitment. (Lum reached this point earlier on, but for Ataru it represented a reversal of his core values, and Ranma and Akane mutually reinforced these tendencies in each other.) While the major UY characters could probably find some of what they’re looking for and be as contented as they’re capable of, the massive love polygon in Ranma is unresolveable unless clone or alternate universe get involved, so it would never have been possible to tie it up in a neat bow, and it’s probably better not to try.

    That said, those factors wouldn’t have prevented a proper resolution to the Jusenkyo situation, and that didn’t happen either, so that one’s down to creative intent. Likewise, it’s not impossible to tell stories in those series where the MCs are a couple, just different ones, and an epilogue would certainly have been an option. (Even if it was several years later–look at how long it took One-Pound Gospel to resolve…) In the case of UY, probably the best solution may have been for the animators to provide an epilogue, or a story that tied up loose ends in the way the Final Chapter movie did for MI–that would satisfy those whose expectations had been raised by the anime while keeping the ball in the animators’ court.

    While I haven’t seen/read more than the beginning of Inuyasha, I’ve heard nothing but dissatisfaction about the ending, and I don’t see much excuse in that case; Inuyasha is fundamentally a dramatic series, and in that case the conclusion is as important as the journey. Maison Ikkoku showed that Takahashi is capable of creating a satisfying resolution to a story (although it probably helped that the romance became the central element of the series, so other story developments were in service of driving it forward).

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