Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

April 5th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Rumiko Takahashi is consistently one of Japans most popular Manga artists. She has scored major hits with series like Mermaid Saga, Ranma 1/2, Rumic Theater and InuYasha, all of which have spawned popular animated series and feature films. Her themes of love, longing and perseverance are universal. But arguably her most popular creation is still little known in the United States. Urusei Yatsura began as a 34 volume manga before making its debut as a weekly series that would stretch from 1981 to 86 delivering 195 episodes, six movies and twelve OVA’s. It tells the story of an average town where reality has gone mad. One day an alien invasion arrives on earth and our only chance to avoid defeat is to challenge the invaders princess to a game of tag. Tag being a game associated with a type of Japanese demon of which the aliens are patterned after. The recipient of the challenge is the world’s most average man, a lecherous teenager named Ataru. Lum, the princess can fly which presents difficulties. In achieving an unlikely victory he accidentally proposes marriage. Now Ataru lives his life in his parent’s home while living with a permanent house guest.

The series is structured along a large ensemble cast that includes a demented Buddhist monk, the son of the world’s richest family, a fire breathing flying space baby and an assortment of other gods and weirdos. The appeal of the series is that it is obsessed with the every day in and outs of Japanese culture. In this way it is similar to The Simpsons in that minor events like tax day or local community politics are prominent background elements. But the goal of nearly every character is love. But for any character to end up with their love interest, no less than two others must be denied their goal. This series of overlapping love triangles mixed with violently proactive characters means that every situation can escalate into a conflict more akin to a world war then a high school brawl. But uniquely for the franchise, this is not true of the second film Beautiful Dreamer.

The film begins with the preparation for a school party. But after a night of decorating, strange things begin to happen. The people of the town seem to have disappeared and days begin to run together into an endless blur. Because of this surrealism, this probably the most accessible of the six films, not really requiring any preexisting knowledge of the series to enjoy or understand the story. The absurd tone of the series mixes with this surrealist plot to deliver something magical.

Japan, Director Mamoru Oshii, Cast Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Kazuko Sugiyama and Akira Kamiya, 98 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles

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