Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever (1986)

uruseiyatsura4_1Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever [うる星やつら4 ラム・ザ・フォーエバー] (1986)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Kazuko Sugiyama, Shigeru Chiba

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


Well, it’s official. My mind has been blown. I don’t think I’ve been as confused by a movie since Utena. But that’s OK; I got over it. It did take me quite a long time to think things through, but I’ve come to terms with the film. The problem is that nothing in the film happens for a reason, or at least not one that’s included in the film. It makes for a jumble of nonsensical events that just sort of happen. They string together as if there ought to be some significant plot line that explains everything, but by the end of the film, I was just as lost as ever.

The characters are making an independent horror film which goes awry when the props turn out to be haunted, Lum gradually starts losing her powers, a mountain pops up in the middle of the city, people start forgetting Lum even exists, and Mendou believes that starting a war with his cousin will somehow solve everything. Supposedly all of this is connected to some strange concept of the dreams of the city, but if there is any coherence to this at all, it was lost on me. Even Netflix’s summary blurb for the film ends on an almost apologetic note: “Just keep in mind that these plot points are really just jumping off points for amazing surreal imagery and situations.”

uruseiyatsura4_2The stuff that happens is actually pretty typical for the series. What throws it into the realm of incomprehension (more than usual at any rate) is that there is no explanation for it. What’s worse is that it feels as though it should have an explanation. At one point Mendou visits his grandfather to hear a fable that in any normal film would be the critical plot point that explains the situation. I think it is here too. It’s just that we never get to hear the story ourselves. The scene cuts away just before the conversation and is never shown. Mendou takes off after hearing the tale knowing just what needs to be done even though the audience doesn’t get clued in on it along with him. There are several other places where the explanatory scenes seem to be simply edited out of the film, too.

I’m left thinking that this was deliberate. After contemplating the possible symbolism of things, I decided to latch onto one line early in the film, when the students are making their indie horror film. One character questions the plot, and the director responds, “It doesn’t matter. All the trivial things are just McGuffins.” It’s as though Yamazaki was himself saying that the explanation for the events is irrelevant, and just to prove it, he made a film that removed them all. To an extent, this makes sense. The events are so typical that anyone familiar with the series practically doesn’t need the explanations anyway. They’re just the same old pointless plot filler that we’ve seen a hundred times before.

uruseiyatsura4_3One other thing to keep in mind with this film is its timing. It released shortly after the TV series finally ended. You could view this film as a celebration of all the wackiness that had gone on for five years straight. The TV series’ ending theme song even had a chorus line that chanted, “Let’s put weird and weird together and make it even weirder,” a line that reflected the show’s rambunctious humor perfectly. The events in this film are exactly what you would expect from the series, and in that light, it makes perfect sense for the film to be a bunch of nonsense.

But while I can see where this is coming from (assuming that I am at all correct in my interpretation here), I have to disagree. The explanations in the series, all those meaningless McGuffins, were half of the humor. One of the greatest joys of Urusei Yatsura is not just watching the insanity unfold, but also seeing just what kind of cockamamie BS they would use to explain it. If we’re following that theme song, we need two weird things to combine together. Just a weird event isn’t enough. We need those weird McGuffins to complete the formula.

So I’m a bit disappointed by this film, which is strange because so far it is the closest one to capturing the tone and style of the TV series. There’s still a lot of interesting and entertaining moments, but it’s like having a bag of chocolate chip cookies without milk. Even if it’s good on its own, you still need something to wash it all down with.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bSjuN4M_Jo

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