Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling (1991)

20140426172258113Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling [うる星やつら いつだって・マイ・ダーリン Urusei Yatsura: Itsudatte My Darling] (1991)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshi Furukawa, Naoko Matsui, Shinnosuke Furumoto, Akira Kamiya, Ichiro Nagai, Machiko Washio, Yuko Mita, Noriko Ohara, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu

Directed by Katsuhisa Yamada


What, did you think that just because the previous movie was called The Final Chapter it meant that the series was over? In fact, The Final Chapter spawned an entire 12-episode series as a sequel, of which this film in turn is a sequel. But don’t worry; this is my last review of the series (unless I go insane and decide to somehow write a coherent review of a series spanning over 200 episodes). This one really is the last Urusei Yatsura film, and it’s actually a 10th anniversary special that was meant as more of a fond nostalgia trip than a continuation of the story. By this point Rumiko Takahashi’s latest romantic comedy series Ranma 1/2, which is every bit as absurd as Urusei Yatsura, was in full swing, and two concurrent Rumiko Takahashi series was apparently too much weird even for Japan to handle.

While I would love to say that the series goes out with a bang, I’m afraid it goes out with more of a “meh” instead. Sure, I laughed enough times to justify watching it, but not enough to call it a great piece of comedy. In this tale Ataru is kidnapped by an alien princess because he is the only one in the galaxy who can navigate Indiana Jones style through an ancient temple to find a fabled love potion. Now if you’ve seen any story revolving around a love potion, you can probably predict the vast majority of the plot. Hell, even if you haven’t seen a love potion story you can probably piece much of it together.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 6: Always My Darling (1991) →

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988)

uruseiyatsura5_1Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter [うる星やつら 完結編 Urusei Yatsura – Kanketsuhen] (1988)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, You Inoue, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Yuko Mita, Kazue Komiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Ichirō Nagai

Directed by Satoshi Dezaki


Once Rumiko Takahashi finished the manga of Urusei Yatsura, it of course had to be animated. So The Final Chapter is a perfectly accurate name for the fifth film in the series as it retells that final manga story arc. And finally, after all these films, Urusei Yatsura 5 actually feels like an episode from the series. It does everything that made the series so much fun, and yet it feels like something is missing. I think it’s just that after all these films I’ve come to expect something unique from them. I wasn’t expecting it to suddenly start doing what it was supposed to be doing this whole time. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. This film is a perfect rendition of what the series was always about, and that makes it different from all the other films.

What also works against it a bit is that I came to it with the expectation of seeing something major going down. This was supposed to be the conclusion of the series, so I felt like it was going to have a much bigger sense of closure than it does. Compared to the previous films which kept trying to inject drama into the story, this film feels much less momentous. It does work in a great sense of coming full circle, with Ataru and Lum once again playing a game of tag with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance, just like the first episode of the series. Compared to the TV series, this is a great way to wrap things up, and it does a great job in that respect. Compared to the other films, though, it has less emotional strength, and coming right off of watching those, it felt a little weak.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988) →

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.”

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

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 3: Remember My Love (1985)

125824464096916322687Urusei Yatsura 3: Remember My Love [うる星やつら3 リメンバー・マイ・ラブ] (1985)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Mitsuo Iwata, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Shinji Nomura, Sumi Shimamoto

Directed by Kazou Yamazaki


I was curious what kind of changes Urusei Yatsura would undergo once Mamoru Oshii left the scene. It turns out, not all that much. Remember My Love has a lot more flare and visual style than I expected from it, and also keeps to a more emotional story than the TV series did, just like the first two films in the franchise. One thing to remember about anime comedies is that they always tend to take themselves seriously at the end. The grand finale of a story needs to have punch, and comedy anime usually tries to accomplish this by turning away from the comedy. I get the feeling that these films were Urusei Yatsura‘s way of doing this. The TV series seemed unending. In 1985, more than four years into its run, Urusei Yatsura was still going strong. So it was the movies where the series could take its break from comedy and tackle the emotions underlying it all.

That’s not to say the comedy is abandoned here. Not by a long shot. But there are a lot of moments where you would normally expect a lighthearted joke, and instead there is only the dramatic tension of the situation. This is actually rather distracting at times and left me in a confused mood where it was difficult to tell whether I should be laughing at a certain point, or actually feeling for the characters. This is detrimental to the film, but at the same time, these moments are also done pretty well, making the story engaging on more than a simple laugh-a-minute level.

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

beautifuldreamer_1Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer [うる星やつら2 ビューティフル・ドリーマー] (1984)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Saeko Shimazu, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Takuya Fujioka

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was well prepared for this film to be different from the first Urusei Yatsura film, as well as the franchise in general. I had heard this was when Mamoru Oshii’s style really came to the fore, and in that regard it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is full of the stylistic flourishes that populate his other films. This had me rather worried, though. Urusei Yatsura is a zany comedy. I couldn’t see how Oshii’s slow dramatic buildups would work for such a concept, but surprisingly it does. I was geared up for a boring slog and instead found myself in one of the best Oshii films I’ve yet seen.

It starts with a very typical situation for the series. The students are preparing for a festival day, which is a rather common high school activity in anime. The usual hijinks between Ataru, Lum, and Shinobu are in full swing, and everything feels normal. Actually normal is a bit of an oxymoron in Urusei Yatsura. The students are preparing a Nazi themed café, complete with an actual tank in the middle of the shop. (Maid cafés are the stereotypical themed cafés in most anime.) Things wind up turning far more mysterious, however, when one of the teachers finds his apartment overrun by mold. He then proposes that they are all trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again, similar to the situation in Groundhog Day.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984) →

Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1983)

Urusei_Yatsura_Movie_1_Only_You-255847611-largeUrusei Yatsura: Only You [うる星やつら オンリー・ユー] (1983)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Saeko Shimazu, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Ichirō Nagai, Shigeru Chiba, Yuko Mita, Yoshiko Sakakibara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


This was manga artist Rumiko Takahashi’s breakout hit. Although these days she is better known for Inu-Yasha, it was Urusei Yatsura that would cement her reputation as the best romantic comedy writer in the industry. One of her biggest strengths lies with her puns, and that is something horribly difficult to translate. The title alone is a pun, taking the Japanese word urusai (“obnoxious,” or “shut up!” when used as an exclamation) and splicing it with the word for planet to give it an alien flavor. (Yatsura, if you care to know, means something along the lines of “bastard” or “asshole.”) Thus the title was officially translated into English as Those Obnoxious Aliens. It’s a series that lives up to its title admirably, with story after story about some alien invader or supernatural monster popping up and causing misery for everyone, usually leaving the main character, Ataru, the most miserable of them all.

Way back when I was in high school Urusei Yatsura was unquestionably one of my favorite anime, but I only ever saw the TV series and a little bit of the manga. I actually had no idea the films even existed. But time went by, the series went out of print, and I haven’t paid much attention to it in years. One of the fun things about writing these reviews is revisiting old favorites, and I had a lot of great nostalgia moments watching this film. Every time a character popped up on screen I shouted out their name and laughed, as if meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. And this is where the film can cause something of a problem. It dumps a lot of characters together without much explanation. The movie is basically one over-sized episode of the TV series, and unless you already know the major players you’ll be pretty lost in this film.

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Stephen reviews: Garden of Words (2013)

KRp4l9rGarden of Words [言の葉の庭 Kotonoha no Niwa] (2013)

Starring Miyu Irino, Kana Hanazawa, Fumi Hirano, Takeshi Maeda, Yuka Terasaki, Takanori Hoshino, Suguru Inoue, Megumi Han, Mikako Komatsu, Yuki Hayashi

Directed by Makoto Shinkai


After being disappointed by Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I was hopeful that Shinkai would return to the style he has been so good at before. With Garden of Words he did exactly that, so I am thankful, but he went back to a 5CM Per Second style of realistic romance. I really do wish he would go back to the intriguing science fiction premises that wound through his earlier films. Without that speculative side, Garden of Words becomes just another bittersweet tale of impossible love, which is what all of his films center around. This isn’t really a bad thing; it’s just that I prefer to have something beyond a simple romance story.

The film centers around a high school boy who likes the rain, and ditches class every time it rains. He hangs out in a park with a covered bench and enjoys the weather with a sketchbook in hand. His career goal is to become a women’s shoe designer. Now that may be odd, but at least he’s got dreams, right? One day he encounters an older woman also ditching work who seems to like the combination of beer and chocolate. They continue meeting every time it rains, and gradually grow closer to each other.

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