Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989)

geroi_pjati_planetThe Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)

Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.

Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.

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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.”

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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: A Wind Named Amnesia (1990)

A Wind Named Amnesia [風の名はアムネジア Kaze no Na wa Amunejia] (1990)

Starring Kazuki Yao, Keiko Toda, Masaharu Satou, Kappei Yamaguchi, Daisuke Gori, Yuko Mita, Noriko Hidaka, Osamu Saka

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


Today I’m reviewing the only remaining Hideyuki Kikuchi novel adaptation, at least that I am aware of. Like Darkside Blues, it is not a horror film. And also like Darkside Blues, it is quite a bit more bland than the other adaptations of his works. I can’t claim Kikuchi as a better horror writer than a sci-fi writer since I haven’t read the novels, but his horror stories have definitely gotten the better film versions.

A Wind Named Amnesia has a more philosophical nature than Darkside. Not that Darkside didn’t have philosophical themes; it’s just that it mostly ignored them. Amnesia, though, aims straight for its principle themes, and as such is a more coherent work. While this does makes it a better film, the moments of fun action are weaker, which cranks the boredom factor up a bit, too. So which film you would prefer will probably have a lot to do with what you are hoping for.

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Stephen reviews: Slayers: the Motion Picture (1995)

Slayers [スレイヤーズ, Sureiyâzu]

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Maria Kawamura, Osamu Saka, Tessho Genda, Minami Takayama

Directed by Hiroshi Watanabe & Kazuo Yamazaki


As you might have guessed by the title, Slayers: the Motion Picture is by no means the first product in the Slayers franchise. But unlike other anime movies, this is not a summary of a longer series or a sequel relying on previous events. It has no influence on the rest of the series, nor does the rest of the series influence it in any meaningful way, and its place in the timeline is mostly indeterminate. (Various websites assure me it’s a prequel, but there is nothing in the film to indicate that.) Therefore, it makes as good an entry point as any to the series.

Rather than the usual gang of misfits the series centers around, main character and master wizard Lina Inverse is wandering around on her own and is soon dragged off by fellow sorceress Naga to visit the famous hot springs of Mipross Island. I’m glad they kept the cast small, as the movie avoids the pitfalls of huge casts that plague many other anime films. Instead it is a classic odd couple routine where the two conflicting personalities of Lina and Naga collide.

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