There are obscure titles in the anime pile of forgetfulness that are fondly remembered. Some titles are often condemned, or criticized and then there are some titles that go beyond any convention. The Death Lullaby, or Lullaby to the Big Sleep is perhaps the most uncompromising piece of animation I have ever seen from Japan. This was not created for entertainment, or broad mass appeal, but instead to make a statement. Much like a piece of post modern abstract art in a museum, we are asked to look, to think, to feel and to question many issues within ourselves and the consequences of how it reflects into our environment.
Violence. So much violence, hatred and destruction are depicted in Lullaby. Hard to watch and very grotesque and raw at times, these depictions are to educate us through discomfort. Scenes of a child with protruding bottom teeth and his constant abuse and bullying are contrast with business men and politicians optimistic propaganda showing their enforced single minded agendas. See this fancy bullet train, these great buildings. Look at how fat our wallets are getting by bulldozing habitats unspoiled by nature, or more importantly, former places of residency where tenants are forced into eviction where in their opinions, degeneracy once existed. This price of progress reminds me of the great quote from Patlabor 2: The Movie in regards to… a just war versus an unjust peace, an unjust war verses a just peace.
The abused boy mentioned earlier has primary focus in this short film and can be seen as a mascot, or figurehead. Similar in ways to Tetsuo from Akira, we see a boy with much promise and potential through constant mistreatment and negativity transform from a weak victim into a true monster bent on vengeance. Beyond his disfigurement, he is no threat, but many people like to judge what they either fear, or don’t like. Or, like Shinji from Evangelion, we see the self destructive tendencies from constant depression and internalized anger. This youth is of no concern to his peers, watches horrors at home and has no light, or thought in his consciousness to point him out of his situation.
I have read from a source that this may have been a protest film in regards to many urbanization projects that were present during the mid 1980s. Whether it is or not, this is a film that is much more like an artist’s expression of social commentary than standard animated entertainment. The issues are universal and stand up today beyond it’s extremely low budget look; I believe it was shot on 8mm film, which for film stock will be very rough looking. If you can find Hiroshi Hirada’s The Death Lullaby it is worth a watch, but I can’t recommend it for everyone. Years ago I had never heard of this, but became acquainted with it during my research for my 1985 panel during 2014 to 2015. This is the first time I have re-watched this film since that time and I still am amazed that this was even created due to the subject and difficulty in watching this presentation. While a powerful film in it’s own right, it shows that we in humanity have so much more to do in regards to learning about fear and compassion.