#180 : The Death Lullaby / Lullaby to the Big Sleep

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.

DL_1Violence. 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.

DL_2The 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.

DL_3I 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 rewatchedWhile 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.

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.

Special : Streets of Fire

Hold on… have I seen this movie before? Of course I have, it’s Streets of Fire and there’s my DVD copy over there on that shelf. Yet this is not what I am asking initially. So many scenes, moments and characters all seem very familiar, yet I am not talking about Streets of Fire the movie. In the 1980s, within the framework of Japanese animation, Streets of Fire, like many other cultural emblems of the era, would find it’s way into many productions as either parody, reference, or even a total recreation of the story itself. This cult film dismissed by the mainstream would find an unexpected audience outside its native land to become an aesthetic icon that colored many anime of the mid to late 1980s.

SOF_1Truth be told I doubt I would ever watched Streets of Fire if I didn’t keep bumping into it time after time while watching classic anime. And as this is a site dedicated to anime I am not going to review this movie too much in detail. It’s labeled as a “Rock and Roll Fable”, a musical of sorts and in my eye borrows heavily from the 1950s. That is if society was a post apocalypse set in the 1980s where everything around you is from the decade of Eisenhower. And much like a western, this is a tough time where street gangs hold power that even the cops can’t deny. Streets of Fire is the prototypical story of the kidnapped princess who can only be saved by an outsider who is brave enough to stand up against this menace.

The influence of Streets of Fire can be seen in many anime from the 1980s. I can identify three that I have some first hand knowledge of, but if you have others to contribute please do. Now let us examine our three examples: Megazone 23 (Part 1), Bubblegum Crisis and Zillion: Burning Night

SOF_M23Megazone 23’s reference to Streets of Fire is an obvious one, yet it does not quote scenes from Streets of Fire at all. Early on in the OVA when protagonist Shogo Yahagi meets up with a group of friends, they go to the cinema to watch a movie. Guess which movie? It’s even labeled on the outside marquee. The scene is short and is part of a longer sequence displaying the quartet’s night out on the town. Still, Streets of Fire is ever present and must have been a favorite film at the time of production for certain crew members. This inclusion helps to solidify the time period of Tokyo for Megazone 23 , the mid-1980s, which according to the vocalic Eve Tokimatsuri, was the most peaceful time in history. Really?

SOF_BGCNext we move to Bubblegum Crisis , which by and large has a majority of influence from Blade Runner in terms of setting, story and renegade androids. Yet Streets of Fire will show its influence as well. The opening scene where we see crowds pour into a nightclub to see the band Priss and the Replicants (very Blade Runner) play has Streets of Fire written all over it. This mirror’s Streets of Fire opening where we see the concert of returning local star Ellen Aim. Even the songs from both productions have the same tempo and attitude. Take your pick which is the better song as both are great: Bubblegum Crisis’ “Konya wa Hurricane” vs. Streets of Fire’s “Going Nowhere Fast“. Priss even wears an outfit in red and black, just like Ellen Aim!

SOF_ZillionThe most unapologetic anime to cover Streets of Fire is the follow up OVA from the television series Zillion, Zillion: Burning Night. An almost complete remake from the ground up, the Burning Night OVA screams Streets of Fire more than both the original TV series, or even the Sega Master System games. Shot for shot, the plot is nearly identical from the opening concert, to the abduction of the damsel and then the subsequent rescue. Of course the story varies just slightly as we have to accommodate the cast of Zillion, including turning the alien Nohza into human characters. I had seen Burning Night prior to Streets of Fire and this was were I kept saying to myself, “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before.”

Three examples and possibly more as well show that a movie from another time and another place can have an impact on the animation we love. Streets of Fire is more than a cult movie, it is a close distant cousin to Japanese animation. Such is the joy of pop culture… wash, rinse, repeat and copy what works for you.

#174 : Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

Don’t judge an old dirty lamp by it’s appearance alone. A quick rub on the metal, ceramic, or whatever material you choose (I vote for lapis luzali) can bestow to it’s owner quite the unexpected surprise of abundant wishes. What do you wish for? All I want is an anime adaptation of Aladdin. After all Japan has animated everything it seems and there must be an alternative to the Disney version. Nothing against the Disney version, I just want to include an adaptation of this classic tale from the classic One Thousand and One Nights here at CAM. I may not have a lamp, but I did get my wish granted via a 1982 Toei production, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.

Aladdin_1Our story is a familiar one… a street punk who wants to do more with his life gets the chance of a lifetime to go search for a hidden treasure aided by a mysterious and perhaps villainous character who bestows a ring to the young man in case he comes into danger. Our hero finds this lost treasure, a lamp, but is soon trapped. Talk about being double crossed! With the magic of the ring and eventually the lamp our young man finds his way home and bestows a great luxurious meal once returned. Soon our young man meets a young lady, a princess in fact, who has run away from the palace to avoid selecting a suitor for an arranged marriage. Our young man has an idea and uses the lamp to grant his wish to become a prince himself so he could marry the princess. All is well… until the lamp and the princess are taken like a thief in the night. Our hero must now recapture both his prized lamp and his true love.

Aladdin_2Sounds like Aladdin, but this also reminded me of the previously mentioned The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots due to the fact that a common young man tries to pass himself off as royalty to impress a princess. A common story theme, but now my question to propose is did Disney see this version? The evil wizards, Grand Wazir and Jafar are similar looking. The genie is green instead of blue in the Toei version. Also no Robin Williams. The name of princess is Boudour and not Jasmine, much closer to the original Badroulbadour. Aladdin does get a ring in the original story, another point for the Toei version. Much like The Little Mermaid, Toei created a more faithful interpretation to the original source material. And even without the mega budget and musical numbers that the Disney version is noted for, the Toei version was released a solid decade before Disney’s version. Was the 1982 Toei version watched as source material? Your guess is as good as mine.

Aladdin_3For many years, Toei adapted fairy tales, or folk tale classics into full length animated features. Many of which would find release during the VHS era in the west with appropriate dubs. Aladdin was one I was not aware of, yet Swan Lake and The Little Mermaid I had known since childhood. Plus, there was The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots and The Wild Swans as well. Now I can include Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp amongst all these other stories as official anime! The Disney version is great as well, but now we have an alternate to bring into the fold. Funny how Teoi as a company wanted to be the Japanese equivalent to Disney way back in the company’s inception.

Aladdin_4This debate is almost like the SNES vs Genesis Aladdin games as both are different, but fun and entertaining as well. Take your pick! The same story told from a very different perspective. For me I will side with the Toei version because I always cheer for team anime, but I do like Disney’s version as well. Fun and adventure in a far off time and place that seems almost surreal, yet very familiar. And to add another feather into the team anime hat, Toei’s Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp is only an hour long, shorter yet I prefer compact and just the right size, but with no added filler. A nice simple tidy package. The perfect gift, or should I say film…  or better yet… the perfect wish.

#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#164 : Locke: The Superman

LtS_1Never mind the fact that Locke is a superhero’s superhero and an esper beyond all espers. You know what I think makes Locke really cool? His hair! Anime hairspray is the best in the whole world as it can hold up any fancy stylized coiffure. An after thought film from 1984, a year which featured three blockbuster films that defined the 1980s, Locke: The Superman is a title that exudes cult status, a true outsider. It is not a title one often runs across everyday in terms of classic anime, but I am sure it will pop up from time to time for all of us if we are on searches for new or familiar titles. And yet in a way I am sure the character of Locke may find a little joy in being in a film that is not as well recognized. It fits well with his own private character.

LtS_2The history of Locke fascinates me as a quick search shows that he has origins all the way back to the 1960s as a manga franchise. Locke has been around a long time (and it is still in publication!), but he is not as common a name like say Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Lupin III, or even Golgo 13. Much work exists, but Locke fits more into a niche category. Yet their is nothing niche about Locke: The Superman beyond being the one who gets picked last at recess. He is a mystery, a young looking man who has lived longer than many of us, who mostly lives a peaceful secluded life as often as he can. He is very wise, not big on violence and possesses great psycho-kenetic abilities that make him an enigma to some. He could rule or control the universe if he so chooses. Yet he knows he holds great esper powers and uses them only when necessary, kind of similar to Fist of the North Star’s Ken (though Ken is a martial artist). This is Locke’s fate, his karma, his knowing that true power requires responsibility.

LtS_3A young officer, Ryū Yamaki, has great interest in the hermetic Locke at the beginning of the film. He hopes to convince Locke to return to the service to help in investigating and eventually stopping one Lady Kahn from creating a great esper empire, the Millennium, a group that Lady Kahn once persuaded Locke to join some time ago. Locke of course refused, preferring the life of a sheep herder. Amongst the many training espers of Lady Kahn is a young girl named Jessica, who has both great potential as a soldier and a shadowy past where she believes Locke was the murderer of her parents. This of course was fabricated so that she could be the ultimate weapon against the powerful Locke and in many ways I feel she is as much the main protagonist as Locke. Jessica receives training from one Miss Cornelia Prim (I love that name!) and eventually meets up with Yamaki during a bought of amnesia. Que the song… “Strangers in the night, exchanging glaces…”, you get the idea? Why not add romance into an already complicated plot line of mystery, intrigue and esper superpower action? And don’t forget, awesome hair! All the great writing, and plot twists will mean nothing if one does not show off incredible locks held up with vast amount of anime hairspray! 🙂

LtS_4Locke: The Superman is a product of Nippon Animation, a studio I am more familiar with stories of history and coming of age adventures (the World Masterpiece Theater shows as examples), yet Locke is total sci-fi action. A nice showing of a diverse portfolio for a studio that I had pigeon holed into only one category. Compared to bigger films of that era, Locke feels smaller in scale in terms of art and editing. Looking a couple years out of date, or perhaps similar to a TV series in terms of production, don’t let this detract you as this is still a fine movie. Perhaps the budget may not have been as high as a Nausicaa or Macross: DYRL, but it serves its purpose very well. I see nothing wrong with adding a film showing a little grit to go against all the other highly polished options.