#220 : Harmagedon

“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and aeroplanes… Lenny Bruce is not afraid”… ? … hold on a minute, is this like the end of the world as we know it, the end times, the apocalypse? Kind of and do I feel fine?… I don’t think so if that’s the case and yet from all endings throughout time they are also become new beginnings. Combine the ultimate disaster scenario with an invading evil presence from the far side of the universe and what do you get?, BIG trouble. In the year of 1983 I could sum this up with the title of a movie that was a box office hit in Japan. Let me guess is it Total Armageddon? Nope, more like Harmagedon.

Harma_1aHeroes unite! The evil Genma has made his way through the universe, bringing terror and destruction to every world he touches. Not bad for a large cloud like red skull? He is now set on Earth to claim as his own except he runs into a little problem. He has to face a squad of people who hail from all around the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities and races who happen to have psionic powers… almost sounds like a variation of Cyborg 009 in a way. And it should as the original source material, and title of the film, was known as Genma Taisen (The Great Battle, or War of Genma) a cooperative effort between Kazumasa Hirai and Shotaro Ishinomori (009’s creator). Genma Taisen even had it’s origins in the 1960s too! The first half of Harmagedon, and it’s a long half, showcases only a trio of our heroic cast: a psychic princess from Transylvania (really!), a resurrected robot warrior and our main protagonist, a young Japanese man named, Jo, who is having a very bad day. First he finds out he is not on the baseball team, then he gets dumped by his girlfriend and finally he ends up being chased by some strange robot in an alley that keeps shooting at him. Talk about a rough day!

Harma_2Another take on ‘Heroes unite!’ as we now look at another group of people, those who were responsible for the making of this mammoth of a film. First is Haruki Kadakawa who is not a name I often equate with anime often, except when I see his name plastered at the beginning of any opening credit sequence with that beautiful phoenix like logo. He was the executive producer and a high roller at that who made it loud and clear that he was the one funding this project! Let us next move to the powerhouse studio known as Madhouse and one of it’s best directors, the amazing Rintaro. Love him or hate him, his work is monumentally visual which sometimes looses a little depth in terms of story, or character. Next in line is our character designer who was a young manga artist that would get his first shot in the anime world. He would become ultra famous for a movie from 1988 known as Akira, but in 1983 he was just plain and simple Katsuhiro Otomo. And finally we need some music, so who could fill this roll? We need someone big, bombastic and different! How about Keith Emerson? Whoa really like from Emerson, Lake, Palmer? The guy who brought a massive Moog synthesizer on tour and had a reputation for stabbing knives into Hammond organs, amongst other things. Yeah we’ll take him! “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”

Harma_3Many often poo poo Harmagedon as a film, particularly here in the west. In Japan it was a huge blockbuster at the theaters and popular. Did you see the reference in Project A-Ko for instance? We of course did not have much exposure to the original Genma Taisen sources that had been around for decades in Japan. That and the over emphasis of action and the visuals make Harmagedon a feast for the eyes, but awkward in terms of plot. You really have to know and have a passion for Genma Taisen to really love it, or just see Harmagedon as an example of an arthouse action film. And anyway, aren’t many blockbuster action films just visual spectacle. Yes, but not on the level of artistic beauty that Harmagedon exudes. Plus the emphasis of more realistic designs for both Tokyo and Otomo’s characters, as well as Rintaro’s touch, gives Harmagedon an edgy look that was not seen often in anime at that time. Don’t quote me on that, I heard this from many sources and they are so right!

Harma_4Several themes are brought to the surface, but one that draws a good amount of attention is some very open racism, which eventually resolves itself from understanding and compassion. Compassion is a great word to use I would say as an overall theme of this movie as we as humans need to respect the diversity of who we are and take care of this beautiful green world we live on which is not separate from us, but is a part of us. Our protagonist Jo also has his own feelings to resolve, all stemming from anger towards himself, the death of loved ones and even getting dumped and feeling not up to playing for the high school baseball team. Transforming anger into compassion, hate into love and believing in yourself is for me the major theme of Harmagedon. I understand this very well as this is a core issue I have been dealing with personally. And as of this writing in 2020, who can not say there is a lot of anger and frustration in our collective world? Jo would rise above his hate and is it me, or does this film also remind you in a way to Otomo’s Akira? In that movie we see the destructive power of personal hatred affecting each and every one of us. Both films end in total destruction and yet in both films there is a glimmer of hope that we can start again because being with people you love and that in turn believe in you, no matter the circumstances, can show a way toward one’s next season in life.

… I apologize as this one went a little longer than normal, but then again this movie’s running time feels like it runs longer than normal… maybe it was destined to be this way?

#219 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia

What is it about this beautiful cosmic sailing vessel? Captain Harlock’s ship the Arcadia is more than just a space battleship, it is a symbolic representation of many things. It is a call for freedom, a freedom that is beyond what we believe that definitive concept is. It is also an oasis for those who don’t belong in greater society. It is a symbol of pure moral compassion that is disconnected from profit or power mongering disguised as a fighting machine that stands up for truth, the exact equal to Captain Harlock himself. Yet the Arcadia is also the soul of a man who put his blood, sweat and genius, as well as love, into creating this piece of art, Harlock’s friend and sidekick Tochiro Oyama. All this and more is on display in a miniature feature film released during the original 1978 TV series and four years before the epic Arcadia of My Youth known simply as Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia.

… that’s a long title? …

H_MotA_1Rather than tell a new story, Mystery of the Arcadia would base its plot on an adaptation of the 13th episode of Space Pirate Captain Harlock known as Witch Castle in the Sea of Death, or The Castle of Evil in the Sea of Death (whichever translation you prefer). This is stated over many areas of the internet and I did check to see if this was true by pulling the TV series DVD set off of my shelf… yes, it is a variation for sure. Harlock is very pensive, unsure what course of action to take next until the distant echoes of an ocarina can be heard from the Earth all the way out in space. I love the imagination of Leiji Matsumoto in how it breaks the so called reality of our universe. The Arcadia seems to know for sure that this ocarina is from young Mayu and alters course immediately on its own accord. Just what is this ship doing? Eventually we meet up with little Mayu on Earth where the appearance of her guardian, Harlock, brings a welcome smile to her face.

H_MotA_2Temporarily Mayu boards the Arcadia bringing a sense of comfort to the great space battleship. Just what is going on with this ship? It’s as if it is tied to Mayu in some way and has a mind of it’s own… a real… mystery. She returns to Earth which leads to the crew of the Arcadia picking up a transmission that looks similar to other Mazone signals that Harlock and crew have been chasing. The Mazone by the way is the alien antagonist regime in the TV series, in case you did not know.. Located in the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda Triangle territory in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arcadia heads out to investigate. During a run in with Commander Kiruta’s forces (main Earth antagonist) the Arcadia comes into contact with a ghost ship as well that fires on both Kiruta and the Arcadia. Now we have another mystery, a third wheel in the equation… ghost ships… WWII battleships in fact (typical of Matsumoto)… this calls for even more investigation in the area.

H_MotA_3Consider this movie as filler if you have already seen the 1978 TV series as this really tells nothing new, but as a die hard Harlock fan I consider it essential watching, though you may disagree. I love the animation style that Toei and director Rintaro created for this rendition of Harlock (both the 1978 TV series and this movie) so I am a little partial towards it. If you have never seen the original TV series this movie would be a good minor introduction, though it does slightly spoil a plot element later revealed in the series (if you can figure it out). Toei used to make many short films based on TV franchises during the 1970s and show these ‘specials’ in theaters, usually in a cornucopia styled grouping. This was of course well before OVAs (home video was in its infancy during this time) and even the internet, so this was an alternative to watching your favorite shows again, except on the BIG screen. Oh how times have changed, but the legacy of Captain Harlock, then or now, stands as eternal.

#8b : Angel’s Egg

For my original entry for Angel’s Egg, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, Angel’s Egg, I have a little more to say…

Angel’s Egg was a one of my earliest entrees here at The Classic Anime Museum and it has been one of my more viewed entries, even receiving reference links. I am proud that in particular that Angel’s Egg is linked in some way with this site. I love this film, I love the atmosphere it projects, I love the art and I consider it a masterpiece of 80s anime cinema and one of Mamoru Oshii’s best works of all time. It’s not an easy film to watch since it is more symbolic and esoteric, but in terms of great film making it is one animated feature that is distinctly it’s own in terms of any category you throw at it.

AE_21Much is written on director Mamoru Oshii’s struggle with faith and the all supposed Christian symbology. But if you take a step back, isn’t much of Christian imagery borrowed from other more ancient, or pagan references? Could these references also elude to Eastern spiritual practices as well, or another alternative? The vast open space of Angel’s Egg makes this a film that can have much in terms of interpretation, which leaves it as perhaps the most profound and powerful films ever made in the Japanese animation industry during the decade of the 1980s, if not all time. Assuming one’s interpretation, or an accepted standard is one thing, but sometimes when other opinions are offered as well, they are just as valid.

AE_22Propose now another possible metaphor for the piece of art that is Angel’s Egg. Could this be a film about the fragility of holding to the material world. To quote from the Bible “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth, and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” I had to look up the passage as I am not a perfect Bible scholar, it’s from Matthew 6:19. Or if we philosophize from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure with none other than Socrates where we notice that we are “Only Dust in the Wind”, and “Like the Sands of time, so are the days of our lives.”… With this in mind we fall for the greatest illusion that what is material is eternal, which of course is not true. It is human to mourn the loss of what is seen and touchable, but to consider it permanent is a grave mistake.

AE_23Solid structure, matter and form are standards that we often base entire civilizations, relationships and lives on. Yet this is the most unstable force in the universe. This makes me think of the relationship in astrology between the Moon and Saturn and the pair of signs associated with them, Cancer and Capricorn. Both are opposites, yet mirror images of each other dealing with growth and decay, love and austerity, protection and isolation. Is it a time to be sentimental, or perhaps hard nosed. We need both sides, but when one side of the extreme takes on a priority there is imbalance. This is not a bad thing because after all we as humans get caught up in the games and circumstances that we deem as life. At times we crest, but soon fall. We also hit rock bottom too and find the strength to rebuild by knowing what has passed can’t ever return.

AE_24These concepts are the basic dynamic of Angel’s Egg. The girl, very innocent and naive holds like a mother the giant egg she possesses. The object is in every way her identity. She brings it with her, treats it kindly and never lets it leave her sight much like a cautious mother. Enter then the young man with the cross like stick, or weapon, or whatever it is. He becomes the catalyst, a source for change who cruelly breaks and destroys this precious object. The girl whose whole existence in life has now been destroyed in the end destroys herself, unable to find any reason to live beyond sticking to what she only knew. It is a sad end, but we all fall down from time to time and we mostly see something outside of the job, relationship, situation, or loss that has occurred in our lives. We put on another hat to keep going with life because we still feel that life still has something left to provide for us, despite the pain and sorrow.

This year of 2020 made me think of this interpretation particularly. It has been painful for many of us dealing with loss as well as uncertainty. Those who hold so dearly to rigid ideas are struggling the most to control a situation that seems so random. I hope you are all doing well despite the times.