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.

#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.

 

1984… 35 Years (and counting) of Love / A Film Trifecta

1984… ‘Anime’s Golden Summer of Love’. And let me say first and foremost, that this statement is my personal opinion. I am of course paying homage to the famed ‘Summer of Love’ from 1967 that was the high point of the hippie counterculture. An idealistic paradise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll during an era of intensity and danger. The anime version that I am putting a label on is nothing like 1967, but was a year of ‘Love’ in more ways than one. I was a five year old living in the U.S. during 1984, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of what actually happened in Japan. What I do know is that 1984 could be a serious contender for being a tipping point year in anime. And this is was all down to three beautiful and classic films.

The stars must have been aligned a certain way for a year that featured the directing talents of Noboru Ishiguro with Shoji Kawamori, Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki. Three plus one geniuses in terms of animation, story telling and visual presentation. A couple dozen productions made their way into theaters in 1984, but the three movies that these gentlemen directed perhaps… stole the show. One was a reimagining of a popular romantic mecha science fiction TV series, one was a sequel to a film that was part of a long running screwball comedy and the third was an adaptation to an original manga that rocketed it’s creator into superstardom. Funnily enough, only one of the films was released in the summer time, but we are taking this as a collective metaphor.

Let’s start in February of 1984, February 11 to be exact. Oh wow, personal bias… that’s my birthday. This was the release date of Mamoru Oshii’s entry, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Urusei Yatsura was Rumiko Takahashi’s first huge success and with the successful TV series and manga, films began to follow. The second is the topic of this discussion and it would be the first time that Mamoru Oshii would show his more signature approach to crafting a movie. While Urusei Yatsura was known for high school slapstick silliness, Beautiful Dreamer would show something else. Oshii’s use of the surreal, odd angles, subtlety, lighting and the sublime would be interjected into the project creating something different from the usual Urusei Yatsura fare. These approaches would eventually become his calling cards, but they began to show there potentialities with Beautiful Dreamer.

March 11, 1984. A popular manga from an anime veteran would see release into theaters. This was the work of the now famous Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be his second time behind the directors chair for a film. Miyazaki’s tale of a young heroine passionate for making the world a beautiful and peaceful place struck a chord with audiences and in a BIG way. Nausicaä’s messages of environmentalism and compassion took sci-fi and fantasy down to earth literally. In an era of far out grand space epics, we are thrust to return to our immediate surroundings and confront the issues plaguing in front of us: reconnecting with and preserving nature, witnessing the corruption of power and greed and standing up for what is true and moral that is within our hearts. The film’s success would give us one of Miyazaki’s most beloved characters with Nausicaä, who would become a benchmark for many of his later creations. Miyazaki’s success and growing popularity from Nausicaä would lead him with his partner in crime, Isao Takahata, to found their famed Studio Ghibli.

We now come to summer, July in fact. Debuting on July 7 would be our final film, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love… say that three times fast. Macross was a huge hit on TV for being an amalgam of everything otaku related at the time. Mixing aliens, space opera and mecha with tenderness, romance and beautiful character designs (hooray for Haruhiko Mikimoto!), Macross would reach a large fan base and encapsulated the height of passionate sci-fi idealism of the era. A reinterpreted film would show it’s hand in 1984 bringing the characters back to life yet again after the now defunct TV series left the air. This would be an alternate retelling and helming the directors chairs would be two men, series director and long time industry veteran Noboru Ishiguro and mecha designer/sci-fi fan Shoji Kawamori. Together they resurrected the giant Macross ship for another voyage that left fans, including me, jaw dropped and spellbound.

Of course 1984 was so much more than these three films and in the future I will include a more in depth focus for the year as a whole, but these three movies are something special. This ‘Summer of Love’ came to me because of the fact for the title of the Macross film; an exercise of putting two and two together. But pondering on this title I thought ‘Love’ could stand for a labor of love. All three of these films were created during the analog era of painted cel animation, “Look mom no hands computers.” All three of these films are a testament to the sweat and effort during that era as these productions were well crafted, painstakingly detailed and hold up in terms of quality today. These are three films that I love (one more than the other two because I am an uber fan of Macross) and treasure and I hope that you do as well.

#143 : Pole Position

PP84_1“Fun and excitement are abundant today as the Pole Position team get their own entry at The Classic Anime Museum.” … now that’s how to start an episode. 😉 It feels like Saturday morning though it may only be Tuesday Afternoon… I’m looking at myself, reflections of my mind… nice Moody Blues tie in, hehe. Pole Position was for me a staple reason to get up early, grab a bowl of Cheerios, or Rice Chex and cuddle up with my favorite toys for a couple years. Based on the classic arcade game by Namco, Pole Position was and still is one of my favorite shows from my formative years. Time to buckle up again for another ride.

PP84_2Often when it comes to video game adaptations into animation you have one of two choices: be a literal copycat or completely jump the shark and turn the show into something completely unique. Pole Position easily took the later option. Seriously, how does one turn an arcade quarter muncher driving laps around Fuji Speedway? An episode can turn into a quick game over if you hit any of the objects on the track, or the other cars… instant EXPLOSION! We need to do some heavy modification here work, à la Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors as an example. DiC created both of these shows and knew how to take creative liberties to the extreme to create a cartoon. And in either case, it works… splendidly!

PP84_3Now… let’s start off this alternate version with a brother and sister stunt team who are accompanied by their even younger sister and their pet. Is it a crossbreed between a monkey and a cat, or something else altogether? Who cares, it’s Kuma and I want one and I like him. Or, it is her? Maybe their non-binary? Very forward thinking! Now for the secret… Dan and Tess Darrett are more than just your everyday stunt drivers. Like their parent were, they are secrets agents for the organization Pole Position and solve crime and mysteries. Only their boss, their uncle, knows. And instead of the fancy open wheeled Formula One racer, let’s give Tess a red vintage Ford Mustang and Dan some blue futuristic prototype each with a computer A.I. that communicates with them, Wheels and Roadie. Brilliant, brilliant, I think we have a winning entry here.

PP84_4Pole Position is a stew where we take the name of a popular arcade racer, mix in elements of Scooby Doo, Knight Rider and James Bond and end up with a 1980s version of Speed Racer. And since the show was only 13 episodes, it doesn’t grow stale. It’s almost perfect for what Saturday morning cartoons used to be. Had it been a longer run for syndication, 65 episodes, then Pole Position may end up running out of steam? Maybe? Can’t say, because like everything, Pole Position is what it is and I love it for what it is. Action and adventure, cars, futuristic technology for the mid 1980s and being animated in Japan… I call that a killer combination. Check the credits at the end and mashed between the American and French staff you discover all the animators were Japanese. Even famed mechanical designer Shinji Aramaki contributed work. Oh yeah almost forgot… this is a DiC show… you have to have a classic Shuky Levi soundtrack and theme song. Yeah… now were ready to race! … um, who has the keys?

Honestly, a Saturday morning can be any, or every new morning of your life. Perhaps even a Saturday morning can occur during the afternoon or evening? Adjust accordingly to your local timezone. We all have a reason to get up every morning to see a new day… at least I hope so. For a time there was fun entertainment before the crack of dawn, but nowadays you may hit the snooze button twice before realizing it is past noon. In the end it does not matter when you get up, or what you define as the morning as you can always watch a Saturday morning favorite, like Pole Position, either via physical media or somewhere online at anytime. How the world has changed; as a kid I would have never saw that coming.

#128 : Glass Mask

gm_1“All the world’s indeed a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers”… The world of the acting… the lights, the crowds, the glamour… if ever a profession was and is over idealized in our society, the actor, or actress may be the top candidate. From the earliest days of known history those who have been involved in acting understand the necessity of wearing a proverbial mask, a persona. Certain masks, or persona, are strong and stabile, while others are fragile, like glass. Welcome to a story were we enter into the world of drama, with with heavy doses of melodrama too boot, known simply as Glass Mask.

gm_2Maya Kitayama, our protagonist, has a serious passion for acting and theater. Desperate for getting a ticket to a play in a nice theater, she works hard with her mother in a restaurant and has lofty dreams to be an actress. She is plain (seriously! Maya you are pretty, come on!), working class and outside the inner circles of acting, yet, because this is anime and fiction, she has a guardian angel to save the day… and in black. Chigusa Tsukikage, a once famed retired actress known for her role of the Crimson Goddess, is this angel… in black. Black because of her long black dress, classy like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, and her long full locks of curly black hair. Her elegance is never questioned even though she is advanced in age, which makes her a true role model to show beauty is ageless.

gm_3Tsukikage-sensai approaches Maya with a proposal to join her theater academy. Maya’s dream has found an outlet, yet there is a price. Tsukikage-sensai is quite strict and tough and her training towards Maya is at the pinnacle of tough love. Like a slap in the face every once in a while! Ouch! Yet Maya perseveres, and much like a coach in a sport, Tsukikage-sensai’s tenderness is shown, internally of course, as Maya’s talents begin to flourish. Speaking of sports, let me add a fill about how Glass Mask could possibly be a sports anime in disguise. The rivalries, training and aspects of competition are both in Glass Mask and sports anime titles. I sometimes thought I was transported back into shows like Aim for the Ace, Hikari no Densetsu, or Touch, but with a quick head shake realized this was Glass Mask. Be it a sport, or theater, you have to say there are more similarities than differences.

gm_4Now for a different topic… let’s discuss nepotism. As Maya moves up through her journey to become an actor she comes into contact with several theater companies and even a minor movie role, she runs into much favoritism and jealousy. She is quite talented, very raw and passionate about the craft. She does not mean to cause any friction so to speak, but she is often noticed for being just too good and instead of being welcomed back, she often times has to move on to another opportunity. So true in real life as certain organizations, groups, friends, etc. that we all have had has at least one time in our lives preferred a safer choice than a newer, fresher alternate. Such is the life of being talented, as it is lonely as well as rewarding. Still, Maya has much support from her friends from Tsukikage-sensai’s academy, a close male friend, who could become a possible love interest, and a mystery man who always seems to send a note with purple roses at the right place and time. Purple Roses?

Sadly Glass Mask is quite short at 23 episodes as it seems there is much more of a story to tell. And with some basic research one finds that the manga spans 49 collected volumes and is still unfinished. The story presented in this television series flowed well and was consistent with interest, yet I still hungered for more. In 2005 an updated series was released, if that floats your fancy. For me though, Glass Mask is a hallmark of classic shojo, which has been a thorn in my side in regards to availability. Not so anymore with a slick Blu Ray release here in North America. To be, or not to be is not the question… the question of the moment is… where can I find purple roses?

#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#98 : Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer

UY2_1Imagine living in your own dream world; anything goes! This is your ultimate utopia and if you apply any boundaries, they are of your own choosing. Who would be in this dream world with you? What would you do together? Once upon a time there was a property by the name of Urusei Yatsura that during the 1980s was one of the hottest tickets around. This show (and the manga) put Rumiko Takahashi on the map and brought a young director by the name of Mamoru Oshii into the spotlight. Before Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor and even Angel’s Egg, Oshii would showcase his signature style for the first time in Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. 

UY2_2The year was 1984 and going to the cinema was the thing to do for an otaku. I consider 1984, the anime Summer of Love. The Macross crew would release Macross: Do You Remember Love and Hayao Miyazaki wowed audiences with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Mamoru Oshii, who at the time was the director of all that was Urusei Yatsura, followed the script so to speak… and then a second film with Ataru, Lum and crew allowed Oshii’s individual style that we know so well to blossom for the first time. With both writing and directing duties, Oshii would bring his contribution of Beautiful Dreamer into the class of 1984. Oshii’s dreamworlds began to be a part of our worlds.

UY2_3I will be the first to admit that I may not be the best reference for Urusei Yatsura. I have seen the first handful of episodes and have a general idea of the plot and all the hijinks  including the lecherous main character, Ataru, and his jealous love interest/who happens to be an alien Lum. You know Lum (I hope)? The bikini clad girl with the horns on her head… a timeless design. Now, what I am familiar with is Mamoru Oshii’s artistry which he uses tastefully in Beautiful Dreamer. He adds elements of surreal imagery and circumstances and completely bends the rules to what you consider a particular property to be. Think Patlabor 2 in regards to Patlabor as a whole, or perhaps the Ghost in the Shell film in regards to the original manga. He puts his philosophical and symbolic spin into action that only Oshii does so well. Like a skilled painter, his style is his own. And where Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell can get very heavy into drama, being that this is a film is in the Urusei Yatsura universewe still retain the comedy and dynamism. Mamoru Oshii brilliant with fun and comedy? Oh definitely YES! 🙂

The plot begins with a school festival where everyone is pitching in with their own contributions, decorations and such. Many of the usual cast are putting together a cafe of sorts, which includes a tank in the middle of their particular classroom. Wait, a tank?! How did they get that upstairs? Anyway… events seem as if things are repeating themselves as various characters start to see that the reality of their surroundings keeps moving in a loop. If you travel, you end up back at the same spot and occasionally you lose contact with others. Just what is happening here? Eventually the entire world turns into a ghost town… on the back of a… turtle (it ties in with traditional Japanese mythology)? The only normality is the Moroboshi house, which becomes the safe haven for our cast since there is a constant supply of food, water and electricity for some reason. I’ll say it again, just what is going on here?

UY2_4Not being completely up to par with the Urusei Yatsura universe, I will be the first to say that I did not have much trouble following the film. Watching Beautiful Dreamer purely as an Oshii film worked well enough for me! There has been a Blu Ray release recently here in North America, but my viewing of this film came from a recent VHS find.  … Oh whatever has happened to you, oh great Urusei Yatsura? Rumiko Takahashi’s other work, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma and Inuyasha have all eclipsed this once behemoth property. Yet Urusei Yatsura you still live on be it YV series or movie adaptation in our memories… and even perhaps, our dreams…