“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.
Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.
As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.
The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.
In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.