But what I want to write about today is neither the house nor anti-nuclear power activism. The members of his group, my host told me, often used to watch anime together, and today I want to write about the anime which we watched together in the evening – Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984, directed by Oshii Mamoru, below Beautiful Dreamer).
Urashima Tarô? Soon other strange things start to happen. In the evening they are unable to leave school since all streets lead back to it. A taxi chauffeur suddenly starts to sound like a demon, talking about being a turtle taking his passenger (Sakura) to the Dragon Palace. A terrific scene is when Ataru and a few others are riding through what appears to be completely deserted streets late at night and suddenly hear the eerie sound of flutes and drums, and see some weird musicians parading through one of the streets. “E-he-he, seems the chindonya have started 24 hour service”, Ataru suggests nervously. In a desperate escape attempt involving a jet fighter, they discover that the entire neighborhood around the school is travelling through space on the back of a gigantic turtle, apparently torn away from the rest of the earth.
Life now changes: they relax, drive around in the empty town on a big truck, play and have fun all day. In the background we see that the school has fallen into ruins and sunk into a lake. New life starts in the ruins of the empty city. Time stands still. The convenience store alone is a cornucopia forever filled with new goods. Apart from Sakura, Mendô is the only one who continues to search for a way to get back to ordinary life. Lum feels sorry for him and, carrying a big melon, comes to invite him to play with the others. The only thing she cares for, she says, is to have fun with her friends every day for ever and ever. Finally, however, this world is revealed as a dream created by the comical Kansaiben-speaking demon Mujaki. When Sakura manages to capture him, the dream (after some breathtaking scenes) collapses back into reality, the normal everyday routine of the school.
How should we interpret the film? We can recall that it was released in 1984. Miyadai Shinji famously claims that popular culture in the 80’s was characterized by two competing eschatologies or visions of the world’s final destiny. One was the “neverending everyday” (owari naki nichijô), which was suffused by the sentiment that “the future will not be different from the present”. Since the future will bring neither “brilliant progress” nor any “terrible collapse”, there is nothing left to do but to take it easy and play about endlessly, as in everyday life in a school or in a junior college. Apocalyptic visions are explicitly and mercilessly poked fun at in manga such as Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei yatsura. A second eschatological vision was the “post-nuclear war community” (kakusensôgo no kyôdôtai). Its violent message of “redemption through Armageddon” was expressed in smash hits such as Ôtomo Katsuhiro’s Akira or Miyazaki Hayao’s Nausicaa (Miyadai 1995:86ff).
If we try to situate Beautiful Dreamer in relation to Miyadai’s two eschatologies, we find that neither fits very well. It is true that it no longer has much in common with the “neverending everyday” or the original light and innocent playfulness of the manga Urusei yatsura on which it was based. Takahashi Rumiko acknowledged as much when she unenthusiastically commented that the anime was Oshii’s work, not hers. To some extent, one could perhaps claim that Oshii – famous for anime hits like Ghost in the Shell that belong rather unambiguously in the second strand of eschatology – transformed the work into its opposite, into a “post-nuclear war” work.
Still, this diagnosis is insufficient. The Armageddon-like struggles of the “post-nuclear war” are usually characterized by a paranoiac feel that comes out very well in films like Matrix. In these films, it is taken for granted that the task of the main protagonist is to break out of the “fake” world of simulacra and return to “reality”. The “illusion” or “dream” must be denied. If we look at Beautiful Dreamer, we feel at once that “dream” or “illusion” plays an entirely different role. The Dragon Palace in the sea, which Urashima Tarô visited, wasn’t a prison. It was a place of lost happiness. That’s why time seemed to stand still there. Sure, there are some characters in the film – like Mendô or Sakura, or, finally, Ataru himself – who try to break out of the dream. But these attempts are portrayed as somewhat ridiculous. Especially Mendô, who likes to drive around with a tank, is portrayed as a self-important wanna-be hero and besserwisser who is very much a bother (mendô) to the others. Neither is the demon who created the dream really evil. I feel a lot of sympathy for his attempt to make Lum’s dream come true.
What characterizes the anime’s relation to dream or illusion is neither a whole-hearted affirmation of it, nor a desperate and paranoid attempt to combat it, but rather a form of love for a dream that is not only beautiful, but above all fragile, ephemeral and rare. Time stands still, yet at the same time one knows that the dream may soon be over. One lives in it with all one’s heart, because one knows that life is so rarely visited by moments like this.
The hierarchical pyramid had melted like a lump of sugar in the May sun. People conversed and were understood in half a word. There were no more intellectuals or workers, but simply revolutionaries engaged in dialogue.... (Viénet 1992:76f)Life in the occupied parts of town was more or less like a dream. Sadie Plant has described it as “surrealism on the streets” (Plant 1992:101). Lacking newspapers, people chatted with each other. Alain Jouffroy recalled “the great joy that we experienced for the first time in the streets of Paris during May 1968, that joy in the eyes and on the lips of all those who for the first time were talking to each other.” (cit. i Plant 1992:101).
No one worked. No planes, trains, mail. No gas. No trash collection. Neighbors, who had lived within ten feet of each other for twenty years, became acquainted, strolling and talking in the empty streets. So this is a revolution, they said – not bad. (Feenberg & Freedman 2001: 43)
As I have already mentioned (here), this is a state that can be described with Turner’s term "communitas". In contrast to the alienated being of everyday urban life stand the intoxicating moments when the atomized masses seem to melt together in an undifferentiated feeling of universal brother- or sisterhood, when borders dissolve and everything seems possible. The experience of alienation seems, if only temporarily, to be suspended and to revert itself into a feeling of spontaneous belonging together. ”Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life celebrates its unification with a regenerated society.” (Vaneigem 2001: 110).
Conversely, the waking up from the dream is the dismal return to order, the retour à la normale, the defeat of the revolutionary movement which the Situationists depicted as a herd of sheep heading back to the fold. As in Beautiful Dreamer, the students return to the school bench, the festival is over, the clocks start ticking again.
"What a master-piece!" (“Kessaku deshô!”), my host said when the film was over.
Feenberg, Andrew & Freedman, Jim (2001) When Poetry Ruled The Streets: The French May Events of 1968, Albany: State University of New York Press
Miyadai, Shinji (1995) Owarinaki nichijô o ikiro (Live the never-ending everyday), Tokyo: Chikuma shobô
Plant, Sadie (1992) The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age, London and New York: Routledge
Vaneigem, Raoul (2001) The Revolution of Everyday Life, London: Rebel Press.
Viénet, René (1992) Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement, France, May ’68, New York: Autonomedia, London: Rebel Press.