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  Nayuta Into the Astral plane
Year: 1986
Director: Masami Hata
Stars: Minako Fujishiro, Akira Kamiya, Toshio Furukawa, Ichiro Nagai, Kan Tokumaru, Kimitoshi Yamamoto, Maaki Mori, Masashi Hironaka, Miho Itou, Rihoko Yoshida, Toshiko Fujita, Yoku Shioya, Yuji Mikimoto, Yukiko Nashiwa, Yusaku Yara, Kimitoshi Yamamoto
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: On the way home from school Nayuta (voiced by Minako Fujishiro) happens across Kiro (Toshiko Fujita), a strangely dressed little blonde boy trying to help his sick mother. She dutifully leads them both to the hospital, but inside Kiro's mother inexplicably vanishes in flash of light. Later that night Kiro shows up at Nayuta's house, astounding her family with a display of psychic powers including telekinesis, telepathy, speed reading and teleportation. When Nayuta innocently borrows Kiro's ESP-enhancing gold tiara to assist her school-work it unexpectedly exposes her to the Azzad, green-skinned alien beings intent on eliminating psychic kids. Rescued by a fellow psychic, bespectacled young Ryotaro (Toshio Furukawa), hapless Nayuta is flung into a secret war. One that takes a terrible toll on her life, pitting the newly psychic schoolgirl against a mysterious, handsome, long-haired, cape and toga-wearing adversary (Akira Kamiya) who seems strangely familiar.

A remarkable if regrettably obscure anime, Nayuta gets off to a humble start but gradually evolves into an ambitious epic crammed full of audacious sci-fi ideas. Based on a shojo manga by Junko Sasaki, the film slots into the psychic schoolgirl craze that shook Japan in the Eighties, siring the likes of Esper Mami (1987), Nobuhiko Obayashi's live-action The Aimed School (1981) and Ryoichi Ikegami's hit manga Mai the Psychic Girl which at one stage was poised to be a Hollywood musical produced by Francis Ford Coppola, directed by Tsui Hark and starring Winona Ryder. Along with tweaking concepts pioneered by legendary manga creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama in his landmark epic Babel II (1973) (psychic kids, ancient civilizations under the influence of alien beings, UFOs hiding in plain sight), Sasaki also stirs in an aliens among us subplot that prefigures John Carpenter's They Live (1988).

Melding sci-fi mystery, teen romance and fantasy adventure the plot gets off to a slow start, building the foundation for Nayuta's relationship with young Kiro before a time-jumping plot twist amps up the pathos and intrigue. With a heroine who only gradually comes into her own (in a charming conceit sci-fi fan Nayuta initially takes almost every outlandish plot twist in her stride), moving from one mentor to the next before she finally becomes a full-fledged psychic powerhouse in a hot pink outfit, the story evolves from psychic thriller a la The Fury (1978) to Star Wars (1977) style laser battles and space dogfights. Then eventually heads into headier 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) territory as Nayuta's expanding cosmic consciousness evolves into a contemplation of life, the universe and everything, interweaving intriguing ideas with trippy visuals. Only occasionally does the film show signs of strain condensing Sasaki's labyrinthine manga down to a brisk eighty minutes.

While the budget likely paled by comparison to Masami Hata's lavish feature films for Sanrio (e.g. Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981), Little Nemo (1992), Mouse Story: The Adventures of George and Gerald (2007)), the veteran animator still pulls off some stunning sequences. Buoyed by gorgeous art design and dynamic action sequences the story remains vivid and compelling with an at times seemingly endless succession of tragic plot twists (the conflicted villain-cum-anti-hero being a well-worn yet undeniably potent anime staple), jumping from Japan to outer space before ascending to a whole other plane of existence.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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